Analysis Of Michael Ondaatje 's ' The Family

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Michael Ondaatje’s fictionalized memoir Running in the Family uses the motif of mapping to represent the narrator’s reconstruction of his family history. The memoir develops a parallel between the mapmaking of European explorers who colonized Ceylon and Ondaatje’s attempt to make sense of his family’s chaotic and disordered past, which is difficult to trace due to the way it has become mythologized by gossip and rumours. In Running in the Family, the depiction of mapping as an uncertain art suggests that the search for objective truth is rendered impossible by the subjective perceptions of those who interpret information with their own unique point of view. These biased understandings demonstrate the flaw of accepting subjective statements marketed as facts to be true. When Ondaatje first references Ceylon in cartographical terms, the “glances” and “theories” used to describe the first impressions of explorers establishes a sense of uncertainty in their interpretations (45). The author describes these images as “false maps”, and observes that the “shapes differ so much they seem to be translations” (45). The inaccuracy implied by the word “false” and the reconstruction connoted by “translations” suggests that the explorers who created the maps conceived them in bits and pieces, never quite grasping a clear and unbiased image of Ceylon due to their own subjective point of view. Even the title of the chapter itself, “Tabula Asiae” (45), serves to reinforce the idea that

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