The English Patient: Imagery

In a posting of approximately 300 to 400 words, pick ONE of the images from the imagery chart and show how Ondaatje uses that image to reinforce a major theme in the novel.   You’ll need several quotations (properly cited) that show how the image is used and/or how it has changed over the course of the novel.  Do not use or cite any other sources, including Spark Notes.

As with the other blogs, the rubric is  /10 for content and /5 for citation format and grammar.  (Don’t even think of citing an in-text quotation improperly at this point in the course!)  Deadline is Saturday 16th at midnight; however, I encourage you to post before Saturday if you can.


~ by Ms. Cox on June 13, 2012.

29 Responses to “The English Patient: Imagery”

  1. Imagery: Childhood
    The English Patient explains their current situation to Caravaggio: “I can talk with you, Caravaggio, because I feel we are both mortal. The girl, the boy, they are not mortal yet. In spite of what they have been through” (Ondaatje 253).

    The English Patient refers to Hana and Kip as “the girl, the boy.” Even though Hana and Kip have been greatly affected as a result of the war, the English Patient does not believe that they are mortal yet. The English Patient sees Hana and Kip as children. Ondaatje expresses each of his characters in terms of children throughout the novel.

    Katharine is described with childlike imagery when her and the English Patient are together. The English Patient feels like he shares her history and by looking at the scar he can imagine her when “she was nine years old, in a school gymnasium” (158).

    Caravaggio is contrasted with the other characters in the novel because he is described as old. Caravaggio is “no longer young. How did [Hana] see him? With his wounds, his unbalance, the grey curls at the back of his neck. He had never imagined himself to be a man with a sense of age and wisdom. They had all grown older, but he still did not feel he had wisdom to go with his aging” (Ondaatje 58).

    Kip is repeatedly conveyed as a young. Kip recalls many moments from his childhood such as: “When he was a child his father had bunched up his fingers and, disguising all but the tips of them, made him guess which was the long one. His own small finger would touch his choice, and his father’s hand would unfold, blossoming, to reveal the boy’s mistake” (Ondaatje 99).

    The English Patient is wise but even he was a child once. The English Patient recalls that “When he was a child he had grown up with an aunt, and on the grass of her lawn she had scattered a deck of cards face down and taught him the game of Pelmanism. Each player allowed to turn up two cards, and eventually, through memory pairing them off” (Ondaatje 20-21).

    Every main character in Ondaatje’s novel recalls moments from their childhood. Hana is described as a child numerously. Every movement she makes is described as weightless and childlike; “Moments before sleep are when she feels most alive, leaping across fragments of the day, bringing each moment into the bed with her like a child with schoolbooks and pencils” (Ondaatje 35).

    Ondaatje’s childhood imagery is essential to the novel because it solidifies the importance of the war in the characters’ lives. The relationship between childhood and war is the most visible when referring to Hana and Kip’s lives. Hana and Kip both lose their childhood innocence. Hana’s frustration with her loss of childhood and the mental exasperation required of her is depicted when she exclaims that “Every damn general should have had my job. Even damn general. It should have been a prerequisite for any river crossing. Who the hell were we to be given this responsibility, expected to be wise as old priests, to know how to lead people towards something no one wanted and somehow make them feel comfortable” (Ondaatje 84). Hana has left the comfort of her home in Canada in order to care for wounded soldiers as a nurse in the war. Hana is not given a full childhood and she withdraws from those around her. She is young to have to endure the loss of a father, the loss of a child and the loss of a lover. Similarly, Kip is hardened by the war and forced to grow up fast. Kip also has to endure the loss of his mentor and a close friend.

    Childhood is explored in Ondaatje’s novel. The childhood imagery is significant to the novel because it helps to develop the character’s personalities. The reader is able to develop a greater connection with Hana and Kip because they feel that they are children facing adult situations. By repeatedly describing Kip and Hana as youths the reader becomes increasingly drawn to their emotional and physical struggles.

    Although the English Patient may not agree, I believe Hana and Kip are more mortal as a result of their loss of childhood and involvement in the war.

  2. Imagery: Light/Darkness

    In the novel, The English Patient, Ondaatje uses the image of light and darkness frequently. He uses the image of darkness in the beginning with the English Patient in a way that illustrates the way his life is at that moment. In the book Hana says, “Sometimes at two am he is not yet asleep, his eyes open in the darkness” (Ondaatje 110). This quotation shows how the English Patient is literally in the darkness at that moment but also is metaphorically, in the way that he is severely burned and can only reflect on his past in his dreams and memories; a dark and somewhat unhappy place. Hana also says, “Always were ointments, or darkness, against his skin” (Ondaatje 9). This quotation illustrates how the English Patient is a dark character; always in the darkness and has some dark memorize and experiences. This quotation makes me feel a little sorry for the English Patient because of what happened to him and how he is portrayed as a dark character. Another character that is portrayed in the darkness is Caravaggio, “The rhomboid of light moved up the wall leaving Caravaggio in the shadow. His hair dark again” (Ondaatje 255). Caravaggio is always shown in the darkness and this quotation shows the contrast of light and darkness, how the light physically moved away from him and he was left in the darkness. Therefore, darkness is shown as a major image in the book through the characters Caravaggio and the English Patient.

    On the other hand a character that is shown in the light is Hana. Hana says, “I was born with a sundial in my head” (Ondaatje 81). This quotation shows how Hana has always had light in her in the form of a sundial. Another quotation that illustrates Hana being in the light is, “She would sit and read the book in the waver of the light” (Ondaatje 6). Whatever Hana is doing she is always doing it in the light, while other people might be doing the same thing or be near her but be in the darkness, like the English Patient. Hana is also shown as getting rid of the darkness and bringing the light in, in the book. The narrator says, “Now it was warmer and she was opening more rooms, airing the dark reaches, letting sunlight dry all the dampness” (Ondaatje 13). This quotation shows how Hana is letting in the light and removing the darkness. Hana also lets light in the dark hall: “She lights a match in the dark hall and moves it onto the wick of the candle. Light lifts itself onto her shoulders” (Ondaatje 14). The light that Hana brings in could also refer to the light that she is bringing to and giving the dark English Patient by taking care of him. She is giving him some form of hope and companionship when she reads to him and looks after him on a constant basis. Therefore, light is a major image in the novel shown through the character Hana.

