In 1930, under Lake Ontario, men work in a dark, mud-filled tunnel in silence while the city photographer Arthur Goss captures the scene. The men struggle with wet rocks and mud to build Toronto’s new waterworks. Like the Italian and Greek immigrants Patrick works with, he remains silent during his eight-hour shift, as they work, eat, and relieve themselves in the dark tunnel while knowing that, if they dig too far, the tunnel could flood and kill them all.
The danger and solitary nature of the working class’s manual labor comes to light in this scene. The fact that they work in an underground tunnel is all the more symbolic, as it indicates that the workers’ work and life remains invisible to the rest of society. The lack of hygiene that the men are forced to accept not only puts their health at risk, but also suggests that they are not even given the time and space to satisfy basic human needs.
Whenever the workers discover large walls of rock, Patrick works alone to dynamite it. He is paid extra for laying charges, in addition to his ordinary digging work. Although dynamiting makes him feel comfortable, since it reminds him of his childhood and his father’s skills, he is now condemned to work in darkness, below the earth, instead of in sunlight by the water.
Patrick’s inheritance of his father’s profession suggests that he does have a strong family identity, even if it is defined exclusively by work. The contrast between his childhood and his current work conditions adds unpleasantness to danger, suggesting that being part of the working class in the city is even more arduous than in the countryside.
After work, Patrick walks home from work, recognizing other workers by the holes they have in their shirts—the result of removing their shirt during the day’s heat and pinning it to a wall—and feeling the clay dry on his clothing and arms. When he reaches his room, he removes his clothes, feeds the iguana, and goes to bed. At six in the morning, he wakes up to go to work, stopping by the Thompson Grill to eat a quick breakfast. At the waterworks, Patrick then enters the tunnel convinced that the mules who live there are just as knowledgeable as any man digging into a clay wall.
The visual signs that workers can recognize as symbols of their trade create a sense of solidarity and communion among workers, even if they do not actually talk to each other. In fact, Patrick’s routine is extremely solitary, and he does not seem interested in communicating with his colleagues beyond what is necessary. His comparison of a man’s brain to a mule’s emphasizes that, even if it involves skill and danger, the work that the men perform is not intellectually complex, and reduces them to the state of animals.
Above ground, Commissioner Harris organizes the excavations and the variety of elements that make up the waterworks, provided by many different specialized companies. Harris has dreamed of this water palace’s elegance, and the architect Pomphrey has designed it to look like an ideal city. Criticized during the Great Depression for this extravagant project, Harris insists that he is creating jobs when he knows that this construction project remains a self-centered dream.
The participation of many different companies in the waterworks project shows that Harris is far from the only one responsible for the workers’ exploitation. Instead, the workers must be seen as part of an entire system of capitalist competition that allows private firms to benefit from the low cost of the men’s labor and the business that large construction projects bring.
Although Harris has sent the photographer Arthur Goss in the tunnels, he has never been there himself, as he is more interested in managing the technical aspects that building the waterworks involves. In Goss’s photographs, except for one man’s shirt, the tunnel looks dark and filled with strenuous labor.
Harris’s lack of interest in visiting the actual sites where men work once again reveals his indifference toward the workers’ plight. Goss’s photographs highlight the insalubrity of the men’s working conditions, as well as the artistic difficulty—which In the Skin of a Lion attempts to overcome—of making each worker look like a full human being.
Patrick eats most of his meals at the Thompson Grill, where he watches the waitress’s efficient movements, honed over the years. She seems indifferent to those around her, but Patrick finds her fascinating, thanks to her seeming aloofness, combined with her strong muscles and her precise movements.
In her apparent solitary attitude and physical efficiency, the waitress is reminiscent of Patrick himself, who is leading a life of routine manual labor and has become an anonymous member of the urban fabric.
One day, Patrick, who has spent the past couple of years completely alone, pins a note on his wall about a meeting at the waterworks at 8 p.m. He lives in a neighborhood of Macedonian immigrants, many of whom work in the tunnel with him, and his inability to communicate with them makes him feel pleasantly anonymous. However, over time, he regularly asks a Macedonian woman at the market for clover and vetch, having succeeded at making himself understood and repeating the word in their language.
