Running in the Family: Chapter Notes ¡V Don¡¦t Talk to me About Matisse, Part 2
Karapothas ¡V Kegalle (ii)
The Karapothas (78-86)
The chapter begins with quotations from Edward Lear, D.H.
Lawrence, and Leonard Woolf, all of whom are English and all of whom show
little patience with
¡P The ¡§Karapothas¡¨ are beetles with white spots on them - Ondaatje¡¦s niece calls foreigners this because like the beetles, they ¡§never grew ancient here,¡¨ but just admired the landscape, disliked the natives, and left. [colonialism]
Ondaatje refers to
¡P This is contrasted with the descriptions of the island¡¦s ¡¥intricate arts and customs¡¦ and the passage exploring the beauty of the local Sinhalese alphabet.
¡P This poem is about men collecting toddy (an alcoholic beverage taken from coconut palms) from the trees while the women work below in the shadows of their houses. It is a scene of village life that seems to romanticize the idyllic simplicity of life in the past.
It also appears to celebrate the subtlety and quiet gentility of
This poem describes the scenery as Ondaatje and his family journey
back from Sigiriya, an ancient fortress with pictures
of beautiful women and poems written about their beauty painted on to the
¡P The poem is extremely descriptive but irregularly structured which may be a challenge to the Western tradition of writing tightly structured poems but it also creates the impression of a stream of consciousness as Ondaatje¡¦s relates the sights and thoughts he is experience as these flit through his mind which in turn suggests something of the rich vibrancy and chaotic unpredictability of Ceylon.
There is much natural and light imagery that evokes a sense of
Women Like You (92-94)
¡P This poem describes the beautiful women who are carved into the rock at Sigirya and the responses of some of the men who came to the rock to write poems to these women.
¡P The fact that the original poems were written in the 5th Century but have been preserved and can still influence Ondaatje today reinforces the sense of a connection with the past that is the focus for the novel and perhaps also the inspiration for the title ¡¥Running in the Family¡¦ where family would be broadened out to suggest a larger connection between the individual and the culture that they come from.
The Cinnamon Peeler¡¦s Wife (95-97)
¡P In the first part of the poem, the persona talks about wanting to leave a mark ¡V his mark ¡V on his wife. He imagines the fact that he is a cinnamon peeler and his wife will carry the smell of his hands even when he is not around her.
¡P The second part of the poem, as indicated by the break in the poem, reveals the fact that the persona¡¦s wife also wants him to leave a mark on her, as seen with her desire to let him touch her ¡V to let his smell linger on her body.
Kegalle (ii) (98-101)
first section of this chapter talks about incidents in Ondaatje¡¦s childhood
where snakes would sneak into his family home in
second part of the chapter talks about the ¡§last incident at
Motifs, Symbols & Imagery:
The concept of identity has come up a few times throughout this section. This is initially apparent with the Cinnamon Peeler, where the man desires to give his wife his smell / an identity, but was reluctant to do so. Her subsequent realization that without the smell she does not belong to anyone / that she has no identity perhaps echoes Ondaatje¡¦s feelings that without a real understanding of his past or his history he doesn¡¦t really know where he ¡¥belongs¡¦ or who he is.
The smell of
the Cinnamon Peeler may also symbolize the identity of
This idea is
perhaps accentuated in the chapter Kegalle (ii), where
the insurgency by the young rebels can also be seen as a call for identity. The
Cinnamon is a recurring motif suggestive
of the romanticization of
these are ¡¥beetles with white spots¡¦ but, more importantly, Ondaatje¡¦s niece
uses this term to refer to the foreigners who ¡¥never [grew] ancient¡¦ in
described in Karapothas give
in the journey ¡¥To Colombo¡¦ and ¡¥High Flowers¡¦ where they suggest the primitive
lifestyle of the villages of
Paintings are usually viewed as a form
of high art, especially in Western culture where they are symbolic of the ¡¥ civilized¡¦ manners of the foreigners. Yet, painters like ¡§Matisse¡¨
and the painting of the ¡§ nude women¡¨ are contrasted
with the gunfire white-washing the primitive mud-huts in
The Sinhalese Alphabet
During the insurgency in 1971, there were ¡§ hundreds of poems written on walls, ceilings and in hidden corners of the campus¡¨. The writing on the walls is used to symbolize the underground expression of ideas and the hidden attempt to preserve a culture. This echoes the sense of beauty, the roots and sense of personal identity, that remain hidden from the colonialists. Lakdasa¡¦s poem is a good representation of this underground Ceylonese individuality where he expresses his disdain towards the colonialists.
Post-colonialism and East vs. West
This is Ondaatje¡¦s most obviously post-colonial chapter and there appears to be a clear criticism of the exploitative attitude of the early colonisers. Diction such as ¡¥sacked¡¦ implies that the country was callously looted and pillaged while the description of these foreigners as ¡§Karapothas¡¨ (beetles that ¡§never grew ancient here,¡¨ but just admired the landscape, disliked the natives, and left) suggests a superficiality and fickleness to these invaders, perhaps even hinting at a weaknesses ¡K as if they were unable to appreciate the chaotic vibrancy of life in Ceylon. Ondaatje emphasizes this in the beginning of the poem ¡¥High Flowers¡¦ in the line ¡¥The woman my ancestors ignored sits at the doorway chopping coconut cleaning rice,¡¦ where the tone suggests that these ancestors failed to realize the value or beauty of this woman, or women like this.