  3. Light and Dark Imagery
    James Dickson

    Ondaatje uses many different ways to reinforce his main ideas in the novel; such as animal references, water, and desert imagery, but most of all he uses light and darkness. He starts the novel by using things such as the moonlight on objects, using the difference between dark and illuminated to describe objects; “Moonlight across the foliage on the halls. This was the only light that made the trompe l’oeil seem convincing” (Ondaatje 31). These techniques are used to illustrate how the characters, and people in life, chose to keep certain things hidden; secrets. “He travelled on a skid for five days in darkness’ (Ondaatje 19).
    Caravaggio is introduced, and as the reader learns more about his character we begin to recognise an increasing amount of darkness imagery to describe the role he played in previous years during both; life in Toronto, and in the war. “This man who knows darkness” (Ondaatje 34). Caravaggio is told as being more comfortable in the dark, seeing only what is illuminated; “he would sit in an armchair in the darkness, watching the tide of movement among patients and nurses in and out of wards and stockrooms” (Ondaatje 27). The author also describes his as a ‘dark’ character, not only by preference, but in physical stature: “she speaks into the darkness of his face” (Ondaatje 55).
    Lastly, Ondaatje uses the light/dark to represent: good versus bad, innocent versus guilty, safety and danger. Hana uses a lamp when in the villa after dark, as if her own light-bubble of safety, where she can see. “she turned up the wick on the oil lamp so it enlarges the diameter of light around her” (Ondaatje 30). Hana is uncomfortable with the English Patient sleeping in the dark., as if anything could happen in the dark; “As if he was preparing himself, and if he wanted to slip into his own death by imitating its climate and light’ (Ondaatje 62). The dark areas in the villa, the unknown areas were considered dangerous, especially at night, this was the danger of the villa, to add to (at the beginning) the possible booby traps and bombs; “In darkness, in any light after dusk, you can slit a vein and the blood is black” (Ondaatje 62).
    In Summary, Ondaatje uses different shades of light to describe objects and character, in more than just the physical sense. Darkness is used when narrating Caravaggio’s history, guilt, and danger within the ‘safe’ area of the villa. Lastly light is used in contrast, to describe the innocent and the safe, such as Hana. Even though the author uses Light/darkness imagery throughout for many things, they do not progress, the meaning or definitions of his imagery stay constant, this is one of the few reader-aids in the novel.

  4. Ondaatje’s The English Patient, describes many images of the desert. The desert is an important part of the novel, to the English Patient and/or Almasy. In the first few pages Ondataaje says, “They have taught him by now how to raise his arms and drag strength into his body from the universe, the way the desert pulled down planes” (Ondaatje 9). Here, Ondataaje is giving the desert power and mystery by saying the ‘desert pulls down planes’. This is significant because it shows the impact the desert has on the English Patient, and how he views it.

    The English Patient’s most cherished book that he personalized himself is, The Histories by Herodotus. On page 16-17, Ondataaje shows passages from Herodotus describing the desert and winds. Herodotus says “the aajej, the winds in southern Morocco, which the local dwellers defended themselves against with knives; the africo, which is so strong, it blows into Rome on occasion; even a wind called the datoo out of Gibraltar, which carries fragrance” (Ondataaje 16). The way Almasy/ English Patient has added in all his notes to the book, and focused on facts about the wind shows character development. Almasy/ English Patient’s character is and information gatherer. He is obsessed with knowing facts about the desert. It almost seems that Almasy/ English Patient thinks that he desert is his destiny or his purpose in life. To reinforce this the English Patient says, “I knew maps of the sea floor, maps that depict weakness in the shield of the earth, charts painted on skin that contain the carious routes of the Crusades”(Ondataaje 18). He knew everything there was to know about the desert expedition.

    The desert also relates to the theme of nationality. The English Patient says, “In the desert it is easy to lose a sense of demarcation”(Ondataaje 18). This quotation is relevant because its saying that the desert makes distinctions and separations easy to forget. Almasy has created his own world in the desert were nations do not matter. Its all about survival not where you’re from. Almasy/ English Patient thinks of himself as a man who belongs in the desert. This is significant because it shows how he views himself, and what his purpose in lifeis, and this is character development.

  5. The novel The English Patient, is outlined with many different aspects that allow the reader to attach and fall in love with the novel in their own way. They could, for example, interpret the novel as a love story, or maybe a story about memories. Either way Ondaatje is able to capture each reader in a different way through his vivid images that he paints in their heads. One of Ondaatje’s best images is his light vs. dark appearances that he creates. These images help to add to the theme of hiding from the truth.

    One of the ways that the imagery of light vs. dark helps to add to the theme of discourage in oneself, is in its explanation of certain characters characteristics. Caravaggio for example, as a thief is use to the darkness. However, Ondaatje is able to develop a scene in which even though he is in the complete darkness he is still visible. So it leads me to believe that his courage has been taken away from him. This is because even though he is able to be physically in the darkness it still seems like it is light all around him. He will never have the sense of security that the darkness can sometimes give a person when they don’t want to be found. Ondaatje describes Caravaggio as “half turned at the surprise at the light that reveals his body in the darkness” (Ondaatje 36) during one of his break ins.

    The darkness helps Caravaggio to accomplish his tasks. But I start to question whether or not Caravaggio likes the darkness because he is used to it or just hiding in the darkness because he has no courage in himself. As Hana describes Caravaggio, she says “he is in a time of darkness, has no confidence” (Ondaatje 61). He has lost his ways as a thief and doesn’t know where he should be, so to solve his problem he hides himself in what he perceives to be the best choice.

    Ondaatje’s capability to illustrate the lack of courage a person can have is exceptional. He is able to paint pictures through the poetry that he puts on the page. His imagery takes the reader to a different place that helps them to understand what is occurring more clearly. Light vs. dark, it is everywhere.

  6. A unique image that Ondaatje constantly reproduces is that of water. He uses it to further the contrast between the English Patient and Katharine. Their imperfect affair provides a major theme, that of relationships. Ondaatje classifies both the English Patient and Katharine with conflicting symbols. He associates Katharine with water imagery, which clashes with the connection between the desert and the English Patient. Their relationship is such a rough one from the beginning because their core characteristics are opposite in nature. In the proceeding quotation Ondaatje shows the connection between Katharine and water, “…he meets her in Groppi Park–beside the heavily watered plum gardens. She is happiest here. She is a woman who misses moisture, who has always loved low green hedges and ferns. While for him this much greenery feels like a carnival” (Ondaatje 153). Here Ondaatje uses water imagery to show how Katharine seeks moisture and greenery even in a place like Cairo where it is scarce. It is also shown that the English Patient is not captivated by lush gardens. He is a man of the desert as Ondaatje reiterates in the following quotation, “He knew every water hole and had helped map the Sand Sea. He knew all about the desert” (Ondaatje 163). This quotation is also interesting in the sense that it creates the image of water in the desert. The English Patient spends a major portion of his life mapping and exploring lost oases, which is why the relationship between Katharine and him is so strained. The water imagery Ondaatje uses distinguishes Katharine from the English Patient, which gives further incentive for their relationship to be more destructive than good.

    Ondaatje also uses water imagery to illustrate the theme of the desert. The idea of water and the desert coming together to create an image may seem conflicting; however, Ondaatje does it impeccably. He uses it to draw attention to how much water means to a person mapping the desert. In the following quotation, Ondaatje uses water imagery to describe the beauty of drinking water: “In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue in your hands, enter your throat. One swallows absence” (Ondaatje 141). Here Ondaatje compares water in the desert to a lover’s name, as it is something that someone can simply hear and become filled with joy. Much like when a desert explorer comes across water. It may be the happiest moment in their life. Another idea put forth by this quotation is that water is equivalent to absence. Ondaatje suddenly twists the image of someone drinking water to something abstract. Absences association with water may be that someone drinking water in the desert can share their joy with no one else. They are absent from the world in their gratification. Ondaatje once again creates the image of water in the desert in the following quotation: “A man in the desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water” (Ondaatje 155). As shown, this quotation conflicts with the preceding one. Now it is not water that can satisfy any starving person in the desert, it is absence. The idea that absence can feed a man more than water may apply to the creation of character. It is in the hardest moments where true character is built and shown. This image is once again produced with an abstract concept. Ondaatje produces desert imagery using water yet; it is always done in a conceptual way.

