Applications of chaos theory to history in the novels of Michael Ondaatje : disorder within order in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Coming Through Slaughter and In the Skin of a Lion
McKenzie, Robert M.
Master of Arts
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This is a thesis studying Literary Chaos Theory and its use in explicating the novels of Michael Ondaatje. The paper concentrates on elements of Chaos theory, such as ‘strange attractors,’ ‘bifurcation points’ and ‘self-organizing systems.’ These elements of Chaos theory help describe many dynamics in Ondaatje’s writings which seem almost undescribable without them. Chaos theory explains not only the mechanics of Ondaatje’s complicated style but also Ondaatje’s treatment of the chaos of history within The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Coming Through Slaughter and In the Skin of a Lion. Ondaatje rewrites history in such a way that he almost completely excludes the voices of the dominant elements of our social superstructure. He ignores the voices of the privileged, particularly in In the Skin of a Lion, and instead uses a multi-layered narrative system which is accomodating due to its complexity. Ondaatje is able to tell the stories of the marginal people and groups in history who otherwise don’t have a voice in the ‘official’ versions of history. He weaves the perspectives of many marginal characters together into one history. Ondaatje’s stories are not only inclusive, but they also show the order in chaos in their complexity. This paper discusses how Ondaatje draws identities for his characters, out of the Chaotic narrative, by using machine imagery as synecdochal and metonymic identifying tropes to show his order within the Chaos.