This sense of a critical
attitude towards the colonial powers is established from the very start of the
chapter by the opening quotations. Lear¡¦s claim that the ¡§brown people of this
island¡¨ are ¡§odiously inquisitive and bothery-idiotic¡¨
suggests that the locals are primitive, limited and inferior in their
knowledge. However, at the same time, Lear also claims that are roads are
¡§intensely picturesque¡¨. This contrast parallels with how colonialists view
In the second quotation,
In the third quotation,
Woolf claims that ¡§: All Jungles are evil¡¨ yet, the following chapters are dedicated to exploring the
Ondaatje writes about the
Sinhalese alphabet, and how ¡§The only freedom writing brought was as the author
of rude expressions on walls and desks.¡¨ Language here is seen as a tool for
rebellion (albeit a limited rebellion in the form of breaking minor rules) but
the fact that this rebellion is in an indigenous language perhaps reflects the
way in which the colonized can retain a sense of their identity by clinging to
the elements of their culture to which the colonizer is denied access, for
example their language. Tentatively a post-colonial reading of the text may see
in Ondaatje¡¦s rude graffiti an echo of the attempts by the colonized to carry
out minor rebellions against the colonizers in the only way they can ¡V through
seemingly petty or trivial criticisms. Criticisms that are too minor to evoke
serious punishment but which nonetheless chip away at the status and authority
of the colonizing power. Admittedly Ondaatje is descended from colonial
ancestors but these ancestors have intermarried with locals and lived in
In ¡§Kegalle (ii)¡¨, the insurgency movement of 1971 is, in
itself, a post-colonial concept since the rebels are fighting for their own
beliefs against the government, even if it is their own government. Throughout
The Romanticisation the Past and the Pastoral
The poems, ¡¨High Flowers¡¨ and ¡§To Colombo¡¨, are a clear representation of this theme. High flowers outlines the life in rural villages, e.g. shuffling rice in a cane mat, collecting white liquid for tavern vats and cutting flowers. By lifting the villages up higher, gliding through trees seamlessly, Ondaatje is trying to show how beautiful and exalted the lives of these people are. Obviously, however, this is a simplification of their daily routine, which may consist of hard work. This harmony between nature and villagers in Ceylon and the exploitative nature of the colonialists only further distances ourselves from the foreigners and draws us closer to side with the locals.
The structures of the poems are often irregular or disorganized and this perhaps reflects the nature of Ondaatje¡¦s memoir as he is obtaining information from different points of view with no, single, coherent overview or vision of the truth.
The sense of Post-Modernism is accentuated by our uncertainty about the narrator. The line: ¡§I am the foreigner. I am the prodigal who hates the foreigner¡¨ creates a sense that Ondaatje is ambivalent about his origins and that he is confused about where he stands and what his position should be. Does he side with the likes of Lear and Lawerence or with the locals. The fact that we, as leaders, are limited to the emotions and the images that he sees, rather than an objective truth, reinforces this sense of post-modern uncertainty. Is Ondaatje¡¦s depiction of the colonialists as cold hearted exploiters or his celebration of the simplicity of Sinhalese life reliable?
The War Between Men and Women
poem ¡¥High Flowers¡¦ raises issues like the status of women in
In the poem ¡¥Women like You¡¦ the women initially seem to be in a more powerful position as Ondaatje talks about women who capture the hearts of men in lines like ¡§Seeing you I want / no other life / The golden skins have / caught my mind.¡¨ However, while this may initially seem to empower these female figures, reading the text from a feminist perspective we may argue that these women appear only to be statues or monuments that do little more than ¡§stand against the sky¡¨ looking pretty and so, although they appear powerful, they are no more than depictions of the passivity and beauty that men have traditionally idolized about women. As such they are no more than a male fantasy of what womanhood should be. If we continue reading from this perspective we may even argue that the way in which that the men who are writing these poems of adoration have turned away from the real world represents the way in which men are so attached to their imagined ideal of womanhood that real women are no longer enticing to them as they do not live up to this stereotype. Indeed it is only unreal, dead or idealized women that are celebrated in this way.
develops in the chapter Kegalle (ii). The fact that
he has donated several acres of
At this point in the memoir we can begin to get a sense that Ondaatje is developing a greater understanding of himself as he develops a better grasp of the history of his family and of Ceylon and connects to the local culture through the different poems that he writes. He says, ¡§I am the foreigner. I am the prodigal who hates the foreigner.¡¨ (79) and this contradictory statement may reflect his internal conflicts and the uncertainty he feels about his own personal identity as a Ceylonese Canadian.
Ondaatje¡¦s criticisms of the colonial
attitude suggests, however, that he feels more of a connection with the
Ceylonese than he does with the European invaders and he clear approves of the
poetry of Lakdasa Wikkramasinha,
who he describes as ¡§a powerful and angry poet¡¨ (85). In addition, the beauty
of the Sinhalese alphabet shown on page 83 further accentuates the sense that
he appreciates the hidden beauty of
William Charles Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje¡¦s ancestor knew ¡§at least fifty-five secies of poisons easily available to his countrymen¡¨ (81) which suggests he is intimately in touch with the world around him. Again, this is perhaps a trait the Ondaatje sees as running in the family.
In Running in
Ondaatje¡¦s use of poems is also a clear
indicator that this is, stylistically, no ordinary memoir. The inclusion of
these different text types reinforces the sense of postmodernism and the chaotic
structure echoes some of the chaos (or freedom) of
Relation of the Part to the Whole
This section mainly describes the