    Ondaatje uses water imagery to numerous ways throughout the novel. The major theme of relationships is explored using images of water. He uses the idea of water and moisture to contrast Katharine to the desert loving English Patient. This sets the base of their troubled affair. Katharine being associated with water cannot truly be with the English Patient who is a man of the desert. Another way water imagery is used by Ondaatje is to describe the major theme of the desert. The conflicting ideas of water and the desert are used to create abstract images. Overall, these images are important because something so universal like water can be used in all contexts to produce almost anything.

  7. Ondaatje uses childhood imagery throughout the novel to contrast the adult-like responsibilities each character portrays. Hana in particular illustrates a childish side when she plays hopscotch: “She leaps forward, her legs smashing down, her shadow behind her curling into the depth of the hall. She is very quick, her tennis shoes skidding on the numbers she has drawn into each rectangle, one foot landing, then two feet, then one again, until she reaches the last square” (Ondaatje 15).

    In contrast, Hana’s commitment as a nurse during the war causes her to mature and take on responsibility well-beyond her age. Although she is still a young girl – only 20 years old – Caravaggio realizes that Hana has matured as a result of the war: “Years before, he has tried to imagine her as an adult but had invented someone with qualities moulded out of her community (Ondaatje 222). Hana’s personality differs from the common characteristics of people in her community in Toronto.

    Ondaatje uses the contrast between childhood and adulthood to emphasize the detrimental effects the war has on youth. Childhood is a sacred time in which children are able to develop at their own pace without the pressures of adulthood. The war, however, takes childhood away from millions of youth forcing them to grow up quickly. Hana reverts to child-like actions to attempt to relive some of the time she lost and to grow closer to her father who was killed in the war.

    Childhood imagery is also used to compare the mature responsibilities of war with the childlike nature of it. This contrast is explained in the following: “There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace” (Ondaatje 97). People of different nations, for instance, are willing to kill each other during war despite the fact that they are both fighting for freedom and would be friends on an ordinary day. Nation rivalry is similar to child arguments on the playground where children join in the fight simply because everyone else is joining in. Viewing war from this perspective makes it seem pointless and silly considering the daunting responsibilities such childhood rivalry places on children causing them to lose their childhood.

    Not only does war cause children to mature quickly, but it also causes adults to age as well. Caravaggio, a middle-aged man during the war, explains that “The event has produced age, as if during the one night when he was locked to that table they had poured solution into him that slowed him” (Ondaatje 59).

    Through the use of childhood imagery, Ondaatje outlined the aging effect the war has on adults and children alike. He illustrated that young people are forced to grow up too quickly as a result of war, and display child-like behaviour to account for some of the time they lost. Overall, the injustice of war is explored by Ondaatje. Hana says, “Who the hell were we to be given this responsibility, expected to be wise as old priests, to know how to lead people towards something no one wanted and somehow make them feel comfortable” (Ondaatje 84).

  8. In Ondaatje’s novel, The English patient, he uses many images of animals. On page 8 he says, “Her father had taught her about hands. About a dog’s paws. Whenever her father was alone with a dog in a house he would lean over and smell the skin at the base of its paw” (Ondaatje 8). The smell of the skin at the base of the paw is said to smell like dirt and represent the travels and freedom the dog had during the day. It is “a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day” (Ondaatje 8).
    Animals in The English patient are used to represent the peace at the time.

    “The rest of the room had adapted itself to this would, accepting the habits of weather, evening stars, the sound of birds” (Ondaatje 11). The room being described is an oval-shaped library between the kitchen and the destroyed chapel. It also says that there is “a large hole at portrait level in the far wall, caused by mortar-shell attack on the villa two months earlier” (Ondaatje 11). Since there was an attack, the sound of birds represents peace and freedom because it happened two months earlier and they are in a time of peace.

    “Then he descended down into the giant white chalk horse of Westbury, into the whiteness of the horse, carved int othe hill. Now he was a black figure, the background radicalizing the darkness of his skin and his khaki uniform” (Ondaatje 181). Kip is descending on his first training mission to diffuse a bomb. The white horse is used because it contrasts against the colour of his skin making his skin and clothing colour obvious. This shows us that he is different.

    Animal imagery is used throughout Ondaatje’s novel to represent abstract ideas which include traveling, peace, and differences between people. Animal imagery does not progess throughout the novel, though it is used on many occasions.

  9. Life and death is a major theme in the English Patient and Michael Ondaatje uses a lot of light and darkness imagery to relate to this. Light is usually associated with life and inversely darkness is associated with death. Ondaatje uses so much light and dark imagery it would take a very long time to find it all. The book is in part about finding a way to live or accepting death. The English Patient spends the novel recounting his story about his explorations in the desert and his love affair with Katharine. Though it never actually says when he dies he seems very ready to die; Kip points a gun at him and the English Patient asks Kip to shoot him. “He would sit in an armchair in the darkness, watching the tide of movement among patients and nurses in and out of wards and stockrooms” (Ondaatje 27). The English Patient is often framed in darkness therefore he is associated with death and he does eventually die and he inadvertently kills the Clifton’s. Death surrounds the man and so does darkness.
    Hana seems as if she wants to die at the beginning of the English Patient, but as the story progresses she moves more towards life. “She turned up the wick on the oil lamp so it enlarges the diameter of light around her” (Ondaatje 30). Hana is very often framed in light and she is the very embodiment of life; she is a young women and a nurse. She represents light and life even though she has such a dark past, Nurses are the life of war, they are the only ones that represent good and purity; Hana is no exception. “When the moonlight slides onto the ceiling it wakes her” (Ondaatje 48). Hana is shown with moonlight imagery many times and it is mentioned that Hana wakes up due to the moonlight a couple times. Could moonlight represent her rebirth? Moonlight is natural light that cuts through the darkness; life getting rid of the death. The moonlight is Hana’s life and it enables her to forget about her child that had died and her father. It lets her put the death and darkness behind and join light and the land of the living. Ondaatje is very good at slipping in symbolism and showing us themes if we read it slowly enough.

  10. Animal imagery is seen all throughout the novel. The major theme that can be found through the animal imagery in the novel is that the characters, hiding away from the war in the villa, are so damaged they are more animal than human.

    Near the beginning of the novel the theme introduces itself through Hana. Hana is reading to the English patient when she begins to think about her father. “A scurry in the ceiling like a mouse, and she looked up from the book again” (Ondaatje 8). Hana was trying to remember the way her dad smelled the paws of dogs. Then the memory is lost from her for a moment, it is fleeting, it is broken. The same thing happens to Carvaggio only a short while later “A scurry in the ceiling like a mouse” (Ondaatje 30). Carvaggio was remembering Hana when she was small. Hana did not want to have her tonsils taken out, but the memory only lasts so long before it is broken. These memories pertain to Hana and the mouse imagery is brought up, this is partly due to the fleeting of memory, but has ore to do with the Hana’s character. Later in the novel when Hana is sleeping “Beside him where the mouselike movements within Hana’s breath” (Ondaatje 104). The mouse imagery of Hana is solidified. Maybe it is not the memory that is scurrying, but Hana herself.

