What are the main motifs or themes in Coming Through Slaughter by Ondaatje? What was Ondaatje's purpose in writing from such confusing viewpoints?
Motifs and Themes
The main motifs and themes in Coming Through Slaughter by author Michael Ondaatje include the senses, creativity, sanity, and self-destruction. As an artist, Bolden sees the world in shades of color, in sounds and smells. The story's early setting is a pleasant sensory contrast to the horrors Bolden experiences in the underbelly of the New Orleans Red-Light District. Creativity is a theme that runs throughout Bolden's story as a musician and an artist, and it is creativity that leads him into madness.
When Bolden finally returns and joins a jazz band for one last performance, he reaches the peak of his musical career. In his mind, that performance is the culmination of all he has worked for and he will never get better than he is in that moment. He sees a strange girl who somehow anticipates his improvisations through her dance and Ondaatje suggests that this experience is what pushed him beyond the limits of his sanity. In this sense, creativity is both Bolden's reason for existing and the vehicle of his self-destruction.
Structure and Points of View
While confusing at times, the shifting points of view used throughout Coming Through Slaughter serve the purpose of introducing elements of the story through different perspectives. There are many events in the story after Bolden's disappearance that must be told through Webb's perspective. This enhances the suspense in the story, which is, at its core, a mystery. The early part of the story is told through Bolden's point of view in order to set up his character and introduce ideas and facts the reader can use to explain his disappearance through the detective's eyes. When Bolden finally returns, the reader is left to wonder what happened to him to cause such a significant behavioral change. Without the shifting perspectives, Bolden's story would lack such suspense and mystery.
The shifting viewpoints also mirror Bolden's descent into insanity. As the story progresses, his thoughts become more disorganized. Fragmented sentences such as "swimming toward the sound of madness" echo this theme on a smaller scale.