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Running in The Family- Ceylon Cactus & Succulent Society

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Noor Darwish

on 19 December 2012

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Transcript of Running in The Family- Ceylon Cactus & Succulent Society

Ceylon Cactus & Succulent Society Running in The Family Last Morning Final Days/
Father Tongue Thanikama Monsoon Notebook (iii) THEMES The Romanticisation of the Past The Fragility/ Instability of Marriage Along with romanticizing the history and memories he has of Ceylon, Ondaajte brings about aspects of his parents failing marriage in this chapter. He says, "My mother looks out of her Colombo window thinking of divorce..." p. 185 The ability to tie in this negative aspect along with emphasis on natural beauty in this chapter shows Ondaatje's ability to present his memories to readers in this most wholesome way possible. In other words, although the memoir focuses explicitly on better understanding his familial past, Ondaatje is able to make his problems more relatable to those who have never seen Sri Lanka or have had any relation to the topics he dicusses. Motifs Water Toxins Nature The Ceylon Cactus and Succulent Society is the name of organization Mervyn made, to keep Lalla out of the gardens, therefore the chapter is a tribute to Mervyn, reflecting on his personality Thanikama The title means ‘loneliness’ and the section focuses on evoking a sense of pathos for the isolated Mervyn who ends the chapter staring aimlessly at the page of a book that is being carried away from him by an army of ants.
This story echoes the extended description of Lalla’s life in ‘The Passions of Lalla’ and tells the story of Mervyn after his separation from Doris. He appears to feel lonely and abandoned: “...after the meeting with Doris - tense, speaking in whispers in the hotel lobby - he would force himself to sit on the terrace overlooking the sea” (pg. 185)
There is a sense that Mervyn refuses to believe that Doris has really left him for good as he wants her to “stop this posing at her work”. He also appears desperate to speak to her and waits all day in the sun in a place where they could be alone if “she changed her mind and came down to him” Summary In "Thanikama” Mervyn drives to Colombo after meeting with Doris. He can't remember where his children are. But when he sobers up, he can remember everyone. Doris never finds him and he spends the day milling about, talking to people and drinking. Afterwards he drives around and eventually leaves Colombo. He reaches Kegalle and drove to Rock Hill. He stared at the house, seeing it empty. He could not see the moon. He was alone with the bottle. The chapter speaks mainly on the life of Mervyn Ondaatje. Setting "Thanikama"" in the memoir Running in the Family written by Michael Ondaatje depicts a dark scene where the author's father, Mervyn, is left alone near the end of the book. The scene is described in extreme detail to portray a clear mental picture of the atmosphere and setting, yet sparkled with figures of speech and other writing devices as well. The chapter starts in a third-person narrative style however Ondaatje breaks this on page 188 when he writes from Mervyn’s perspective in the line “The bottle top in my mouth as I sit on the bed like a lost ship on a white sea.” The switch into first person not only accentuates the pathos created for Mervyn but also suggests that a connection now exists between Ondaatje and his father that wasn’t there before and that Ondaatje can now, metaphorically, stand in his father’s shoes and understand his feelings and actions. The fact that this comes so close to the end of the memoir contributes to the sense of resolution that we feel in this final chapter. 
The omniscience of the narrator in this chapter echoes the omniscience in the ‘Passions of Lalla’ as Ondaatje writes about things which he could not possibly have found out in his research. This clearly illustrates the fictionalized nature of this memoir and may suggest that Ondaatje celebrates his father in the same way that he celebrates Lalla. There is also a clear contrast between the grandeur of Lalla’s intoxication and her final magnificent ride in the flood with the squalor and loneliness of Mervyn’s alcoholism. Style Through this section, readers identify immense changes in Mervyn’s character. From being a reckless and seemingly irresponsible person
In “Thanikama”, Mervyn feels alone as he reminisces about the past and his ex-wife. However, some aspects of him still don’t change, and he is clearly still dependent on alcohol … only now, his use of alcohol seems to depress rather than enliven the mood and his character.
Mervyn is drunk by the end of the chapter and “saw himself with the bottle” creates a sense that he is reflecting on his life as if from a distance and can see how it has revolved around alcohol.
The fact that he lost his “book” (188), the book in which he records his life, may suggest how he has lost interest in or control over his life.
Mervyn “surrendered [the page] to [the ants]” (189), clearly illustrates his hopelessness in Mervyn and the fact that he is “scared of the company of the mirror” (189), shows how he is unwilling to confront the truth about himself. However, there is something tragic about this as, in order to avoid looking in the mirror, he must in some level already realize what he is going to see if he looks in it.
The line “objects had stayed and people disappeared” (186) suggests Mervyn’s loneliness and his realization that he has lost the people that he loved from his past. One quotation that effectively sums up Mervyn’s sense of isolation is: “Objects had stayed and people disappeared” (186) Character Motifs Alcohol Redemption Allusion to Shakespeare The use of syntax and diction in portrayal of this theme helps to accentuate his determinations to seek redemption. In the following quote he refers to his wife, the reader begins to understand what he is feeling. 'He sat there all afternoon, hoping she would notice him and come down to speak to him properly, truthfully' (185)
The use of constant commas indication anticipation and anxiety, shows how he cannot put his thoughts into order. ‘Hoping' + 'properly' + 'truthfully' indicate how he's tired of being rejected from the important people in his life. Him having to point these out emphasizes his determination for redemption from his wife and in turn evokes pity from the reader.
He tolerates almost intolerable in order to get a chance at redemption. ‘He sat out on the blue terrace with the blaze of sun on him' , 'not with the other guests and drinkers in the cool shadows of the lobby' (185-86)
Earlier on in the novel, the heat in Ceylon is portrayed very powerful and is something one would want to avoid Describing his father drinking in the room, Ondaatje recreates an emotional experience that he shares with Mervyn.