    “It must have seen to him that the dog-now blocked by Hana’s back-had turned into a man. Carvaggio collected the dog in his arms and left the room” (Ondaatje 56). Carvaggio is presented as an animal throughout the novel too. In his first contact with the English patient he was believed to be a dog. The dog sticks by Carvaggio’s side more than anyone else. Carvaggio and the dog get along well because they are so alike. Carvaggio is thinking “He had felt like a man in the darkness of a room imitating the calls of a bird” (Ondaatje 117). Carvaggio had felt like he was simply imitating and hiding himself throughout the war. Now they cannot imitate anything but who they really are, and they are all animal like. There is no defence left but to look for the truth.

    This major theme can also be compared to the English patient. Hana has found out that her father is dead and “It was sometime after this that she had come across the English patient-someone who looked like a burned animal” (Ondaatje 41). The English patient was introduced to Hana as an animal, the same way Carvaggio was first presented to the English patient. These first impressions of the characters are more important than anything else they do, as it shows their true characters. The English patient is also described as a hawk, giving him a sort of majestic quality. Carvaggio is thinking about the English patient “the appearance of a still hawk swaddled in the sheets. The coffin of a hawk” (Ondaatje 116).

    Kip is the other character that has very strong animal imagery presented about him. Hana is watching Kip diffusing a bomb “She watches him at work, careful and timeless as a cat” (Ondaatje 74). The work that Kip has been required to do throughout the war has turned him into this animal. Kip is in the bomb pit and he makes a mistake in diffusing the bomb. “An animal reacting just to protect myself. Only Hardy, he realized, keeps me human now” (Ondaatje 216). Kip was just angry with his mistake, he had to talk to Hardy to calm down and to get himself through it. Due to his work he has become an animal just trying to protect himself. When Hardy dies there is nothing left to protect Kip from his true nature “A swat from the paw of an animal” (Ondaatje 284). Kip swats at Carvaggio like an animal, there is nothing left that he can do. Two nuclear bombs were dropped,, he could not diffuse those. Hardy was blown up weeks ago and so what keeps him human is gone, Kip is nothing but an animal.

    The characters in the villa have been turned in to animals from one moment or another. Some were already animal like and some were turned by the war. Regardless this is who they are now.

  11. Healing/Medical Imagery

    A major theme in Ondaatje’s The English Patient is the theme of war and the theme of memory. The entire novel focuses on the English Patient’s memories of the desert during the war and how they led to wear he is now: recovering in the villa with Hana. There are many different moments in the book where both physical and mental healing is described. Not only is the English Patient healing his burnt skin, but also healing his emotions through remembrance of Katharine.

    Ondaatje starts the novel right from the beginning with imagery of the English Patient’s burnt skin: “Every four days she washes his black body…above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone” (Ondaatje 3). The English Patient remains in his burnt state throughout the course of the novel and given morphine to help with the pain. However, he does not recover physically and at the end of the novel, with a rifle to his head, he says, “Do it, Kip. I don’t want to hear anymore” (Ondaatje 285). It seems as though the English Patient is accepting death thus raising the question of whether or not he ever recovered mentally or just got worse with his memories. What I believe is that the English Patient used his memory to help his recovery and that he did fully recover by the end of the book. Although his skin is still burnt and he still “winces at the pain on his scalp” (Ondaatje 284), he has healed through remembering his times in the desert and his love for Katharine.

    Through remembrance there is also pain in the English Patient: “If you take someone else’s poison – thinking you can cure them by sharing it – you will instead store it with you” (Ondaatje 45). The English Patient’s poison is his memories. Carvaggio spends the novel trying to figure out if the English Patient is Almasy, and eventually believes that he is indeed Almasy. But all Carvaggio is left with is an unsure answer that may never be true. Carvaggio has not healed with the English Patient’s information in the way that the English Patient has. Although the memories are shared between them both, it is the English Patient who is changed in the end. With the memories sorted out, the English Patient has the chance to put his own answers to rest.

  12. Ondaatje repeatedly brings up the image of ownership throughout the English Patient. One finds that each character has different views on ownership that change throughout the course of this novel.
    Caravaggio is a thief who has no respect for ownership; “‘I managed to scrounge a bottle today’, ‘from?’, ‘do you want it or not?’” (Ondaatje 84). Caravaggio doesn’t care whether or not he’s stolen something from another person, as long as he is satisfied himself. However, when it comes to Hana, Caravaggio feels as though he has a responsibility over her. In some instances, he tends to forget about the world around him: “The fuse box is in midair, nudged off the counter by Caravaggio when he turned to Hana’s gleeful yell” (Ondaatje).
    Kip is a character who is the opposite of Caravaggio when it comes to ownership. Kip tries to understand the meaning of ownership and follows the orders given to him: “Although he is a man from Asia who has in these last years of war assumed English fathers, following their codes like a dutiful son” (Ondaatje 217). Kip follows his orders and not once tries to fight against them, unlike his older brother. Kip’s brother tells everyone how he is “appalled at how we throw ourselves into English wars” (217). His brother doesn’t understand why others let themselves get used and thrown away whenever the nations please. Kip at first doesn’t agree with this statement, until later on in the story. Kip approaches the English patient with anger when he realizes the ‘truth’ about ownership and nations: “I grew up with traditions from my country, but later . . . your country . . . never trust Europeans . . . what have I been doing these last few years?” (283). Ownership suddenly became a horrible thing because it allows nations to bend others according to their will, so they won’t be able to make any choice of their own. Kip opposes this by making his first choice of leaving his job, the villa, and starting his own life.
    The biggest irony in ownership is represented by the English patient. The English patient tells Katharine what he hates most is “ownership” and tells her “When you leave, forget me” (152). Although the English Patient says that, he himself can never stop thinking about her: “Events I would not normally have been interested in but now went to because she was there. . . simultaneously struggled with her nearby presence” (253). He continuously tries to fool himself into believing that ownership is useless, and he can just “slide past everything with your fear and hate of ownership, of owning, of being owned, of being named” (238). Ultimately, this becomes his downfall. If the English patient had called out Clifton’s name instead of Katharine’s, he could’ve saved her life from the plane crash in the desert; but he chose to ignore names and ownership entirely.
    In the end, one can see that everyone’s lives are consumed by ownership and the thought of being owned. Everyone’s views change throughout the book because of the experiences they went though, that decide what will happen to them in the future.

  13. Throughout the novel one of the most prominent images is water. This imagery represents a main theme of memories. These memories bring comfort and love with them, evoking emotions from the past to make living in the present tolerable. Water itself is only a memory for the characters because they are in the desert where water is scarce.“It is water who is the stranger here. Water is the exile… the ghost between your hands,” (Ondaatje, 19). The English Patient is constantly drifting off into his own world he recreated from memories, and this is his exile. Katharine is his ghost and always has been. He remembers his brief time with her and now he can not be certain if what he remembers is truth or just fabricated by his memory. She is the ghost he can not hold on to. “Where water was cursed,” (Ondaatje, 22). Memory can be a powerful thing, like water in the desert it represents longing and a sense of entrapment. “In the desert you celebrate nothing but water,” (Ondaatje, 23). Trapped by the necessity of such a scarce element and trapped by thoughts. The relationships they build is what drives them, what keeps all the characters motivated, and every relationship has an aspect of water to it. “A man in the desert can hold onto absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that will feed him more than water,” (Ondaatje, 155). This shows that the memories can only satisfy a person for so long until the reality that it is only a memory sets in. Katharine and the English Patient, Hanna and her parents and Kip and Carvaggio with their memories. When Hanna sees the rain she bathes in it, embracing it and feeling a sense of comfort just like with the memories of Clara. “In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue in your hands,” (Ondaatje, 141). Ondaatje also refers to water as nameless because memories don’t need to be named or expressed, just knowing it is there is enough. Savoring, suppressing, and creating memories are what this book is about. These characters may one day become nameless to us but they will always live on in our memories.

