Rites of Passage: Moving Hearts and Transforming Memories in Michael Ondaatje's <i>The Cat's Table.</i>


  • Laura Savu Walker University of South Carolina-Columbia


affect, exile, imagination, memory, other, self


In his latest novel, The Cat's Table (2011), Ondaatje continues the project, started in his memoir, Running in the Family (1982), of understanding his childhood and mapping a space that he can call home by revisiting, from the remove of decades and from another continent, the unforgettable three-week sea voyage from Colombo to London that he undertook in 1954. This essay explores the interplay between two modes of memorial expression--the first "sensory, perceptual, affective, and automatic", the second "verbal, purposeful, and reflective" (Pillemer 100)--and the implications they carry for the narrator's self-perception both as a boy and as an adult (writer). Partaking of the emotional waters that Michael (nicknamed Mynah) navigates in the course of his voyage is his fascination with the "ex-centric" (Hutcheon) individuals he encounters on board the Oronsay and whose stories become intertwined with his. Ove and against the power relations that structure modern society and that too often bespeak a "cold-blooded self-sufficiency" (Cat's Table 257), Ondaatje pits those intimate bonds forged across differences of age, class, gender, race, and nationalilty that challenge the autonomy of the feeling self by foregrounding its deeply intersubjective nature.

Author Biography

Laura Savu Walker, University of South Carolina-Columbia

Laura Savu Walker earned her PhD in English from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (2006). Currently an adjunct instructor at the University of South Carolina-Columbia, she has also taught as an Assistant Professor in the Modern Languages Department at the University of Bucharest. In addition to her book Postmodern Postmodernists: The Afterlife of the Author in Recent Narrative (2009), she has published essays and reviews in Studies in American Culture, Intertexts, Prose Studies, Papers on Language and Literature, ARIEL, symploke, Balkanistica, D.H. Lawrence Review, and the online journal [Inter]sections. Her research interests include modern Anglophone literatures, life writing, affect theory, and cultural studies.






Subjectivity in a Globalizing World