Mervyn continues to consume alcohol throughout this section. He drinks beer (185), then brings cases of beer and gin to take back to Kegalle (186). Towards the end of the chapter, although he has trouble looking at himself in the mirror fearing what may look back at him. Watching this lonely man drinking to drown his sorrows and unable to look at himself in the mirror evokes a clear sense of pathos.
 Constant reference to the alcohol suggests it is a measure that Mervyn uses to detach himself from reality.
‘Which he ordered ice-cold, finishing them before the sweat even evaporated from the surface of the bottle' (185) The antithesis of 'ice-cold' and the heat would amplify the rate of which he was drinking his beer Ondaatje’s reference to Shakespeare may serve a number of purposes. At an obvious level the fact that Shakespeare’s plays are described as ‘those plays of love that he wept over too easily’ reinforces the image created here of Mervyn as isolated, broken and alone.
This book may also be a reference to Mervyn’s life which was most definitely not Westernised. Finally the fact that the book that the ants carry away is page 189 (the same page on which this section is actually written) reinforces the link between the book in the bathroom and the memoir that we are currently reading.
Mervyn’s lack of interest in this page of a book about him may reflect his lack of interest in his own life now that he has lost his family. Alternatively perhaps Ondaatje is trying to imply that while Mervyn’s life did not possess the typical Shakespearean tragedy it is still worth recording none-the-less and is tragic in its own way.
There is also a further sadness in the implied connection that the father could have been reading the book that his son wrote and this is perhaps reflective of Ondaatje’s desire to really understand and be understood by his father – the sense that he has come close but will never quite be able to have the conversation with his father that he wants, just like Edgar and Gloucester in King Lear. Post-modernism Romanticisation Post colonialism Post-modernism is most obviously suggested in “Thanikama” in the section where Mervyn was in the bathroom and saw a “whole battalion [of ants] carrying one page away from its source” (189). The fact that the page on which this section is written is page 189 perhaps suggests a blurring of the boundaries between the fictional and the real worlds and thus the post-modern idea that ‘reality’ is little more than an agreed upon form of fiction. In this light we can see an interesting parallel between the text Ondaatje is writing and the real world in which he is living. In the acknowledgements, Ondaatje claims that his memoir is more a gesture than a portrait, which reveals that this text is a combination of fictional elaboration and real world information while in parallel the real world is a combination of real world detail and pseudo-textual interpretation. The romanticisation of the past is again evident in this section of the memoir as Mervyn’s actions continue to be eccentrically unique, for example his ability to speak clearly about the stars with the cinnamon peeler on the drive back from Colombo. However, towards the end of “Thanikama”, Mervyn gradually begins to reflect upon his life in a hopeless and depressive manor. In this way Ondaatje reinforces the impression that the glorious times which is father inhabited in the past are gone for good and he also evokes a sense of pathos as a result of the comparison between the life Mervyn used to live and the one he lives now.
Alternatively we might argue that, by painting Mervyn in such a grand state of desolation, Ondaatje continues to romanticize his father as a man capable of truly reaching rock bottom and perhaps there is something romantic, although not attractive, about a man who can sink that low. The fact that the title is left untranslated Sinhalese (although a hint is given to us at the start of the next chapter) suggests how perhaps there are some ideas that cannot be truly expressed in English. There is a richness in Ceylon (and the Sinhalese language) that the colonizers cannot equal nor take away. The reference to the cinnamon peeler who Mervyn picks up on his drive home further reinforces the uniqueness of Ceylon as it echoes the poem in ‘Don’t Talk to me About Matisse’ which recognizes the importance of celebrating your cultural identity. The perspective of Running in the Family is that of Michael Ondaatje, the famed author of The English Patient, and writer of this memoir. Nothing political or religious arises out of the pages of the book. Instead, Michael is focused on close social relationships.
Ondaatje's perspective is that of a middle-aged man reconstructing his youth in a far-off and often magical-seeming place, Ceylon or modern-day Sri Lanka. He also writes from the perspective of a child wounded by his parents' divorce and his father's addiction to alcohol. Perspective Themes Part of a Whole The entire section seems to be the end of Ondaatje’s quest to find out about his family. This section shows Mervyn in the full pathos of his isolation after his first wife has left him. The sense of despair and loneliness contrasts with the romanticized version of him that we see earlier in the memoir and helps to create a sense of closure, as if Ondaatje has come to a balanced understanding of what his father was like. The final vision of rainfall and the send of wonder at seeing something so rare also creates the impression that a greater understanding and sense of peace has been reached. Frequently referencing his organic environmental surroundings Ondaajte’s able to lay a solid and intricate foundation to his readers. Motifs of animals, insects, plants and flowers are al relevant to this chapter.“My body must remember everything, this brief insect bite, the smell of wet fruit, the slow snail light…” “Dark trees, the mildewed garden wall…”“The hint of colors, a sound of furious wet birds whose range of mimicry includes what one imagines to be large beasts, trains burning electricity.” Water has always been a reoccurring motif in this memoir especially in this subchapter. Ondaajte reiterates the significance of its presence in his memory of this the Monsoon season. “..the slow air pinned down by rain”“rain, rain, rain..”“During the monsoon, on my last morning, all this Beethoven and rain.”StyleOndaajte style is very calm in this subchapter. It seems to summarize most of the issues and obstacles he encountered as child, from small instances of climbing all over Aunt Peggy’s book cases with naked dirty feet to problems that still take a toll on his daily life, especially regarding that of his mothers marriage and father’s alcoholism. “Here where some ants as small as microdots bite and feel themselves being lifted by the sewlling five times as large as their bodies, rising in their own poison."