  14. Many themes and images are present throughout Michael Ondaatje’s Bestselling novel The English Patient. One theme that plays a key role in the plot of this novel is that of ownership, mainly through the actions of The English Patient and Kip. It becomes evident that Ondaatje dislikes how many things become owned as the plot unfolds.
    The English Patient was having a conversation with Katherine when he said, “When you leave me, forget me” (Ondaatje 152). This was his response to when asked what he hates most to which he said ownership. This is a clear example of the hatred of ownership that is shown by Ondaatje, in the sense of relationships between ‘lovers’ as this character is deliberately telling his partner to forget about him when they’re no longer together. This is the opposite of ownership as he is admitting that one day their relationship will be done and should consequently be forgotten. Another example from The English Patient dealing with ownership through relationships is in Kip’s relationship with Hana. Their relationship consists primarily of sex which is treated as a game. This shows a distinct lack of ownership as the point of their relationship is for them to satisfy their needs, without becoming too attached to someone. Also by Kip running away after the atomic bombs have exploded without saying a goodbye to Hana, it is proven that there was zero ownership in their relationship.
    Kip also portrays a hatred for ownership through nations after the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. He gets upset over this, finds a motorbike and leaves the villa without saying goodbye to anyone. This shows how against ownership Kip is in the sense of nations, as the reason for this bombing was a fight for land between countries. The English patient was also against ownership of nations. He is a man who loved the desert as it is the place where he learned everything. He was explaining how he hated nations, then went on to say, “The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East” (Ondaatje 138). The significance of this is that he says he hates nations but loves the desert, with the difference between the two being that one is full of ownership while the other is completely free.
    Both Kip and the English Patient show how they are against ownership, which is a key theme throughout this story. Their hatred for ownership was on both the levels of nationality and ownership in sexual relationships. It is through these two examples that the theme of ownership was most strongly portrayed in Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient.

  15. In the novel the English Patient, Ondaatje uses water imagery as a symbol of love and relationships. Water illustrates the development in Hana and Kips relationship. “Most of all she wished for a river they could swim in” (Ondaatje 129). Hana’s desire to be in a river with Kip showcases the fact that their relationship has become sensual; it shows that Hana has built up a lot of emotion and feeling towards the sapper. It also shows how the two are very opposite. For Hana, a river would bring pleasure whereas for Kip, a river would bring back memories of war as his job was to destroy bombs and build bridges.
    Furthermore, the use of water describes the feelings between the English Patient and Katherine. “A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water” (Ondaatje 155). Here, water imagery is used simply to express how strongly the English Patient yearns for Katherine. In the vast, scorching desert, his desire to be with his lover motivates him more than water itself.
    Water is also used to display the differences between Katherine and the English Patient. “He himself would have been happier to die in a cave… but she was a woman who had grown up within gardens, among moistness… she was always happier in rain” (Ondaatje 170). The English Patient is seduced by the desert and would never leave if his life permitted it. Contrarily, Katherine’s love for the desert is solely temporary. She is much happier outside of the desert, where there is an abundance of moisture and water. The imagery shows how opposite the pair really are and why their relationship ultimately failed.
    Not only does Ondaatje use water as a symbol of love and emotion between characters, but he also manipulates it to outline their differences. Hana and Kip as well as Katherine and the English Patient are shown as opposites.

  16. In the novel The English Patient, Ondaatje uses many different images an abundance of times. One that shows up countless times is the recurring water imagery. The water represents life and freedom in a novel that takes place in the harsh dryness of the desert. The English Patient, a bed-ridden skeleton of a former person, has only a few things that are keeping him alive. The memories that he has are one of them, “that well of memory he kept plunging into” (Ondaatje 4). Like water in a well sustains life so do the memories that the English patient stores in his ”well”. The other thing keeping him alive is Hana. She is nursing him, providing him with liquid morphine and keeping him alive with her words “he listens to her, swallowing her words like water” (Ondaatje 5). These two things keeping the English Patient alive are represented as water, which is necessary for survival. Later in the novel when the English Patient remembers finding Katharine dead in the cave there is a lot of absence of water imagery. This is possibly the day that the English Patient considers the day he died. Initially he describes how much Katharine loved the rain and water “she was always happier in rain, in bathrooms steaming with liquid air, in sleepy wetness, climbing back in from his window that rainy night in Cairo and putting on her clothes still wet” (Ondaatje 170). Then as he approaches her lifeless body there is no water “clothing like cobweb . . . I carried her out into the sun. I dressed. My clothes dry and brittle from the heat” (Ondaatje 171). Once he finds Katharine’s dead body it’s as if he dies inside too. The cobwebs, dryness and sun all show a lack or loss of water, which has symbolized life for the English Patient. Katharine was the English Patient’s water source. When she died he had to turn to other sources such as his memories and Hana to provide him with water; provide him with life.

  17. On the subject of healing/medical imagery, there seems to be a connection between physical and emotional/mental states for the characters in The English Patient. Every character has some damaging issues that are revealed during the recollection of memories that is presented. To treat the issues that these characters have, they opt for one of two solutions (both of which are physical): morphine, or sex. These solutions seem to occur as characters move closer to exploring the beings that they are. Almàsy and Caravaggio depend on morphine for their physical and emotional problems, while Hana and Kip find solace in each other’s companies.

    Almàsy depends on the morphine for his destroyed body; a way to live out his few remaining days in relatively more comfort. He is also seen during the book to be asking for it as he dictates his past every now and again. The two possibilities are that the original morphine is wearing off (which is plausible), but a more interesting theory is that he uses the drug to deaden his emotional sensitivity, that is, ignore the ability to care about his past losses. Almàsy is seen requesting morphine just as he is about to re-tell the story of how Katharine died: “He pauses and holds out his hand. Caravaggio places a morphine tablet into the black palm, and it disappears into the man’s dark mouth” (Ondaatje 42). Caravaggio uses the drug to distract himself from his fingers, and the loss of the ability to do something at which he was very good (thievery and espionage). His constant use of the drug is displayed in this quotation: “Caravaggio carried two or three (small tubes of morphine) in his pocket all day long, slipping the fluid into his flesh” (Ondaatje 40). His addiction to morphine is due to the loss of his fingers and inability to be his former self.

    Hana and Kip rely on their companionship to escape their own wounds as well. Kip’s troubles lie in that he believes himself to be alone in the world. His mentor, Lord Suffolk, someone he greatly admired and loved is lost after Lord Suffolk fails to defuse a bomb. His thoughts on Suffolk are as follows: “Singh adored him. As far as he was concerned, Lord Suffolk was the first real gentleman he had met in England” (Ondaatje 45). He also loses his friend Hardy during his stay at the villa. He uses Hana as a way to escape these wounds, a way to ignore his belief that he is alone in the world. Hana is damaged mostly by the loss of her father because she believes that she could have saved him if she had been with him. This is shown by the following quotation: “He was a burned man and I was a nurse and I could have nursed him. Do you understand the sadness of geography?” (Ondaatje 71). She is now obsessed with helping the English patient because she couldn’t save her father, who died from burn wounds. She takes solace from Kip’s company in order to forget her supposed failure to save her father.

