In the Skin of a Lion

In the Skin of a Lion Part 3: Chapter 1: Caravaggio Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the Kingston Penitentiary, the prisoners Patrick Lewis and Buck are painting the roof of the prison blue, careful not to confuse that color with the sky and step off the side of the roof. Patrick and Buck paint Caravaggio blue against the roof so that he will not be visible and can escape. At night, after prison staff search for him in vain, Caravaggio unfastens the belt attaching him to the roof and jumps off, running through the small town of Bath in the darkness. Finally, he jumps onto a train, attaching himself as he had on the roof, and falls asleep.
The story now shifts from Patrick to Caravaggio. Caravaggio, a thief, represents another aspect of working-class life: the section of society that takes part in illegal actions for a living. However, Caravaggio’s political beliefs are aligned with Alice’s, as he despises the lifestyle of the rich. He represents an alternative way of life—a different way of engaging in economic and political subversion.
Themes
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When Caravaggio arrives in Trenton, he jumps off the train, still completely covered in blue. He sleeps in the grass for a while, and walks through the woods near an industrial area. When he steps out of the woods, he sees a child observe him while he is trying to look normal. As Caravaggio begins to talk to the boy, he learns that his name is Alfred, and the boy asks him is he is part of the movie company, to which Caravaggio nods. Caravaggio asks Alfred to help him remove the paint from his body and Alfred agrees to wipe the paint of Caravaggio’s face. Caravaggio finally admits that he is not part of a movie crew, but comes from the prison. Laughing, he says that he is the painter Caravaggio. The boy promises to keep this a secret and helps him cut off his hair.
The improvisational nature of Caravaggio’s movements and decisions, as well as the ease with which he lies, reveal that he used to living a life of dissimulation and uncertainty. However, his good humor gives him the air of an adventurer instead of depicting him as a potentially dangerous criminal, which thieves are usually considered to be. Caravaggio’s joke about being the famous painter highlights the difference in status between Caravaggio, who steals paintings for a living, and the original Italian artist, who made them.
Themes
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Caravaggio then walks briefly into the nearby factory when the owner is busy, and goes into the bathroom to remove the paint oil from his face. In the mirror, he sees his neck for the first time since his prison attack, three months earlier, which left him with a scar. Caravaggio says goodbye to Alfred, who gives him a piece of paper with his name, telling him to remember it.
Despite Caravaggio’s illegal activities, the prison attack—which is only described later in the novel—highlights the difference between him and ordinary criminals, who use violence to assert their power. Caravaggio, by contrast, prefers to remain discreet and make money without risking a confrontation.
Themes
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Caravaggio runs north through the bush, hoping to find a cottage he could stay in for a few days. After three days of sleeping outdoors, he finally finds a cottage that looks empty and from which it would be easy for him to escape if the owners came back. In ten seconds, he enters the cottage and, having only eaten some chocolate that Al gave him, he walks excitedly around the house, finding a can of beans. Upstairs, he removes blankets from one of the beds and sleeps on them in the hallway. His life as a thief has made him hate sleeping. Even when his wife is asleep in his arms, he remains watchful, paying attentive to all the noises around him, which makes him sleep uneasily.
Caravaggio’s activities as a thief influence his entire life. It causes him to examine every situation from the perspective of potential escape, and allows him none of the well-earned rest that official workers such as Patrick enjoy. In this way, living outside the law might bring certain rewards, but it also involves self-sacrifice. The mention of his private life and his seemingly loving relationship with his wife makes Caravaggio likable, as his decision to steal does not necessarily make him a bad person who wants to harm others.
Themes
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While sleeping, Caravaggio experiences a familiar nightmare, the memory of three men attacking him in prison. Patrick, who could see what was going on from his cell opposite Caravaggio’s, began singing to alert Caravaggio, but the men succeeded in wrapping Caravaggio in his sheets and beating him. Patrick kept on singing, waking up people in the other cells. As the men were beating Caravaggio, they insulted him with derogatory terms referring to his Italian nationality. Blindfolded, Caravaggio felt a razor cut his neck and he fell against the wall. After the men left, Patrick yelled to Caravaggio that they had cut his neck and that he needed to stop the bleeding while waiting for someone to come. Caravaggio felt blood in his mouth and, when he touched his neck, he realized it was not there anymore.