The poison Ondaajte refers to here could relate back to the struggles the Ondaatje family had with alcoholism. It is interesting that Ondaatje wrote certain descriptions with such detail. The previous line focuses on the very minuscule scale of his surrounding environment, yet can metaphorically relate back to the struggles of the larger picture in regards to poison. The issues that drives Ondaatje to travel back to his roots in Sri Lanka were strong. The need to better understand the relationship his father had with not only himself but the relationship he had with his wife and friends. In "Last Morning" Ondaatje exhibits this reoccurring theme in the book as he relates contrasting ideas. For example Ondaajte will talk about something upsetting to most and jump into the contentful memory of that time he remembers.

He says:
"My mother looks out of her Colombo window thinking of divorce, my father wakes stiffness in muscles he cannot remember exerting. It is a morning scenery well known to my sister and her children who leave for swimming practice before dawn crossing the empty city in the volks , passing the pockets of open shops and their lightbubl light that sell newspapers and food. I stood like this in the long mornings of my childhood unable to bear the wait till full daylight when I could go and visit the Peiris family down the road in Boralesgamuwa; the wonderful long days I spent...." Summary:

The way I would describe this section of the book would be as nostalgic because it’s full of memories and moments from the past. It is told by two different people: the first is Jennifer and the second is Archer, so the points of view are different from most of the rest of the book. Memories of the last few years and Mervyns’ final days, along with earlier memories of him and how he impacted their lives. Motifs Alcohol Death Nature (gardens, cactuses): Animals:

Animals were a big focus in the chapter, especially relating to Mervyn. As a character who is very focused on alcohol and partying, using animals as a motif brought him back down to earth and gave him a relation to something other than drinking. “Cats would cross the street if they saw him coming.”Humbled him, made him more relatable Earlier in the book, alcohol was paired up with fun and parties and youth, but at the end it reflected tragedy and destruction and the decline of Mervyn’s health. “When he could no longer hold all the information, the awareness of what was happening, he would turn to drink.” Drinking seems to be Mervyn’s automatic response to dealing with the things that he doesn’t want to face. Death: The motif of death is recurring in this chapter, specifically to do with Mervyn’s decline in health. The section is called final days, which represents the contents of the chapter well, because it’s all about the final memories and years of Mervyn’s life and the things that people remembered about him. His actual death wasn’t discussed in the section, but memories very close to it were. “His last days were very quiet.”“A year before he died he went into terrible depression.” “Two days before he died we were together.” Grounded him, Mervyn started the Cactus and Succulent Society and it gave him something to care about, similar to animals, “he kept journals about every one of the four hundred varieties of cactus and succulents.”
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