    Health/Medical imagery is used to show the connection between the physical and mental wounds that each character carries, and how they live with those wounds.

  18. Most people spend the first several years of their lives gripped by a paralyzing fear of the dark. In a dark room, you cannot see and understand your surroundings, and the overactive imagination of a young child fills the room with monsters, burglars and other frightening figures. As a result of this common fear, darkness holds a strong correlation with fear, danger, death and the unknown in our society. Michael Ondaatje takes advantage of these negative connotations in his novel The English Patient. He uses darkness and darkness imagery to plant ideas about characters in the minds of his readers. For example in the opening pages of the book Ondaatje has Hana climb “the stairs which are in darkness” (Ondaatje 3) on her way to see the English Patient. Before he is even introduced, Ondaatje has started using darkness imagery to shroud the English Patient in mystery. He makes it so Hana needs to pass through the darkness, into the unknown before she can interact with the English Patient.
    Ondaatje then continues to use darkness imagery to shape the early and lasting impression the audience has of the English Patient. “Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet” (Ondaatje 3). Ondaatje uses darkness to describe the English Patient’s burned body, again tying him to the preconceived ideas of death and ambiguity.
    Later in the novel, Ondaatje uses darkness imagery to create an atmosphere of death and danger. When Caravaggio sets out to retrieve the photographs himself, he does so at night, the time when darkness is everywhere. There is inherent danger in the situation (if he doesn’t get the pictures he will be caught by the Germans) but Ondaatje adds to the reader’s unease with darkness imagery: “Four hours later, he runs over the grass in his socks, his shadow curled under him, painted by the moon” (Ondaatje 36). The reader is already wary of the danger of the situation, and Ondaatje uses the painful backstory of his character to strengthen the connection between darkness and danger.
    Finally, at the conclusion of the English Patient’s story, he reinforces Katherine’s death with darkness imagery: “He left his clothes spread on the rocks and climbed higher into the boulders, climbed out if the desert, which was now, in 1942, a battlefield and went naked into the darkness of the cave” (Ondaatje 169). This quotation comes from the English Patient’s return to the cave, where he retrieves the dead Katherine’s body. In the novel, the cave of swimmers is transformed into Katherine’s final sanctuary, a dark temple of death.
    In The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje uses darkness imagery to reinforce his central themes of death and ambiguity. He capitalizes on our childhood fears by shrouding his mysterious protagonist, as well as Katherine’s death and Caravaggio’s tragic past in darkness.

    Taylor Laekeman

  19. Water imagery is a common occurrence throughout Ondaatje’s novel, The English Patient. Water is a very powerful symbol in this novel, as it represents relationships, life and this novel emphasizes the essence of water in the desert. The English patient himself is a man of the desert; however, he emotionally and physically needs water in his life. Water relates to Katharine, his former love interest who is precious to him, and water is also a necessity of life in the desert.

    The Englishman himself is a man of the desert. How can a man who loves the desert so much be in love with a woman who loves gardens, who represents water and who hates the desert? In the desert water is essential to live, in the desert “you celebrate nothing but water” (Ondaatje 23). Katharine is a celebration; she is connected to water, which was important to the English patient when he was in the desert. The relationship between the desert and water is rare as there is scarcely any water in this dry land, but in the desert water is the most important thing to have. For the English patient, their love is worth anything. He occasionally leaves the desert to be with Katharine and “he meets her in Groppi Park–beside the heavily watered plum gardens. She is happiest here. She is a woman who misses moisture, who has always loved low green hedges and ferns” (Ondaatje 153).

    These two characters, much like the desert and water, have nothing in common, which threatens their relationship. These differences sometimes work together for good, which is evident in the scene when “in the apartment there is light only from the river and the desert beyond it” (Ondaatje 156). Sometimes these differences do no work together and battle against each other; the desert does not always appreciate water when it needs water most. Ondaatje provides an example when he states, “the rain in the trees already dried by hot moonlight. Not one cool drop to fall down upon him like a tear” (Ondaatje 157), allowing readers to understand the conflict water has with the desert – the conflict Katharine has with the English patient.

    The English patient knows more about water then Katharine knows about the desert, which is also another flaw in their relationship. In the desert, one needs water to stay alive; however, in the gardens one needs sunlight to keep the plants alive. The issue is that the desert people are constantly searching for water, whereas the gardeners don’t need to worry about searching for sunlight. The English patient brought water to the desert, “he knew every water hole and had helped map the Sand Sea. He knew all about the desert” (Ondaatje 163). Possibly, the flaw is the fact that he attempted to bring the water to the desert without realizing that water only belongs in gardens. Katharine didn’t belong in the desert either, “she was always happier in rain, in bathrooms steaming with liquid air, in sleepy wetness” (Ondaatje 170).

    If Katharine hadn’t been in the desert, her death would have been prevented, nor would she have died in the place in which she dreaded most. Katharine was “another victim of the desert” (Ondaatje 168); she died in the cave of swimmers, which was the deserts attempt of letting her die around something in relation to water. Her death was caused by the unnatural relationship of water with the desert – the unnatural relationship of Katharine with the English patient. Water does not belong in the desert; it is a substance that is too precious to be dried out in the heat of the desert.

  20. In his novel The English Patient Ondaatje frequently uses a theme of weightlessness to his characters and their situations. I think this weightlessness is representative of the limbo the characters exist in while they live in the Villa San Girolamo. The characters are separate from the rest of the world, floating, where time is suspended, while they wait for a definite end.
    While all the characters, and even the villa itself (its remoteness, its tranquility and abandonment, even “the valley still buried in the mist,” mist being quite ephemeral), demonstrate elements or examples of weightlessness, Kip is the most frequently equated with it (Ondaatje 87). Kip lives an almost weightless existence on his own, completely independent and self-sufficient. He sleeps in his tent, which is not tethered to the ground. He works on diffusing bombs, which he suspends in the air or suspends himself to get at, and while working on them, time itself becomes suspended; life and death become meaningless and inconsequential when they are both so close at hand. He does not ask anything of the other characters living at the house, creating no ties or roots linking himself to the place or the people there. He does not tie himself down to his country. Ondaatje tells us “The self-sufficiency and privacy Hana saw in him later were caused not just by his being a sapper in the Italian campaign. It was as much a result of being the anonymous member of another race, a part of the invisible world” (Ondaatje 196).
    The other characters illustrate Ondaatje’s concept of weightlessness as well. Near the end of the novel, Ondaatje writes, “She sees Caravaggio in midair halfway across the gorge that leis like a deep scar alongside the villa. She stands there as if in one of her dreams, then climbs into the window alcove and sits there looking out” (Ondaatje 297). This dreamy weightlessness shows people being suspended as well as time.
    The characters of this story are living in Italy at the end of World War Two, when the European involvement is winding down and armies are retreating. Retreating armies are leaving bombs behind them, and news of the conflict is still reaching the villa via radio, but the war is already over for the characters living in the villa; not in a victorious of celebratory way – they aren’t parading or building triumphs – but it seems all the fighting and death have been sucked away, creating a sort of vacuum. This limbo they live in is the absence of normal life, of pre-war life, and the absence of fighting. All that is left is just existing, living quietly, and storytelling. The characters are all brought to the villa for some reason or another, but there is no feeling of their being kept there; they just float, weightless, waiting for something to knock them out of their limbo and restore normal life and balance and ground to them.

