The Cinnamon Peeler Essay, Research Paper
“I am the cinnamon peeler’s wife. Smell me” (ll. 45-46). “The Cinnamon
Peeler”, written by Michael Ondaatje, is a story of the relationship between a cinnamon
peeler and his wife. Ondaatje uses excessive imagery as to allow his readers to
visualize the interactions between this husband and wife. In the first few stanzas off the
poem, Ondaatje conveys to his audience the power that this said cinnamon smell can
hold. Towards the middle of the poem, the nuisance of such a fragrant smell is
expressed. At the conclusion of his poem, Ondaatje shows the importance and need for
the cinnamon smell to exist in this couple’s relationship.
“You will be known among strangers as the cinnamon peeler’s wife” (ll. 17-18).
The very first stanza of this poem represents the cinnamon smell the peeler carries with
him wherever he goes. There is a yellow bark dust that he carries with him and leaves
some on his wifes pillow (ll. 3-4). In the next stanza, the reader is introduced to the
peeler’s wife, no name is given and she is known strictly as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.
She has absorbed the fragrance of cinnamon from her husband and cannot rid herself of
the scent, not even in a monsoon (l. 11). Even strangers, along with the blind, know by
her smell she is the wife of the cinnamon peeler (ll. 8 & 17). The odour of cinnamon is
strong and powerful. It is difficult to lessen the smell, even in the slightest.
“I could hardly glance at you before marriage, never touch you” (ll. 19-21).
Before marriage to his wife, the cinnamon peeler had to be extremly cautious around
her as to not allow her to absorb the smell. Her “keen-nosed mother” and “rough
brothers” (l. 22), would surely smell the spice and have no doubt in their minds who it
was that had been near their daughter and sister. The peeler would attempt to disguise
the scent by burying his hands in saffron or over top of smoking tar (ll. 24-25). At last,
they discovered a place where they could be together and there would not be that
powerful, lingering cinnamon smell. “I touched you in water and our bodies remained
free, you could hold me and be blind of smell” (ll. 28-30). The peeler’s wife soon
asked him if he had been doing this all along with other women, much less likely to be
caught in the act of cheating when his scent could be disguised (ll. 32-33). At times,
this cinnamon smell would become bothersome.
“And you searched your arms for the missing perfume, and knew, what good is
it to be the lime burner’s daughter, left with no trace, as if not spoken to in the act of
love, as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar” (ll. 37-41). The peeler’s wife enjoys
their love as a marriage, represented and presented for the whole world to smell in the
fragrance of cinnamon they both carry with them. Like an animal that would mark its
territory, the peeler’s wife carries a strong scent that shows she shares a life with that
of the peeler. She appreciates the odour only for the fact that it represents the love
This telling of a cinnamon peeler and his wife indeed conveys the strength, the
nuisance and the importance of the cinnamon scent in these two people’s lives.
More so, Michael Ondaatje wanted to tell more then a story about a cinnamon peeler,
he wanted to tell a story of a loving relationship. He wanted to talk about the strength
of love, the nuisance of love, and the importance of love. Ondaatje wanted to show
that love is not always perfect. Love is a powerful, complex emotion fully able to take
on the scent of cinnamon. “I am the cinnamon peeler’s wife. Smell me” (ll. 45-46).