Because of the composition of his neighborhood, Patrick experiences a culture shock in his own country, the estrangement that foreign immigrants usually feel. Although Patrick claims to appreciate his solitary life, he also derives pleasure from learning the immigrants’ language and having small interactions with them, which reveals that he might be more interested in cultural exchange than he admits to himself.
When Patrick finally explains to the puzzled Macedonian shopkeepers that he needs vetch to feed his iguana, they all surround him, asking him many questions about his pet. The group then calls for Emil, a young boy who speaks the best English. When Emil sees Patrick, he calls him “Peaches on Friday.” Patrick realizes that all the Macedonians know about him is where he lives, that he lives alone, and that he always asks for canned peaches on Fridays.
The Macedonians’ curiosity reveals that they must have wondered about Patrick for a long time but never found the way or the right moment to ask him about his strange requests. Emil’s nickname suggests that the community’s attitude toward Patrick is warm and playful, fueled by months of regular, polite interactions.
Patrick is embarrassed to realize that he lives such a monotonous life. He is so overwhelmed by the Macedonians’ friendliness and generosity, as they hand him a Macedonian cake, that he feels tears fall from his eyes. Elena, the shopkeeper he has bought vetch from for over a year, hands him her white scarf to use as a handkerchief. Looking up at these people he has always considered so foreign, he realizes that he is their alien.
Patrick’s emotional reaction to the Macedonians’ warmth suggests that his solitary life was perhaps not as fulfilling as he thought it was, and that he too yearns for the love and comfort that a community can bring. This proves a revolutionary moment for Patrick, who has never benefited from the joy that a community can bring—not even in his own family.
Everyone introduces themselves and, as Patrick tries to remember their names, he introduces himself as well. The Macedonians then invite him to have lunch with them, treating him as a guest of honor. During the lunch, Kosta asks Patrick a question through Emil, who first inquires if others believe this question is appropriate and then asks Patrick what he can do, adding that it does not matter if Patrick cannot do anything.
The Macedonians’ friendliness toward Patrick is an expression of human warmth and empathy. In this sense, Kosta’s question can be seen as a simple effort to get to know Patrick better, in line with everyone’s concern to be as polite and welcoming as possible. At the same time, Kosta’s inquiry also aims to understand what role Patrick might play in the community, whether economic or political.
While everyone waits for his reply in silence, Patrick answers that he used to work as a searcher and that he knows how to use dynamite—a reply that causes an even greater silence. Kosta then suddenly begins yelling passionately at Patrick, saying “Me too, me too.” Later, as Patrick is showing his iguana around the neighborhood, Kosta discreetly invites him to a meeting at the waterworks at eight on Sunday night.
The silence after Patrick’s answer is ominous, suggesting that he might have made a faux pas. However, Kosta’s outburst of enthusiasm highlights the similarity between Patrick and him, suggesting that cultural differences matter less than one’s skills and experience. Patrick’s dynamiting skills also make him a potentially useful political activist.
On Sunday, one hour after sunset, people walk up the hill toward the waterworks. The illegal gathering, made up of people from different nationalities, takes place inside the waterworks because the machines drown out the noise. Patrick follows the crowd to a temporary stage, waving to Kosta when he sees him greeting people. Patrick then realizes that this is a night of entertainment and of politics.
The nature of this meeting suggests that Kosta was indeed trying to evaluate Patrick politically at lunch, and that Patrick is now allowed to take part in all aspects of the community’s life, even if he is not actually a foreign immigrant. The mix of entertainment and politics at the meeting shows that, in their life as marginalized citizens, immigrants need both to distract themselves and to make their voice heard.
When the electric lights turn off, the only light comes from the oil lamps illuminating the stage. Puppets then arrive on stage, accompanied by a human figure disguised as a large puppet. In the absence of music, the puppets dance, twirling around. The large human puppet wears clothing that represents a mix of different nationalities. As a plot emerges, the human puppet becomes the hero. It plays the part of a naïve foreigner whom authorities insult and then begin to beat physically, while the puppet only makes pleading gestures. Patrick finds the scene unbearable and cannot look away from the puppet’s face, which has thick eyebrows, a big nose, and a curled moustache. Finally, the human puppet kneels and begin to hit the wooden floor as a plea for help, which brings sudden, frightening sound to the show.