  21. Ownership and Relationships

    Michael Ondaatje frequently uses imagery and ideas of ownership to examine power dynamics and discrepancies in the relationships in The English Patient. Most relationships are slightly lopsided, and the relationships in the novel are no exception: Hana seems to care for Kip more than he cares for her, and the English Patient loves Katharine more than she loves him. There is of course love on both sides, but ultimately Katharine and Kip are able to end their relationships when necessary.

    Katharine and the English Patient have a tumultuous relationship. When asked by Katharine what he hates most in the world, he replies “‘Ownership’” (152). However, the English Patient slowly becomes owned, mind and body, by Katharine. For instance, Katharine frequently abuses the English Patient but he lies about his injuries in front of the group, and continues loving her. He also feels that “he has been disassembled by her” (155), and reflects on the ways she’s changed him, thinking about her constantly. The English Patient even changes his opinion of ownership, as he claims one of Katharine’s shoulders as “my shoulder…not her husband’s, this is my shoulder” (156). In spite of this small victory, however, Katharine ultimately holds the power in their relationship and this power of Katharine’s over the English Patient’s mind and body indicates that he is, in fact, owned.

    Hana and Kip have sentiments of responsibility for one another as well as sentiments of ownership. Kip struggles with this ownership and debt, especially when Hana is involved in the defusing of a particularly difficult bomb: “He was still annoyed the girl had stayed with him when he defused the bomb, as if by that she had made him owe her something, making him feel in retrospect responsible for her, though there was no thought of that at the time” (104). Kip, like the English Patient, doesn’t like the idea of debt in their relationship, which is really a type of ownership: one person is beholden to the other, one person “owes” the other so one person, to a degree, “owns” the other.

    Kip makes physical exceptions to his aversion to ownership, however: “He wanted Hana’s shoulder, wanted to place his palm over it as he had done in the sunlight when she slept” (114), just as the English Patient claims Katharine’s shoulder as his own. Although Hana exults in Kip’s skin and body and enjoys looking at him, she never makes an attempt to claim any part of him, either through love or abuse, perhaps because she knows that, unlike the English Patient, Kip will not allow himself to be claimed. She wrongly assumes that “he never allowed himself to be beholden to her, or her to him” (128), ignorant of how Kip felt he was responsible for her.

    This ownership of other people can work in a relationship for a time, but does not work long-term: if there is ownership in a relationship, the relationship is not an equal one, and this is ultimately the downfall of the romantic relationships in The English Patient.

  22. Lightness and Darkness

    Lightness and darkness is a large element in The English Patient. Throughout the book you can find vast amounts of this particular imagery portrayed strangely by the character Caravaggio. Caravaggio sees light as dangerous, frightening, and unsafe. Unlike Hana who sees light has peaceful and exciting.
    After Hana and Kip surprise Caravaggio in the library by knocking him down, restraining him, and shining light in his face, “He somehow had to climb and crawl out of this terror” (Ondaatje 223). Caravaggio lives in darkness because it helps him feel safe. Caravaggio describes light as a “glare” multiple times when it is being shone at him. As opposed to bright or radiant, he uses glare which makes light the way he sees it toward the reader, and that is alarming and unsafe. His memories of light are him getting caught stealing and his thumbs being removed. In darkness there is calm and tranquility, there is no one there to make him confess.
    While, Hana changes bedrooms to sleep in with no walls or roof, so she is able to look at the stars and see the sun rise. Light is how she survives in the villa, which can connect light to life. For example, the life of gardens where Hana spends most of her time picking fruit and casually gardening. Hana also is a bright girl who saves lives because she has the capability and a heart, even trying her best to keep a dying man alive. One of the times when Hana is portrayed as light is when she declares “I was born with a sundial in my head” (Ondaatje 81). She was born with this element and therefore has had a connection with it..
    Except, there is another way to look at the way she uses her light. Her light is bright and cheerful but also tricky and terrifying. Kip realizes this after getting to know Hana, and he sees something different then light, “He knows the depth of darkness in her, her lack of a child and of faith” (Ondaatje 271). The darkness lies deep within her which makes her seem mean and dangerous. This is exactly what she uses on Caravaggio during their prank in the library, because she uses her inner element of light on him.
    As you read The English Patient you discover an obsession with lightness and darkness being used many times. Caravaggio being the main symbol for darkness because of his fearful qualities of light and protection in darkness. Hana being seen as the light form of darkness. Yes, she does her best to stay in the light as much as possible. She uses her light as the evil darkness toward others. So, Hana is a character who strives on light, sunshine, and life but whose darkness is deep inside developing.

    -Cassidy MacKay 🙂 (on time)

  23. The central themes of relationships within Ondaatje’s The English Patient are extremely essential to the novel. The relationships connect the characters to one another and without them this novel would be dull and a little lifeless. Ondaatje uses the image of ownership to reinforce the major theme of relationships. The relationships are overlapping and intertwined, and everyone is connected to each other in one way or another. Here, I will specifically focus on the relationships between Hana and the English Patient, and Almásy and Katherine, while maintaining a focus on the image of ownership.

    Hana is a very complex character. She, like most of the other characters, has a painful past that she is still trying to overcome. While Hana was a nurse she claimed ownership over her patients, caring and giving all of herself to them. She has seen many deaths in her life and she decides to detach herself from all of the death when she cuts her hair short: “The irritation of its presence during the previous days still in her mind – when she had bent forward and her hair had touched blood in a wound” (50). Hana cuts her hair to detach herself from her previous patients. She wants nothing that will link her to death. I find this ironic because Hana then decides to take ownership over the English patient. The English patient becomes her “despairing saint” (Ondaatje 1), and her only position is to care for him.

    I believe the real reason why Hana is caring for the English patient is because of her father’s death. She was not there to care for her father, so to compensate she puts all of her effort and energy into caring for the English patient. Hana is still very traumatized by her father’s death and she often wonders how he died: “Did her father struggle into his death or die calm? Did he lie the way the English patient reposes grandly on his cot? Was he nursed by a stranger? A man not of your own blood can break upon your emotions more than someone of your own blood”
    (Ondaatje 90).

    The image of ownership is also reflected through Almásy and Katherine’s complicated relationship. When Katherine asks Almásy what he hates most, he simply replies with “ownership” (Ondaajte 152). This is why he loves the desert so much. He states, “The desert could not be claimed or owned—it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names before Canterbury existed…”(138). Almásy hates how Katherine is owned by Geoffrey, and how he cannot have her. This is another point I find extremely ironic because despite his hatred of ownership, he ends up taking ownership over Katherine in the end: “This is my shoulder, he thinks, not her husband’s, this is my shoulder” (Ondaatje 156).

    In the end, one can see through the different relationships that ownership plays a huge role in everyone’s lives and that it is a major theme in The English Patient.

