Anil’s Ghost is Michael Ondaatje’s critically acclaimed fourth novel where a native Sri Lankan and her partner embark on a journey to uncover the truth about a recently buried skeleton they dug up. This novel sheds light on humanity through terror, poetry and pity. Terror is used in the novel to express the importance of how it can ruin lives and never leave one’s head for as long as they live. The character, Lakma is a prime example of this. Ondaatje’s poetic style adds a sense of feeling and belief to the narration of the text much like how the human condition thrives on these morals for success and happiness. Pity is an underlying theme of the novel with the story’s character, Gamini, being an important tool by which it is expressed. Anil’s Ghost exemplifies how terror, poetry and pity affect the human condition.
Lives are torn apart from terrifying events. Someone that goes through trauma will have it with them for the rest of their life. Palipana’s niece, Lakma, saw her parents murdered in front of her at the age of twelve, the worst age for a tragedy; just old enough to understand completely what was happening. The narrator says ‘The shock of the murder of the girl’s parents, however, had touched everything within her, driving both her verbal and her motor ability into infancy.’ (pg. 103). Lakma was not what she used to be, she could not speak or move, she was ‘physically forced from her room to do exercises in sunlight.’(pg. 103). Lakma’s identity was diminished because of the terror in her life. Everything was her enemy; she was afraid to do anything as they were all a danger to her. ‘She would finger through every meal looking for insects or glass, would not sleep in the safety of her bed but hidden underneath it.’ (pg. 103). . After a few months, Palipana took her in, an attempt to rescue her life and give her identity back. This was when Lakma had one true good thing in her life with Palipana, but she was still in a traumatic state for many years. She never truly recovered from the terrorising event when she was twelve and her life seemed to just drag on. Lakma, the girl who once lived happily, had her identity taken away from her following the murder of her parents.
The use of poetic language in Anil’s Ghost is very meaningful and can be interpreted many ways, however, they are all linked back to human emotion. On one hand, Michael Ondaatje uses poetic language to express his ideas more clearly and make them more convincing. A good example of this is his use of hyperbole. ‘The doors opened and a thousand bodies slid in, as if caught in the nets of fishermen, as if they had been mauled.’ (pg. 213). Not only do statements like this make the novel sound more authentic, they also mirror the natural human way of exaggerating statements for the benefit of those listening. Because of this, if Anil’s Story is thought of as an extended conversation, the reader can definitely see how poetic language is linked to the human condition.
Having empathy and feeling pity for someone is central to understanding the human condition, because nothing is more human than sharing the pain of someone’s misfortunes. This is especially true for Gamini because his problems arise from him helping others and his country. Because he is a doctor, he worked very long hours with little rest to help save the lives of the