From the aspect of entertainment, the human puppet’s role, is to make the audience feel strong emotions of fear, pity, and compassion. From a political perspective, the puppet is denouncing the discrimination and brutality that immigrants often experience. In this sense, it aims to transform spectators’ compassion into political indignation and a desire to act. This scene reveals the power of art to illuminate reality and, perhaps, to participate in societal change. In its aim to make history tangible and human, In the Skin of a Lion follows a similar goal.
As the audience begins to clap at the same rhythm as the figure’s hand, Patrick finds himself hypnotized by the scene. Desperate to make this terrifying action stop, he stands up and walks on stage, noticing that the performer looks much smaller from up close and is a woman. He then leans over and gently takes the woman’s hand to make her stop banging it on the stage. When he looks up at the audience, he notices that there are hundreds of people there, more than he thought.
Patrick’s spontaneous interruption of the play suggests that it has achieved its effect: to spur the audience into action. The play encourages solidarity and compassion, the protection of the weakest members of society. Patrick’s surprise at seeing so many people present indicates that urban life is not necessarily as impersonal and anonymous as he initially believed, but that it can foster networks of cooperation.
Although all Patrick notices is that the actress looks exhausted, she expresses more emotion, showing shock at seeing him. However, she then begins to clap slowly, raising her swollen hand and calling out the next performer, whom the crowd cheers on. Patrick moves back to leave the stage, embarrassed, and when he looks up again she is gone.
Patrick will later discover that the actress is none other than Alice, who is shocked to recognize Patrick as her savior. However, her subsequent clapping reveals that she is not as disturbed by his interruption as one might have thought, but that Patrick’s presence on stage is part of the show.
Backstage, Patrick searches for the woman everywhere, past actors who are putting on or taking off costumes. When he asks a performer where the puppet dancer might be, the performer gives him a flashlight and Patrick keeps on moving through the darkness, past a variety of puppets representing various roles. When Patrick hears the sound of something falling into water, he turns around, thinking that his gestures must also make him look like a puppet. Extending his hand, he touches an arm while someone calls him by his name.
The mysterious, backstage atmosphere that Patrick is immersed in makes him feel as though he is moving through a magical world, in which he too has become a puppet—a tool in a work of art that he does not yet understand. This scene creates mystery and suspense, amplified by the fact that Patrick is completely confused, whereas the person whose arm he touches apparently knows who he is.
Patrick turns on the flashlight again, feeling as though the woman was waiting for his light to reveal herself. The woman explains that no one comes there while she washes, and that she therefore knew it must be him. She asks him to wash the paint off her neck and, as he wipes off her eyes as well, he feels that he is interacting with something even more intimate than the person of Alice Gull, since he has to remove a minuscule spot of paint around her eye.
The late revelation that the actress is Alice Gull explains why she would ask Patrick to wash her, but puts the reader in a state of confusion that mirrors Patrick’s and thus makes the world seem magical and unintelligible. Patrick’s removal of the paint on Alice’s face allows her to step out of her role as an actress, and also re-establishes physical and emotional contact between them.
Later, in Alice’s room, where Patrick has just seen Alice’s sleeping daughter, Alice explains that she wasn’t married and that the girl’s father is dead. He was a guerilla fighter and political activist who was persecuted in his own country and was deeply committed to justice, which made him difficult to live with.
Although both Alice and Patrick are now alone, their partners gone, Alice’s family situation contrasts starkly with Patrick’s solitary life. Alice comes across as mature and responsible, potentially immersed in local politics and community life.
Patrick and Alice then begin to talk about politics and injustice, and while Patrick argues that compassion—what Alice’s play achieves—can be a powerful vehicle for political learning, Alice argues that they should take power from the powerful instead of trying to teach them to be better. She concludes that Patrick is solitary and self-sufficient, and therefore can allow himself to be what she calls “romantic.” Against Patrick’s optimistic attitude toward social mobility, she argues that the only way to succeed economically is to become as predatory as Ambrose Small, who considered even Clara a possession he could detach himself from.
