Running in the Family: Chapter Notes – A Fine Romance
Horse-racing described as a major form of entertainment in
· Betting and gambling were large parts of the people’s lives as much of their work and daily lives revolved around it (i.e. his mother closed down her shop for a month during the horseracing season)
· Owning a horse was something that many people sought after (his grandmother owned a horse called Dickman Delight)
· Betting and attending horse-races was a very social activity, young couples would attend the races and bet large sums on horses then go out together to dance, drink and fall in love without a thought towards the consequences then would proceed to drive drunkenly back to town, ending the night by crashing their cars
Tropical Gossip (p.53 – 54)
· Reiterating the idea that marriages were not always considered serious unions as they were often “rainbowed over” by love affairs
· Repeating the idea that his father’s generation was wild and free from the 1920’s until the second war as “nobody really had to grow up” and so Ondaatje’s father’s generation spent their youths forming “complex relationships”
· Suggests that the truth about his father’s generation’s love affairs is lost in history and exaggerated through gossip and Ondaatje conveys his desperation at this point to find someone to tell him directly what happened during this time without influences of gossip and rumours.
Kegalle (i) (p.55 – 60)
Descriptions of Ondaatje’s paternal grandfather (Philip) who
built the family home at ‘
· Many Ondaatjes’ liked liquor, had diabetes and hot-tempers, this is a series of things that ‘run in the family’
· Philip Ondaatje’s funeral at which there is a “loud argument”
Mervyn Ondaatje returns to ‘
· His father struggled with a drinking problem, and would go months without drinking but would then drink straight for 3-4 days without sleeping, eating or talking to anyone. His father’s unhappiness is reflected in his change of the lyrics to “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” to be a song about alcohol and liquor rather than about a girl
At times these are a symbol of the past and of Ondaatje’s connection with Sri Lanka, for example when he says that the only thing that remained intact in his childhood garden was the “mangosteen tree, which [he] practically lived in as a child during its season of fruit” which “was full and strong” (59). The nostalgia here is significant and the fact that only this remains not only suggests the decline and deterioration of Philip Ondaatje after his divorce but it also hints at the tenuousness of Ondaatje’s connection with his past and the land of his birth. Another tree that remained in the home was the “kitul tree; which the polecat used to love” (59), the tree and the polecat are perhaps a symbol of the exotic nature of Ondaatje’s youth. This tree, linked with the more morose memories of his father’s alcoholic rages, introduces a melancholy feel to the scene as we Ondaatje recounts his fathers last drunken years.
Horses appear as symbols of escapism when they are associated with
racing and the socially elite circles in which the Ondaatjes
moved. The concern with horse racing also conveys the frivolous (or carefree)
nature of the times as “Racing concerned everyone” (49) and the government
believed that by gambling and betting it would supply
more money for the economy. In fact “Even
during the war the August races were not to be postponed” (49), which shows how the world of the rich in
Alcohol is seen as a symbol of the “flaming youth”, their exuberance, their lack of consideration of consequences and it is such another form of escapism, hence people drink to forget their sorrows when they have lost at the races. Indeed, alcohol is mentioned fourteen times throughout the section suggesting its importance to the people of the time. Ondaatje even states that “most Ondaatjes liked liquor, sometimes to excess” but most were hidden drunks and did it in secret as it was frowned upon. The most frequently named form of alcohol is Champagne which, with its connotations of exclusivity and celebration, suggests not only the wealth and elite social status of the ‘Gasanawa group’ but also helps to reinforce the impression that, for these people at least, Ceylon in the 1920’s and 30’s was a whirlwind of social engagements and parties. It is possible that Ondaatje is also using the motif champagne to celebrate this irresponsibility.
The Fragility / Instability of Love and Marriage
During the section, ‘Flaming Youth’ the idea of a wasted youth is introduced and is carried on in Babylon Stakes and Tropical Gossip. The idea of the fleeting, spontaneous and transient nature of relationships is explored as it states: “They could have almost drowned or fallen in love […] during any one of those evenings” (52). It is also stated that “love affairs rainbowed over marriages and lasted forever - so it often seemed that marriage was the greater infidelity” (53). The idea that a love affair is deemed a truer form of love than a marriage shows the limited worth and value placed on marriage and the idea of matrimony. “Nothing is said of the closeness between two people: how they grew in the shade of each other’s presence” (54), this also reflects the idea that affairs and spontaneous love were more common than the idea of a marriage with equal affection.
