The Dubious Representations of Histories in <i>Running in the Family</i> by Michael Ondaatje


GÜMÜŞ E.

LITERA-JOURNAL OF LANGUAGE LITERATURE AND CULTURE STUDIES, no.2, pp.547-564, 2021 (ESCI) identifier

Abstract

Coined by Stephan Greenblatt in 1980s, new historicism flourished as a literary approach which presents new perspectives on the perception of history. It basically challenges the traditional understanding of history which claims that history records and interprets past events objectively in a chronological order. New historicists, therefore, centre on the representations of history, not the history itself as they assert that there is not a single objective history, but there are multiple subjective histories. As new historicism claims that history may be represented only subjectively, truths for new historicists are always unstable. Thus, new historicism states that history is not regarded as a grand narrative dictating a single meaning, truth or essence. The purpose of this article is to examine how history is represented in Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family, which is described as a fictionalised autobiographical memoir, from a new historicist perspective. As a Canadian diasporic writer returning to Sri Lanka, his birth place, after a long absence, Ondaatje reconstructs his family history by depending on memories, gossip, and rumour all of which are unreliable and subjective. Similarly, while reconstructing Sri Lankan history, the narrative is based on colonial discourse which fantasies or even mythologizes the island. Therefore, this article attempts to demonstrate how history is reconstructed and narrated in subjective ways which bring out multiple histories by focalising the unreliable memories and colonial discourse.