Even though Alice is an actress, she does not believe that art is capable of influencing reality—and, in particular, political dynamics—in any meaningful way. Unlike Patrick, her vision of life is less based on individual will and talent than on an understanding of capitalist society as a system that corrupts everyone involved, oppressing the poor and turning the rich or ambitious into greedy, uncaring opportunists. This means that the entire system—not just the particular individuals who represent it—needs to be overhauled.
As Patrick listens to Alice’s angry tirade, he wonders if this might be an acting role, an imitation of her daughter’s father. Describing the plight of the many people who were at the gathering, Alice explains that working at a tannery is brutalizing, because the smell marks the men’s very skin and causes them to suffer from arthritis and rheumatism. Alice argues that the only way to stop this is to destroy the rich’s possessions.
The fact that Alice might have inherited some of her political opinions from her former lover suggests that love is capable of radically redefining people’s beliefs and sense of self. Alice identifies with the plight of the working class and advocates revolutionary methods, according to which only destruction would allow for the creation of a more equal society, in which everyone understands what it means to be poor.
Alice then explains that someone always walks on stage to stop her, as Patrick did tonight, but Patrick replies that she will not convert him to her cause. He then asks her if she would ever ask him to kill someone for political reasons and if her daughter’s father would have done that, but she simply replies that she does not consider herself important enough to make someone hurt another person.
Alice’s comment about the play aims to show Patrick that there are many people who care about justice in the city, and that this is a noble cause. However, her admission that injustice or politics does not justify killing others is a sign of humility, because she proves averse to the idea of imposing her beliefs onto others through brute force.
The two of them walk out onto the fire escape, holding Alice’s daughter Hana in the fresh air, and passersby wave at them from below, which makes Patrick feel as though Alice and he are playing a role. As a bottle of whiskey attached by a rope moves down toward them, Alice drinks some, giving a toast to impatience, before offering some to Patrick and sending the bottle down for other people to enjoy. Looking out at their Macedonian neighborhood and the entire city, knowing that this is the “New World,” Patrick feels at rest.
Patrick realizes that being part of a community involves both benefits and responsibilities, as being recognized makes him more accountable for his actions than the anonymous city as a whole does. The moving bottle of whiskey symbolizes the trust and solidarity that exists in the working-class community, as everyone shares a valuable good, whiskey with everyone else.
After Patrick lies down, Alice tells him to sit up again to see something beautiful, and Patrick sees rectangles of light appear as night workers prepare in their apartments for their shifts. Patrick says that these people do not want Alice’s revolution and she agrees, saying that only he will be involved.
Alice’s agreement that most members of the working class will never actually want a revolution means that she is working on behalf of others, not necessarily with their stated support. This makes her project subversive even within the working class itself.
At five in the morning, Patrick leaves Alice and Hana sleeping on the fire escape to leave for work, stopping by his room to put on his clothes. He knows that he will be exhausted later and that his body will not be able to perform its strenuous tasks, but for the moment he feels awake and energetic. Patrick remembers a comment Clara had made about Alice after Cato, Hana’s father, died. She said that Alice experienced something akin to madness and extreme loneliness.
The contrast between the family that Patrick is leaving and his solitary work highlights the fact that he is now embarking on a new journey, in which his lonely routine might be complemented by more social activities. Clara’s comment about Alice highlights the deep emotional impact that love has on people, capable—like a political revolution—of completely overturning their lives.
In the Thompson Grill, Patrick recalls being eighteen, at a formal ball, and experiencing the beauty and wonder of a woman’s embrace for the first time while drunk. As he also recalls his old conversation with Clara about Alice, he feels as though all these women might be a succession of painted faces.
Patrick’s life has been marked by his interaction with women. This indicates that love plays an important role in defining an individual’s memory and identity, even if memory sometimes makes people seem impossibly distant.
