Thanikama – Running in the Family Analysis


* Context: takes place in the first chapter of the section entitled ‘The Ceylon Cactus and Succulent Society’ <– name of organization Mervyn made, to keep Lalla out of gardens, therefore chapter is a tribute to Mervyn, reflects his personality

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* Revolves around a day in the life of Mervyn Ondaatje, title reflects his being rejected and surrender to alcoholism as it has lead him to live a life on his own.

* Reminisces about college reflects on how ridiculous he was back then, general atmosphere has negative vibes, has a general sense of self pity

* Thesis –> Ondaatje’s portrayal of his alcoholic father evokes a sense of pity/sorrow from the reader. Has done this by implementing several important themes –> his determined attempts at redemption, the alcoholism that has taken him over, and his loss of direction in life.

Determined Attempts at Redemption:

* Use of syntax and diction in portrayal of this theme helps to accentuate his determinations to seek redemption

-‘He sat there all afternoon, hoping she would notice him and come down to speak to him properly, truthfully’ (185)

-refers to his wife

-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 conditions (heat as portrayed as so powerful earlier in the novel) 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

-emphasis is put on the literal atmosphere, hot and cold dichotomy, detaches himself from the rest of the guests, therefore highlighting the importance of redemption to him, almost as if he wants to satisfy his inner conscience.


* Constant reference to this theme 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 –> this could indicate how he is trying to forget his predicament and trying to make time go faster by having to resort to alcohol therefore evoking pity

* The alcohol has shaped him into a man who has ruined his relationships, and his sole relationship is with his drink

-‘the memory of his friends was with him in the sun. He poured them out of bottles into his glass tankard and drank’ (186)

-looking back on memories, how his life has been reduced to his alcohol, almost as if he’s trying to get rid of his past with his drink

-implies that the only stable relationship he has managed to continue is with his beer

* The readers see through Mervyn’s eyes alcoholism in the average person when he enters the bar, shows the extent of Mervyn’s alcoholism and shows how much he has lost.

-‘Drank and laughed, and listened, till eleven at night at which time they all went home to their wives’ (186)

‘…all went home to their wives’ implies that there were wives waiting for those men of the bar

-emphasizes the consequences of going to his extent of alcoholism

-could indicate how his alcoholism isn’t a pleasurable means such as theirs as suggested by ‘drank and laughed’ –> suggesting they are all having a good time

-this evokes a sense of sorrow for Mervyn

Loss of Direction:

* Mervyn Ondaatje has reached a stagnant point in his life, almost as if he’s trapped doing the same thing over and over again

-‘This animal paused when it reached the pavement and looked back at the man in the white car – who had still not moved on’ (187)

-this could be metaphorical for Mervyn’s life at the moment, how he is so transfixed on his goal of redemption (the animal) and how it pretty much turns its back on him.

-quite a significant metaphor as it suggests how he has ruined his life and he has nothing going for him, provokes a sense of pity for him

* It’s almost as if he has nowhere to be, no commitments except for the prospect of more drinking, and is in dire need of some company

-‘The man was a cinnamon peeler, and the smell filled the car, he did not want to stop, wanted to take him all the way past the spice gardens to Kegalle rather than letting him out a mile up the road’ (187)

-shows how he has no commitments, how nobody is waiting up for him

-the sensory imagery of the smells of cinnamon seems a good enough reason to keep a stranger in the car –> how he is in dire need for company

-evokes a sense of pity for him

* Michael Ondaatje gives the impression of his father that he has become a metaphorical empty eggshell, in that he is blank, empty, has no further substance

-‘Thinking. What was he thinking about? More and more he watched himself do nothing, with nothing.’ (188)

-this shows his general state of mind, in that he is not capable of further thinking, therefore painting a pitiful image of him.


* Mervyn Ondaatje has turned from a pretty significant figure in the beginning of the book, to somewhat of an eggshell, something without much substance.

* The reason this chapter is of significance is that the sense of sorrow/pity that it produces is so strong, it shows how travelling down the wrong path can have implications in so many different areas of one’s life.

* The author has successfully achieved his goal of portraying his father in a state in which he as surrendered to his severe alcoholism, but ultimately, creating pity for a man who unfortunately chose the wrong path in life.

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Thanikama – Running in the Family Analysis. (2017, Dec 11). Retrieved from