Patrick is the protagonist who we follow through the course of the novel, starting from Patrick's boyhood, growing up with his silent father, Hazen, who "did not teach his son anything, no legend, no base of theory (19)." Patrick does not judge others. He is a watcher who "absorbed everything from a distance… (19)" and when he grows up and leaves his small town for Toronto, he becomes a "Searcher," looking for the lost millionaire Ambrose Small. This is how he meets and falls in love with Clara, and in turn, Alice, who will change the course of his life. After giving up being a searcher, he takes on a life of hard labor in the city, just as he had done in the country, but now he makes connections to the Macedonian immigrants who labor with him, and in whose working-class neighborhood he lives. He is not a mindless or passionless man, rather his life is not "a single story but part of a mural, which was a falling together of accomplices." In this way, he is the ideal protagonist for this dream-like, postmodern novel, where the images, stories and passions of others are portrayed through him, as well as added to by his own desires and loyalties. The biggest acts of passion he takes are to avenge Alice's death by bombing a hotel, and to adopt Hana, Alice's daughter, whom he loves dearly as a father.
Alice is the best friend of Patrick's first lover in Toronto, Clara. Patrick and Alice re-unite many years after Clara leaves the city, through a play in which Alice is acting, and which the Macedonians invite Patrick to attend. Patrick moves in with Alice and her nine-year-old daughter in the Macedonian immigrant community. Patrick pieces together that Alice used to be a nun until she fell off the Bloor Street Bridge when it was under construction, and she was caught in mid-air and saved. Alice has a vehement Marxist attitude against the rich and ruling class, and she tries to convince Patrick to join her views. Patrick loves her deeply and hears out all of her philosophies on the rich versus the poor. Unfortunately, Alice is killed by accidentally picking up the wrong suitcase, which held a detonator, during a street demonstration. This event causes Patrick to try to avenge her death.
Nicholas is a Macedonian immigrant in Toronto who we first meet as he is hanging in mid-air in the fog off the bridge during construction. He is one of the best and most at-risk workers constructing the bridge while supported only by a rope. He doesn't speak English at first and so he spends his time practicing English phrases as he screws in foot-long bolts and attaches himself swinging to the ends of long cranes hanging over the water. Nicholas is on the half constructed second level of the bridge when Alice, as a nun, falls off the first level in the fog. He catches Alice in mid-air and dislocates his shoulder, but together they make it back to safety. He eventually saves enough money and learns enough English to open his own bakery. He becomes a good friend and protector of Alice's daughter, Hana, as well as a loyal friend to Patrick after Patrick moves to the Macedonian community.
Clara is an actress and the mistress of the millionaire Ambrose Small. When Small goes missing, Patrick becomes a "Searcher" who stands to gain a large reward for finding Small. But Patrick falls in love with Clara. Soon, Clara leaves Patrick to go be with Small, who is in hiding somewhere that Patrick does not follow. Clara is a creative flamboyant soul, who inspires Patrick, and when they meet two years later, she is still loving toward him. She is a woman who says she cannot be possessed. She is best friends with Alice, and they both share a complex emotional world of acting, painting and friendship. She is also loyal, and stays with Small until his death, after which she phones Patrick to come get her.
Caravaggio is an Italian immigrant, and makes his living as a thief. He trained with other professional thieves, and works with no one but a red dog who barks a warning if someone comes after he has broken into a house. He eventually gets caught and jailed, and he it is there that he meets Patrick. Caravaggio escapes from jail, and five years later, when Patrick is released, they find each other and become the best of friends. Caravaggio becomes a second father figure to Hana, Alice's daughter, who Patrick adopted.
Gianetta is Caravaggio's wife, whom he meets after his first big robbery when he runs and hides in a mushroom-growing barn. Gianetta works there and finds Caravaggio hiding under a counter. He asks her to bring him food, and tells her he is a thief hiding out. She is amused by him. They fall in love almost instantly and make a life together. She also becomes a good friend to Patrick after Patrick is released from prison.
Patrick's father, who is only portrayed in the first chapter. He is a quiet man, who raises Patrick alone. Though he has a brief appearance in the novel, key traits of his recur: his square-dance calling and his study of dynamiting that he passes on to Patrick.
Rowland Harris (Commissioner Harris)
Harris is the Commissioner of Public Works of Toronto who oversees completion of the Bloor Street Viaduct, completed in 1918, and who envisions the Waterworks project that takes water from a mile and a half out in Lake Ontario, through a tunnel under the lake, built in 1930. Patrick confronts Harris in a final scene of the novel after Alice's death.
Cato is never seen in the story, but his presence is felt in the characters of Alice and Hana. He is Hana's biological father. Cato was a labor agitator in a logging camp, and he wrote of the conditions to Alice before he was killed due to his political role.
Hana is Alice's daughter and Patrick's adopted daughter. For most of the novel she is a young girl, full of love and curiosity. Hana is the main character of Ondaatje's novel The English Patient, and in that follow-up novel it is made clear that Alice considered Patrick to be her father, and loved him and her step-mother Clara very much.
Ambrose Small is a millionaire theater tycoon who has gone missing, and a cottage investigation industry has sprung up around the mystery. This is true both of the character and the real life Ambrose Small. All of Ambrose's appearances in the novel, however, are invention. Ambrose is shown to have taken Clara as a mistress, but remains an enigma to Clara throughout their relationship. He is brutal and violent towards Patrick when he thinks Patrick has come for him and not Clara.
For a year, Patrick goes to the Macedonian market to buy vetch for his iguana, while feeling isolated from the community by their lack of shared language. One day, he learns the word for iguana, and tells the market-lady, Elena, that his iguana is the reason for all the vetch. Elena is so excited to have solved this mystery that she and her family welcome Patrick into the Macedonian community with open arms.
Elizabeth is a gentle, intuitive woman who Patrick meets in the Garden of the Blind. She is blind, and knows that Patrick is not. She feels his face and talks to him about his crime.
Alfred is a small boy who helps Caravaggio after his escape from prison. At first Alfred thinks Caravaggio is from a movie crew filming nearby, but when he learns that Caravaggio is an escaped criminal the boy only likes him more. The boy gives Caravaggio a spile as a gift and says he doesn't want anything in return, just for Caravaggio to remember his name. A spile makes a brief appearance in The English Patient, but it is unclear whether it is the same one.
Anne is an older woman who is vacationing alone in one of the summer cottages that Caravaggio breaks into, while waiting for her husband to join her. Caravaggio watches her write, feeling this to be an intimate act, and then breaks in to use her phone. Anne finds him, and wonders why Caravaggio didn't just ask to use the phone. They talk for a long time.
In the Skin of a Lion Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for In the Skin of a Lion is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.