Over time, as Patrick begins to feel happy and fulfilled in his relationship with Alice, he finds a job at the tannery after the waterworks tunnel is completed. Since jobs are still difficult to find, he benefits from Alice’s connections. At the tannery, he slices animal skins, walking on slippery mud that requires strong balance, and loses awareness of the terrible smell from the dying section. However, the men are only allowed ten seconds of water to wash off and Alice can still smell the leather on him. The dyers, by contrast, can wash longer but the horrible smell never leaves them.
The natural progression of Patrick’s relationship with Alice implies that Patrick probably needed love and comfort more than he ever realized. Like most of the jobs that the working class takes part in, his new job is both deeply unpleasant, unsanitary, and dangerous. The difficulty of finding even such a job suggests that the country is undergoing a difficult economic situation, impacting even the lowest paid members of society.
The dyers, who wash in different-colored pools, wish they could gather to smoke a cigarette during their five-minute break. Reflecting on the fact that the men’s colors look as though they represented their different nationalities, Patrick knows that these men have a terrible job, which is bound to make them smell terribly for years to come and die of consumption. Despite the men’s desperate desire for a cigarette, they cannot smoke because the acid of the solutions they are immersed in would make them burst into flame if they brought a flame to it.
The colors at the tannery symbolize the fact that most of the working class is comprised of foreign immigrants. It also highlights the near-impossible difficulty of achieving social mobility, since these men’s skin is marked for life by the chemicals they have worked so long in. This serves as a metaphor, on a physical level, for the way in which these men’s social identity, at the bottom of the economic ladder, will probably never change.
At the tannery, when the workers arrive at dawn, working until six in the evening, the labor agent gives them English names, which they repeat to themselves like a number. Mentioning the smell that will forever mark the dyers’ skin, Alice criticizes the attitude of the rich, who always laugh, never work, and keep the poor in menial jobs. She forces Patrick to remember that the rich will never want to give up on their material superiority.
The foreign men’s efforts to remember their names underlines their estrangement from English-speaking Canadian society, even as they sacrifice their own lives to take part in it. Manual labor turns them into mere numbers, anonymous individuals contributing to a greater economic system whose benefits they are unlikely to reap.
In Kosta’s house, Alice is relaxed with her friends, with whom she speaks, English, Finnish, or Macedonian. Patrick does not understand everything, but knows that they mention the police chief who made public meetings by foreigners and speaking a foreign language in the street illegal. Patrick reflects on his father’s comment about the loggers they would see when he was a child. Hazen Lewis said that they did not know where they were. Patrick now realizes that the situation has been reversed: he is the one who does not know where he is.
The state’s endorsement of a law that directly targets foreigners supports Alice’s view that the rich aim to keep the working class poor and disenfranchised. By making public meetings illegal and keeping people from speaking foreign languages, the police aims to limit the possibility for workers to organize for their rights—an anti-democratic goal meant to keep workers from fighting for better pay and working conditions.
One day, Alice reads Patrick some of Joseph Conrad’s letters. The writer defends the right of the oppressed to fight for political ideals, even as he finds political crimes repellent. As Alice tries to convince Patrick of the validity of her views, he says that the problem with ideology is that it is not compatible with the private, intimate lives of people.
On Saturdays, workers from the tannery gather at the steam baths, while saluting each other using people’s countries as their names, for example calling Patrick “Canada.” Patrick does not know anything about his fellow workers’ private lives, and keeps his own Canadian identity secret to his bosses. In the steam baths, though, everyone relaxes and Patrick listens to the music, giving in to ease and comfort.
Patrick realizes that he is neither fully from Canada (since he lives and works with so many foreign immigrants), nor from somewhere else, since he cannot communicate with his foreign colleagues. However, all the workers are linked by a single, unifying characteristic: their strenuous manual labor.
Later, Patrick joins Alice and Hana and they eat on the fire escape or at the Balkan Café where Hana teaches Patrick the foreign words for the food they are eating. Since Alice works in the evening, he would spend time with Hana waiting to pick Alice up at ten, and they would walk around the neighborhood, while Hana translated words to him. Patrick enjoys learning about the Macedonians’ customs, and admires the way in which Hana has made certain spots of the city her own.
Patrick, Alice, and Hana form a small family. Although Patrick takes care of Hana, he actively learns from her, through her linguistic skills. This relationship of interdependence shows that love can allow everyone to grow and learn in a cooperative way. It also underlines his sincere interest in actually becoming part of the immigrant community around him.
