Ondaatje’s “The Cinnamon Peeler” is a powerfully aesthetic portrayal of erotic love in which the transfer of scent, in this case that of a particularly potent spice, becomes a public and private declaration of union. The surface of the poem can hardly be scratched, however, before running into the signs of a clearly male-dominated society, with women being defined in terms of the males in their lives. The cinnamon peeler’s wife is an obvious example, but there is also the lime burner’s daughter and the grass cutter’s wife. The woman referenced directly, not indirectly through...
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