Power and Oppression- In the Skin of a Lion

Essay by burbandesignHigh School, 12th gradeA, August 2004

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In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje is a story about the lives of immigrants and their struggles in the building of Toronto. Instead of finding a better life in Canada, they find themselves out of place and oppressed by the richer class who control them and try to assimilate them, "'The rich keeps you in tunnels', Alice said to Patrick " (Ondaatje, 132). Nevertheless, the immigrant workers continue to try to escape from these "tunnels" and endeavour a better life for themselves amidst the hardship. The author shows the immigrant workers' struggle to transcend their low-grade of life through the imagery of dark and light, the symbolism of names, and the illustration of the cruel working conditions.

Dark and light, black and white, day and night appears constantly throughout the novel. But the major purpose of this imagery is to express the immigrant workers' struggles to escape their present life by explaining what dark and light represent.

The major element that contributes to this is the symbolism of immigrants as small creatures of the night, always searching for light as if "darkness" was their oppression and "light" was their hope.

Among the trees in the distance he saw what looked like more bugs. Lightning bugs within the trees by the river. But this was winter! He moved forward with the lamp. (Ondaatje, 20)

Patrick first mistakes the immigrant loggers skating for lightening bugs. Though they are nocturnal animals, they each have their own tiny lights, their torches, to evade the darkness. However, Patrick thinks that these insects do not belong in the winter. And similarly, like the insects, readers are able to understand that the immigrants are also out of place and do not belong in this country. This symbolism is confirmed by the illustration of moths...