Despite being a lawbreaker himself, Caravaggio has a friendly, peaceful attitude that sets him apart from truly malicious individuals. This episode in prison highlights Caravaggio’s vulnerability, as he becomes the object of a hate crime in which his origins are used to justify violence against him. This isolated episode points to the racism that exists in Canadian society, where foreign immigrants are treated as second-class individuals. At the same time, citizens like Patrick serve as a reminder that not everyone is intolerant, and that it is possible for members of any nationality to protect each other.  
Themes
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The next morning, Caravaggio uses a canoe to paddle on the lake. He comes across a neighbor in another canoe, who recognizes Caravaggio’s canoe as the Neals’ and asks about them. Caravaggio tries to answer her question vaguely and, when she presents herself as Anne, Caravaggio says his name is David. He explains that he is here to get his bearings, and Anne says that this is the perfect place to do so, noting that it can be healing for people who are alone. Seeing the aquamarine paint on his neck, she asks him if he is an artist, and Caravaggio smiles at the thought that he has always called it blue. However, Anne senses that Caravaggio wants to leave and, feeling guilty, wonders if she has talked too loudly after having spent so many weeks alone.
This social situation is just as dangerous for Caravaggio as being caught stealing in someone’s house, since he is using other people’s property and possessions. Anne’s comment about the paint suggests that she probability has artistic sensibilities herself, and Caravaggio realizes that he is usually too focused on the practical details of his life to focus on the actual details around him, such as the color of paint he used to escape from prison. The woman’s guilt proves ironically misguided, since Caravaggio simply does not want his identity as a thief to be revealed.
Themes
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Caravaggio recalls training to be a thief and moving all the furniture and objects in his room at night to practice. During his first robbery, he broke his ankle after jumping out a second-floor window with an expensive drawing in his hand. He then succeeded in finding a hiding place in a mushroom factory, where he noticed that all of the workers’ punch cards showed Portuguese and Italian names.
Even though Caravaggio is a thief and the people in the factory take part in an entirely different kind of work, he knows that they are part of the same community as him: Southern European immigrants who came to Canada in the hope of leading a better life. On a purely cultural level, this makes him part of the foreign working class.
Themes
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Caravaggio then remembers the early days when he felt interested in becoming a thief. He was impressed by other thieves’ politeness and discovered that they often spent their afternoons in cafés with their friends. In the mushroom factory, he remembers an important piece of advice he was given, never to steal where he sleeps, so he did not steal anything from the factory office. Hungry and longing for a book, he finds a nook by the mushrooms where he falls asleep, with the stolen drawing by his side.
Paradoxically, many of the thieves lead a life that mirrors what Alice and Caravaggio criticize as rich people’s laziness and love of luxury. Although Caravaggio’s life is more precarious than the upper-class life of the rich, he sets himself apart from the rest of the working class because of the lifestyle he has chosen, whose adventurous quality is strikingly different from the routine nature of much low-level work.
Themes
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Hours later, Caravaggio sees a factory worker, a woman, dress beside him and he tries to attract her attention without scaring her. When the woman finally turns around and sees him, she kicks him in the face, which causes Caravaggio to scream out in pain but also to start laughing. They speak in Italian and he asks the woman to bring him chicken, telling her that he is a thief who has broken his ankle. The woman touches his ankle and believes him, deciding to trust him because of the way he laughed.
Caravaggio’s friendliness and capacity to speak Italian with the woman makes him seem inoffensive, even though he has seen her in the intimate act of dressing for work. Caravaggio’s lighthearted attitude plays an important part in his success—and his survival—as people often prove disposed to help him instead of judging him for what he does.
