In the Skin of the Lion


In the Skin of the Lion

An Examination on the use of Moth Imagery in the Novel
"In the Skin of a Lion" is a documentary on the voyage from childhood to adulthood of Patrick Lewis. Michael Ondaatje describes this voyage with recollections of sensory memories. These recollections permit the reader to relate to Patrick, as these memories are both simple and realistic. Patrick's memories are often conjured up through touch, smell or color. The readers can not help but to imagine their own rendition with some of the imagery used in the book. This essay examines the use of moths and their colors within the imagery in the book "In the Skin of Lion"

The imagery of the moths is described using colors, textures and motions. Ondaatje uses colors such as "moth green", yellow, rust, browns, pink, and describes textures such as "rabbit fur", "papyrus textured", and "furred". Perhaps the most visual aspect of the moth imagery is that of the motion of the insects, which is used both as a description and a comparison. Moths appearing on the screen one night are described as those that "have seen this one lighted room and traveled towards it. A summer night's inquiry." (9). In the Garden of the Blind, Patrick observes the blind woman's remaining eye "darting", "moving with delight", "and alighting", all easily visualized. Later in the story, Carvaggio watches a woman in the boathouse. "In this light, and with all the small panes of glass around here, she was inside a diamond, mothlike on the edge of burning kerosene, caught in the center of all the facets" (198).

Moths are part of the insect imagery in the book. These insects formed part of Patrick social network as they served as a form of communication for him. His father being a man "withdrawn from the world" raised Patrick and with no mention of a mother, any siblings or school friends, we can imagine the solitude Patrick lived in. Perhaps the moths are more of an interest to Patrick (than other insects) because of his day to day living. Working around the farm during the day he might not have developed an eye for them, or had the time to stop and examine them. During the evening when chores where done and his life was quiet, the insects attracted to the light were naturally of interest to him. These strangers coming from beyond Patrick's borders. Patrick is defining his world through these experiences. As Patrick receiving very little defining knowledge from his father, he begins to set his own definitions of the world around him. It is his sense of wonder that moves him on his journey.

There is an instance of parallel imagery or imagery within imagery. The moths are attracted to the light of the kitchen and Patrick is attracted to the school atlas. They both have the same inquisitive nature. We're not told of the attraction to the atlas other than the allure of the exotic place names. Later, Patrick is attracted to the skaters on "his" pond. These attractions are all similar to the moths being attracted across the summer fields. Patrick is drawn to the lights, and then once he discovers that the lights are actually people, the attraction turns to one of a social nature.

Ondaatje constructs the imagery in two parts. He makes an initial reference to it, then returns to it with more detail. This linking effect makes the reader realize how important it is to Patrick because of how physical in nature the memory is in terms of color and texture. In the first part of the book, "Little Seeds" there is a single reference to the lunar moth. Later in the story color triggers a vivid recollection of his memories of this, his favourite moth. The value in this memory is not so much it was just a moth, but the fact he recalls the texture, the color, and the motion. Very small details of this insect relay to the reader the importance of this memory, and how important the situation must have been for Patrick to remember these minute details.

"In the Skin of the Lion" is being told in third person. This gives the reader a view of Patrick's thoughts. We see that his very sensory as a person. He is able to retain within his