Date of Award


Degree Type




First Advisor

Jeffers, Jennifer

Subject Headings

Ondaatje, Michael, 1943- Anil's ghost, Ondaatje, Michael, 1943- -- Criticism and interpretation, Lyotard, Jean-François, 1924-1998. Condition postmoderne. English, Lyotard, Jean-François, 1924-1998 -- Criticism and interpretation, Postcolonialism in literature, Sri Lanka -- In literature, colonialism, postmodernism, Jean Francois Lyotard, (meta)narratives, local, Michael Ondaatje, Anil's ghost, South Asian, Sri Lanka, independence, civil war, NGO's, identity, truth, mystery/detective fiction, personal stories, buddhist, genocide


Through the utilization of Jean-Francois Lyotard's views on the Postmodern condition, this paper highlights the failure of metanarratives to accurately convince, as well as convey information and understanding in a postmodern society. This is due in part to what Lyotard believes is an increasing skepticism towards the grand totalizing nature of metanarratives and their reliance on some form of universal truth. In order to reverse the overarching effect of the metanarrative, its all-encompassing nature, and its power to legitimize illegitimate versions of institutionalized truths one must focus on what Lyotard describes as "petit recits" or "little stories". This theoretical framework will serve as the foundation for understanding the interrelated functions of truth and identity within Michael Ondaatje's Anil's ghost. Set in the midst of the Sri Lankan civil war, Ondaatje uses his protagonist, Anil Tissera, to highlight not only the failure of the West to understand the decades long conflict, but also to indict the Sri Lankan government's complicity in the extrajudicial murders of its own civilians as well as showcasing the relationship between testifying and witnessing unspeakable acts of violence. Because colonialism sought to bring the colonized other under a single law of imperial imposition, it is in a way a type of metanarrative whose aftereffects continue to linger in post-independence era nations. These aftereffects have caused the traditionally fragmented South-Asian society to fragment even further when the unifying feature of colonialism dissolved. The personal stories of the characters within Ondaatje's novel serve to not only showcase their understanding of the conflict, but also as an allegorical allusion to the island and its conflicts as well. Anil's identity creation the conflict between brothers the failure to prove hidden truths and giving a voice to those who cannot or will not speak, are all attempts by Ondaatje and his characters, to shed new light on the personal stories and experienc