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Although Caravaggio cannot see the woman’s face, the two of them laugh together and share their names. The woman, whose name is Giannetta, promises him to bring him food and a bible. Caravaggio asks to see her face but she refuses. After the woman is gone, he recalls seeing her dress, putting on her blouse and carrying her helmet, replaying that memory over and over in his mind. The next morning, Giannetta tells Caravaggio to turn around while she dresses, and she gives him the food she promised. Later, she returns to strap his ankle again and tells him that her friends and she have a plan to help him exit the factory.
Caravaggio’s attitude toward the woman is playful and erotic. Although Giannetta does not give in to Caravaggio’s demands, her willingness to help him reveals that she is kind and generous and, perhaps, finds Caravaggio interesting. She seems just as lighthearted as Caravaggio, as she does not appear worried about getting into trouble for helping a thief or for failing to tell her boss that there is an unauthorized person in the factory.
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The next day, Giannetta tells Caravaggio that they have to shave his moustache because only women work at this factory. When he touches her hair, Giannetta leans forward to kiss him. Then, she hands him a dress and he tells her not to look while he undresses, although she keeps on looking. As she teaches him how to put on a dress, she wonders dreamily if they will tell their children how they met.
Giannetta’s kiss reveals that the romantic interest that Caravaggio feels for her is mutual. In fact, Giannetta proves similar to Caravaggio in other ways, as she makes him undress before her in the same way he has watched her dress in the past. Giannetta’s dreams of the future make their relationship seem like an adventure, spontaneous and optimistic.
Themes
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At the lake, Caravaggio walks toward the cottages that are connected to telephone wires. Hoisting himself onto the roof of the boathouse with a pulley-chain, he sees Anne sitting at a table, concentrated, writing and looking out at the lake. He feels that he has discovered something very intimate as he watches the woman write.
Anne’s artistic creation apparently allows her both to escape the present moment, as she could be writing about anything, but also to immerse herself fully in it, as she looks out at the lake in front of her. This recalls Clara’s description of art-making as a necessary aspect of life.
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Caravaggio then jumps down and enters the main building where he finds a phone to call Giannetta. His wife tells him that she already knows he has escaped because the police came to her house to tell her that he had disappeared. After hanging up, Caravaggio is startled to see Anne facing him. In Italian, he begins to explain that he couldn’t find her to ask about borrowing the phone, but she tells him to speak English and argues that he was perfectly capable of finding her.
Caravaggio’s love and commitment toward his wife indicates that they share a strong bond, and that his wife does not hesitate to protect him against the law. Anne’s sudden appearance reveals her composure, as she does not seem scared to see Caravaggio in her house but instead reproaches him for failing to ask her permission to use her phone.
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Anne asks Caravaggio whom he was calling, if he is a thief, and what he is looking for. When she offers him food and he follows her into the kitchen, she wonders out loud why she is not scared of him, and Caravaggio says that it is because she has been somewhere else and might still be there. He then admits that he saw her writing earlier. As the two of them talk, Caravaggio tells Anne about his escape and they chat throughout the night.
Anne’s attitude mirrors Giannetta’s, since both women do not fear Caravaggio and prove willing to help him when they discover him in a potentially difficult—and dangerous—situation. This demonstrates Caravaggio’s charisma and friendliness, which is capable of making people feel that he is not harmful.
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Caravaggio recalls the beginning of his career as a thief, when he was scared and self-conscious every time he stole from people. After Giannetta told him to get a dog, Caravaggio stole one and named him August. August would bark once to warn Caravaggio if anyone was coming.
Caravaggio’s fears about being a thief show that he is not necessarily as brazen as he may appear. His reliance on his wife for help and support highlights their interdependence.
Themes
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Now at his brother-in-law’s house, Caravaggio drinks a glass of milk and embraces Giannetta, who kisses the scar on his neck. Elated at seeing each other, they laugh while they make love and immerse themselves in each other’s smells.
The joy that Caravaggio and Giannetta demonstrate at seeing other makes their life seem ordinary, even though they are involved in illegal activities. Their intimate relationship makes them seem loving and caring.
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