Patrick and Hana sometimes go to Hana’s favorite place, Geranium Bakery, where her friend Nicholas Temelcoff shows them around the bakery. One night, Hana shows Patrick some old photographs and tells him about Cato, her father, whom she never knew. Noticing a picture of people on the bridge, Patrick asks Hana about it and Hana says that Alice must have known them.
Patrick’s curiosity about the photographs reveal his interest in Alice’s past, which he does not know much about. It is only much later that Patrick will realize that this photograph is a symbol of Alice’s break with the past: she once decided to abandon her life as a nun to join ordinary society, after being rescued by Nicholas on the bridge.
One day, Alice shares with Patrick parts of her love story with Cato. She explains that Cato was his war name and that, because of his need to hide his identity, she learned she could never trust him. Although they often spoke of breaking up, since it was complicated to maintain such a relationship while Cato took part in political work, they would always see each other on Thursdays and explore the surrounding countryside on their bicycles, making love out in the open.
Alice’s lack of knowledge about Cato’s true identity reflects Patrick’s ignorance of Alice’s former life. It suggests that perfect knowledge or understanding is not necessary for love to flourish, but that people can learn to accept elements of mystery in the other’s character. In this case, Alice accepts that Cato’s political involvement is more important than complete transparency on his part.
Although Patrick initially wonders if these stories make him feel jealous, he concludes that they do not. He then asks Alice about the men on the bridge but Alice, who is not inclined to give much importance to the past, tells him to leave the past alone.
Patrick’s lack of jealousy shows that he accepts that love can involve multiple people at once, in the past and the present: Patrick can love Alice even if she once loved Cato as strongly as he currently loves her.
With the photograph of the men on the bridge in his pocket, Patrick reflects that he has always believed that characters have a life on the page, expanding beyond the plot that the author has chosen for them. He walks to the Riverdale Library, where he searches for information about the bridge’s construction. There, he reads about the nun who fell off the bridge and discovers a picture of Nicholas Temelcoff. Although Patrick wants to find the picture of the nun, he realizes that no one would have printed her picture. As Patrick reflects on the various stories around him, he realizes that he is now part of a web of stories—Alice’s love story with Cato, Hana’s friendship with the baker—and wonders if Alice was a nun.
Patrick’s attitude toward fictional characters’ lives outside the page mirrors his desire to understand the meaning of this photograph in Alice’s life: he believes there is more to people’s lives than what most people usually see. In this case, he discovers that Nicholas is not only a baker, but a former fearless bridge builder, and that Alice might be a former nun—which would explain why she is currently friends with Nicholas. Patrick discovers that the stories he has heard do not exclude him from other people’s lives. Rather, they allow him to become part of a collective narrative, a series of personal stories that he is now involved in through the simple act of becoming Alice’s partner.
The next day, at work, Patrick reflects on what he knows about Alice’s past. After work, he goes home and plays a game with Alice and Hana on the bed. Patrick marvels at Alice’s frail, yet agile body. Once, Alice tells Patrick that she misses Clara, who made her sane for years and has made Alice the person she is now.
This series of seemingly disjointed events does not bring any resolution to Patrick’s interrogations about Alice, but reinforces the idea that there will always be an element of mystery to people’s past. In the present, though, love is powerful enough to make everyone fulfilled.
Patrick realizes that he is obsessively looking through Alice’s past because he wants to keep her from being dead, and he hopes to achieve a return to the past which only literature can achieve. When Patrick goes to see Nicholas Temelcoff at the bakery, he realizes that Alice must be the nun, taking on the parrot’s name Alicia as her own, perhaps in a mocking reply to Nicholas’s injunction that she speak.
The sudden announcement of Alice’s death remains unexplained until much later in the novel. For the moment, it remains as elusive as her life as a nun, which she discarded suddenly and irrevocably. In the same way, her death—however mysterious—is immutable, and cannot be modified once it has happened.
