, Research Paper
Patrick Lewis is a lost soul, a searcher on a constant journey. In chapter three, ironically titled “The Searcher”, Patrick is searching for Ambrose Small but I believe that this is merely a metaphor for his vocation. He is always looking for something and Ondaatje revels this to the reader “He searched out, things he collected things.” (Ondaatje 157). The title of Ondaatje’s novel, In the Skin of a Lion can also be used to illustrate Patrick’s perpetual search. In the preface, Ondaatje’s takes an excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh which says: “The joyful will stoop…I will wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion.” Patrick is wandering through the wilderness, searching. He has no purpose in life, he just searches. But what is Patrick searching for? Light. This ambiguous concept of light Ondaatje presents throughout the novel is not ordinary light but one that illuminates the void of darkness.
Just like the moths that Patrick is intrigued by, only tend toward light at night, so does Patrick only seek light when there is none around him. Patrick’s continues his eternal search for light because he has none of his own to emit.
Northrop Frye said that the central theme behind every story is the loss and regaining of identity. Patrick has no identity of his own, his only way of gaining a temporary one is through light. “And he himself was nothing but a prism that refracted their lives.” (Ondaatje, 157) A prism, by definition, refracts light into a spectrum of colors. Correspondingly, Patrick contorts other characters identities as his own. We are introduced to this concept of reflecting light even before the novel begins. “Driving the four hours to Marmora under six stars and a moon.”(Ondaatje). Patrick is the moon, he can only reflect a stars light. When reflecting light from the six stars, the main characters in the novel, Patrick is able to gain a temporary identity. This is what Patrick searches for, an identity. Throughout the novel, Patrick becomes like the people he associates with, he gains a temporary identity and purpose.. He takes on Alice’s quest to dissolve the power of the rich by blowing up the Muskoka Hotel. He becomes a criminal like Caravaggio by breaking into the Waterworks. When Patrick is without light to reflect, he is without identity. When Clara leaves Patrick, he is thrust into a world of darkness. Only when Alice re-enters his life can he begin to have an identity again, reflecting her light. Just like Alice’s story of several actresses sharing the animal pelt to tell the story so too do the characters in Patrick’s life, at times, become the focus of his life.
When Patrick is without an identity, the light of other characters, he is also lacking love. “Something hollow, so when alone, when not aligned with another – whether is was Ambrose or Clara or Alice – he could hear the rattle within that suggested a space between him and community. A gap of love.” (Ondaatje 157). Only with love can anyone be expected to have identity and fit into a community. Hazin Lewis neglected this aspect in Patrick’s life and without a motherly influence he never received the nurturing and encouragement needed. This lack of love from his father, an abashed man, created Patrick who became himself an abashed man. When Patrick came to Toronto he tried to forget about his past, he tried to make a new beginning. “Now, in the city, he was new even to himself, the past locked away.” (Ondaatje 157). As much as Patrick was trying to get away from his past it engulfed his future, his past became him. He could not escape his lack of love as a child, and continually searched for it. Patrick’s life is a train ride. He is confined to the train, meeting new and unique people as they get on and off. He talks with them, befriends them. But there is something essentially different from Patrick and the people whom he befriends. They all have purpose for riding the train, a destination they want to reach and eventually they get off and leave Patrick behind. Sometimes Patrick would like to go with them to their destination, but he can’t. Patrick stays on the train ride that is his life, looking for his stop, destination unknown.