Given the first half of Michael Ondaatje’s “The Cinnamon Peeler,” the poem can be reach as a patriarchal or colonial text, where the titular cinnamon peeler has clear authority and dominance over the cinnamon peeler’s wife. Ondaatje uses the actual past of the second half to subvert this dominance in the hypothetical present, re-examining the power dynamic between the persona and his wife. By exploring the nature of power in love, their actual relationship is revealed to be much more nuanced, with the persona’s wife paradoxically empowered and powerless in relation to the persona at the same time.
In “The gate in his head,” Michael Ondaatje sees reality as chaotic and amorphous. Art, however, imposes the artist. The problem is capturing this chaos without imposing order upon it—a contradictory task. Ondaatje looks towards Victor Coleman for an answer. Coleman is able to direct the reader towards this indescribable reality through a sense of movement and convergence. This motion is crucial to “The gate in his head,” as Ondaatje analyzes and mimics Coleman’s technique, ever sliding closer to that ineffable chaos.
Michael Ondaatje’s “White Dwarfs” explores silence as the negation against the greater context of order, language and society. Because silence is absence, it cannot truly be articulated without undermining its very purpose and nature. Instead, Ondaatje conveys silence through physical and metaphysical spaces. These spaces are impossible, contradictory and often violent—allowing Ondaatje to voice silence, and ultimately giving the reader an understanding of the presence of absence.