Post-Colonialism and the Contrast Between the East and West
In this section, the influences of the West are shown as the grandfather, Philip, attempts to Westernize his family. He is described as being a very strong-willed man who had strict guidelines for his family. He “had a weakness for pretending to be ‘English’ and, in his starched collars and grey suits, was determined in his customs” (56) and also “would visit England, buy crystal, learn the latest dances” (56) and this shows how ‘Bampa’ idolised Western culture and is therefore, in some ways, a symbol of colonialism as he attempts to enforce obedience to an alien set of rules among his family. The idea that Philip Ondaatje oppressed his family is reinforced once he dies when the adults revert back to being almost childish as his “mother and Uncle Aelian retired in a fit of giggles” and his “grandmother got into a loud argument”.
The Romanticisation of the Past
Ondaatje creates the impression of the idyllic lifestyle of the ‘Gasanawa group’ whose lives seemed to revolve around the relaxed routine of swimming, breakfasting, sleeping till noon, attending the races, dining and then repeating the whole again. The differences in the young and the adults are used to accentuate this sense of an idyllic past. While the young are described with an air of irresponsibility and chaotic joyfulness, the grandfather is described as being tough and strict and inspiring terror in his family. The uncle, Aelian was also described as being a “very generous man” who helped his neighbors and friends when they needed it and the celebration of both the young and the generous uncle in contrast to the strictness of Philip Ondaatje helps to cast a generation that could have been viewed as selfish and irresponsible into an even more flattering light.
Lalla is remembered for her over-extravagant dress and her intensity: “one hand on her hip, one hand on her hat, and a blue jacaranda blossom pinned to the shoulder ... looking off into the drama of the one-hundred-yard stretch with the intensity of one preparing for the coming of the Magi” (p.49). She owned a horse named ‘Dickman Delight’ and, in a typically comic twist, she failed to bet on her horse the only time that it actually one due to a misprint on a telegram that read “Rain over Columbo” rather than “Raid over Columbo” (50). Overall Lalla is described using irony and humor in this section and continues to display a lack of regard for or awareness of other people, for example by wearing a large hat “with no consideration for anyone behind her” (49).
This chapter focuses mainly on Michael’s paternal grandfather
Philip who “built the family home, ‘
Although mentioned only briefly in the ‘Tropical Gossip’ chapter, Noel’s return as QC to ‘argue for the lives of friends from his youth who had tried to overthrow the government.’ (53) is another indication that the idyllic world of the 1920’s and 1930’s could not last forever … and indeed the allusion to the attempted revolution of 1971 implies that an unpleasant future was awaiting those who survived the excesses of the 30’s.
This section is more structured than the first part of ‘A Fine Romance’ and there is less insertion of seemingly random facts, although the long run-on sentences in ‘The Babylon Stakes’ do create a sense of effusive excitement about the past. The lack of dialogue throughout the section shows a very detached recount that may seem third hand and contain the factual qualities of history books. However, having already been alerted to the constructed nature of the text, the reader may see this as an opportunity for bias and a selective choice of events.
Quotations are often used as sub-titles that encapsulate the feel
of the chapter, for example the sub-title for The
The chapter “Tropical Gossip” is narrated with more uncertainty and is a good example of Post-Modern self-awareness as there is a reflective feel as the narrator questions the values of rumour and truth. Ondaatje also continues his use of humour throughout this section, most noticeably perhaps in the sub-title to this chapter which depicts a couple being discovered in the throes of an affair.
Relation of this Section to the Whole:
Ondaatje continues to explore the idea that history is a
reconstruction of the past rather than a record. What is important to the
characters in the memoir, i.e. whether horses won or lost or to whom they
belong, is not intrinsically important. However, the focus on these details
implies their importance to the people narrating this history of the Ondaatje
The idea of the “flaming youth” also continues with elaborate
details on the frivolity of the roaring twenties in