After Patrick leaves the bakery, Nicholas keeps on thinking. Although Nicholas never talks about the past, as he focused only on his work at the bakery and his feeling of being a citizen there, Patrick’s questions have made him experience the pleasure of being part of history. Now, Nicholas will give up on some of his shyness and begin to tell stories, sharing with his wife the story of the nun.
Patrick’s discovery that Nicholas took part in building the bridge makes Nicholas feel pride in his own past. This proves that Patrick’s effort to understand Alice’s connection to the bridge workers was well intentioned. All he wanted to do was to understand his community better, and Alice’s position in it.
Patrick remembers lying on Alice’s stomach and listening to stories about her relationship with Cato. She explains that he was born in the north, the son of a Finnish family. When she mentions that he used to skate on a frozen lake holding burning plants as torches, Patrick realizes that the loggers he knew as a child must have been Finns, and that he now has a name for that anonymous group. Then, as Alice and he make love, he wonders where she is from. Lying with her in bed, he also feels amazed that the actor he once saw on stage is now lying in his arms, fully human. He wonders how she succeeds in separating her acting roles from her true self.
When Patrick discovers through Alice that the loggers he used to know were members of Cato’s community, it becomes apparent that people’s lives are deeply connected. This episode also suggests that uncovering history serves a humanizing role, as it keeps a group of workers from remaining anonymous. Instead, it gives them an identity and a purpose. Like Patrick, through historical investigation, In the Skin of a Lion seeks to give life to potentially anonymous groups of workers.
One day, Hana hands Patrick a letter Cato wrote to Alice while working as a logger in the winter and living what would become his final days. Engaged in political activism, Cato was planning a strike and, when the camp bosses learned about this, they chased him, caught him, and executed him. As Patrick reads the letter, he wonders if he is an impostor for enjoying Alice and Hana’s presence, the members of Cato’s family. He feels as though he has become a searcher in his own family.
The extremely violent punishment that Cato suffered at the hands of his bosses reveals how dangerous it is to be involved in political work, since the powerful people in society have strong economic interests to keep workers from defending their rights. Patrick’s consciousness of becoming part of people’s various stories does not always make him feel comfortable, even if it is historically useful.
Thinking about his own life, Patrick realizes that he has always been detached from other humans and that, despite being Canadian, he feels foreign to this place. He knows that he cannot be a hero in the stories he has heard, and that the Finns who played on the river at night were perhaps more closely linked to the land than he was. He concludes that everyone’s stories can exist without him, and that all he does is collect their stories, feeling a gap between him and the love of a community. When he realizes that he never knew about the union battles taking place in 1921 in his very own childhood region, he feels ignorant and blind.
It is difficult to separate Patrick’s feelings of estrangement from his previous announcement of Alice’s death. If love made him feel connected to other people, he now realizes that his lack of connection to others makes him feel ignorant. In this way, love, connection, and the joy of knowledge all go hand in hand. However, Patrick’s comments about his ignorance sound unfairly harsh, since the environment he grew up in kept him isolated from a community and from the region’s political life.
Patrick remembers one Sunday when Alice and he were walking back from the regular gathering at the waterworks. Patrick offered to become more formally responsible for Hana, but Alice replied that he already was looking after her, since Hana knew he loved her. Overwhelmed by grief, Patrick now longs for Alice’s presence and recalls various moments of their time together. Talking to Alice in his mind, he tells her that the moment she told him she would not ask someone to hurt someone else was the moment he fell in love with her, since it made him realizes he could trust her—even though, paradoxically, Alice saw her own confession as self-criticism.
Alice’s comment about the love that exists between Patrick and Hana aims to show him that love is powerful enough to bring comfort and protection without the need for formal recognition. In the same way, Alice recognized the need for people to look after each other, regardless of their political beliefs. Her inability to tell someone to harm someone else reveals not lack of confidence, as she believed, but trust in humanity and the dignity of every human being, even her own enemies.
Recalling other memories, Patrick concludes that he does not want a love story structured by plot and logical consequences, but that he simply wants to be alone in a field with Alice, when they used to walk around the city and the countryside together.
Patrick wishes he could escape ordinary life to enter the world of literature, where the reader can choose to stop reading at any point and settle on a single memory, instead of having to endure the pain and grief that real life can bring.