Analysis Of Michael Ondaatje's Running In The Family

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The quote within the acknowledgements of Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family draws attention to the fact that any history is a story at heart, and like any story, is subject to the story teller.

From the first page of the book, Ondaatje draws our attention to the form of this story, and the flaws therein. The prologue seems to be Ondaatje himself, describing his arrival to his homeland as the author, the narrator. His first act is to draw attention to himself and the form of his story, describing his landing and mentioning his saying “Half a page – and the morning is already ancient.” By doing so he explicitly inserts himself into the book, shows he is in full control, mentioning such physical things as the amount of space the words take
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Whenever describing events that the teller was not there to witness, they always use the same word to describe Lalla’s version of events: “she claimed.” This suggests the idea of the unreliable narrator, and just like the people around her take what Lalla says with a grain of salt, so too should the reader be wary of their narrator. This sort of doubt in the narrator is further reinforced by a description on page 151, saying “[His mother] belonged to a certain type of Ceylonese family whose women would take the minutest reaction from another and blow it up into a tremendously exciting tale….If anything kept their generation alive it was this recording by exaggeration.” And so we are reminded again of the fallible nature of the story. In saying that this was what kept their generation alive, Ondaatje implies a certain imaginative history, and seems to be saying there is no way to tell what is true among these stories anyways, which would be an excellent reason to allow embellishments on the part of the author. It also reinforces the final statement of the given quote, that a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts, it seems to be saying the changes are not all on the part of Ondaatje himself, but also on the part of the information he is being given.

The quotation demonstrates one of the key ideas of the book, that history is a story, and intentionally or not, there is some fiction in that. Throughout the book, the idea of a subjective truth is present, and that subjectivity is held by the author, to blend imaginative truth and historical

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