  24. One of the major themes in The English Patient is change. Ondaatje frequently uses water imagery in the novel to reinforce this theme. He uses water imagery to show change amongst characters, and also locations. One notable use is the setting in the book at the Cave of Swimmers. This cave used to be filled with water, long before but in the novel it is now dried up. He also uses water to describe the change in the desert. He describes the change in the barren desert by saying “When no rain fell the acacias withered, the wadis dried out…until water suddenly reappeared fifty or a hundred years later.” (Ondaatje 141) Here Ondaatje is talking literally about the change in the desert. Also, The English Patient refers to water as a gift. “In the desert you celebrate nothing but water” (Ondaatje 23) Characters celebrate water, it is a change in the way they normally live and it is something to take note of. Ondaatje also uses water imagery to describe a change in the way characters in The English Patient act, and think. On very hot days in the villa the characters wash their hair. Hana sees a completely different side of Kip while he is laying out his hair to dry. At the end of the novel, Kip tries to leave the villa, and change his life by leaving them, and the military behind. As he is leaving, he slips on a wet bridge and falls into the water. Ondaatje uses this to portray Kip’s character changing his life, and leaving his past behind.

  25. Throughout The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje develops a message: that individual humans (not the constructs they create such as nationhood and social status) and the relationships between them are the only things that truly matter. He uses animal imagery to convey this major theme in the novel.
    Ondaatje uses animal imagery to describe the English patient,
    “she had come across the English patient — someone who looked like a burned animal, taut and dark, a pool for her” (Ondaatje 41) and David Carvaggio: “For more than four months he had not said a word. He was a large animal in their presence…” (Ondaatje 27). In both descriptions, the author uses animal imagery to remove any outward indication of human personality. By doing this, he brings these characters down to the same equal level – not modified by human-constructed indicators of status or worth.

    Ondaatje uses this same imagery to describe actions and behaviours. On page 39, Hana watches Carvaggio “quizzically, tilting her head in a question as a dog would when spoken to in a tone or pitch that is not human” (Ondaatje). After Kip finished defusing an Esau bomb in chapter 8, he reflects on his time defusing the bomb in a muddy pit: “I was just angry — with my mistake, or the possibility that there was a joker. An animal reacting just to protect myself” (Ondaatje 216).
    Both Hana and Kip responded to different stimulus with what the author likened to primal, instinctual reactions of animals.
    He shows that humans don’t turn to rational, constructed thought in spontaneous situations; they rely on pure human instinct to direct their thoughts and actions. It doesn’t matter what humans construct – they will often revert to their original, raw human nature.

    Through a conversation between Hana and her father, Ondaatje reinforces the value of human connection and the subtleties of human personality: “Her father had taught her about hands. About a dog’s paws … he would lean over and smell the skin at the base of its paw … the dog’s paw was a wonder: It’s a cathedral! … so-and-so’s garden … a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day” (Ondaatje 8).
    It is implied that if a human can gleam that much information about a dog’s travels by smelling its paw, the information it can gather by being in relationship with another human is extraordinary. Once again, Ondaatje is calling us to “read slowly” and take in the many subtle details that a carefully tended human relationship can reveal.

    By describing humans as untouched by human constructions, by detailing the human tendency to act on human instinct, and by depicting human relationship as exploratory and detail-laden, all through use of animal imagery, Michael Ondaatje reinforces the utmost importance of humans and human relationships.

  26. Throughout the novel The English Patient Ondaatje uses many different themes. Some are more apparent than others, but one that seems to be more common in the Image of lightness and darkness. He uses darkness as a way to show a comfortable state for many of the character’s such as Caravaggio. “He feels more comfortable, more disguised from her in the dark garden, a flicker of the lamp from the patient’s room looking down” (Ondaatje 35). Caravaggio tends to feel safe in the darkness as he feels that he can hide from people. Being a thief it is easier to act in the dark and that applies to him more so than others because of the lack of thumbs, which makes it more difficult for him. It is also easier for someone to hide their shame in the dark, and with Caravaggio having a lot of that from what he has done make him way more calm in the dark. “He now lay in his darkness” (Ondaatje 47). Many of the characters are aware that he is in a state of darkness, Hanna is one of them. “He is in a time of darkness, has no confidence” (Ondaatje 61).

    Another character that is surrounded by darkness is the English Patient. “She disliked his lying there with a candle in his hands, mocking a deathlike posture, wax falling unnoticed onto his wrist. As if he was preparing himself, as if he wanted to slip away into his own death by imitating its climate and light” (Ondaatje 62). The English Patient was acting like this during the night, if wanted, he could have done the same actions during the day but, he is more comfortable during the night, even though that there is a little bit of light from the candle. Hanna was worried for the English Patient and would have some form of light during the night because she did not know what would be the outcome the next day if they were in full darkness, it was too dangerous. “Sometimes at two am he is not yet asleep, his eyes open in the darkness” (Ondaatje 110). The English Patient is in darkness the majority of the time during the novel because it is at night when he dreams about his past and also his burns remind him of darkness, as pain.

    When light and darkness are seen around the English and Caravaggio it also shows how the light and darkness are dangerous. For Caravaggio the darkness is safe and the light is very dangerous for him. When talking about the English Patient the light is safer for him than the darkness but seems to prefer the dark.

  27. Medical/Healing

    Although the central characters in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient have varying backgrounds, nationalities and age, they are all suffering from the wounds of their pasts. The immensity of the damage (both mental and physical) that these characters endure is a main theme, and is reinforced by the reoccurring medical and healing imagery throughout the novel. The futile efforts of the character’s attempts to deal with their old wounds help the reader comprehend the magnitude of the damage to their bodies and spirits.

    One medical technique used by the characters is Morphine. The extensive use of Morphine by Caravaggio and Almasy reinforces the idea that their wounds cannot be healed. Morphine is not a healing agent, it is just used to comfort both mental and physical pain. Caravaggio becomes addicted to morphine to deal with the trauma with losing of his thumbs: “The small tubes of morphine were now a source for him… Caravaggio carried two or three in hi poked all day long, slipping the fluid into his flesh” (Ondaatje 166). Almasy uses the morphine to deal with the loss of his lover and to relive his time with her: “He rides the boat of morphine. It races in him, imploding time and geography” (Ondaatje 161). In both cases the morphine is used to comfort the user from irreversible damage. Caravaggio will never get his thumbs back and Almasy will never see Katharine again.

    Hana’s time serving as a military nurse is parallel to the situation of Almasy and Caravaggio. She describes the futile attempts to save dieing soldiers as “carrying a severed arm down the hall and swabbing at blood that never stopped” (Ondaatje 41). Hana does her best to heal these soldiers despite knowing that their wounds are irreversible.

    Damage is a main theme in The English Patient. To reinforce the severity of the damage to the characters, Ondaatje contrasts it with the futile efforts to heal this damage.

  28. Imagery – Light and Darkness:

    Light and darkness are used in many different ways throughout the book. The main way is describing the Villa and the many different areas within it. The other main concept that I took from lightness and darkness was from Hana’s relationship with Kip.
    There are tons of references to darkness in the book before Hana meets Kip. I look at it in the sense that Kip is the light that shines through Hana’s darkness. He makes her happy. There are countless amounts of darkness quotes describing Hana, and “As if he was preparing himself, and if he wanted to slip into his own death by imitating its climate and light” (Ondaatje 62) is one of the quotes that pretty much sums up her attitude perfectly. Hana has given up on her life. She stays at the Villa with The English Patient so that she can be away from the rest of the people that she was with beforehand. The interesting thing is that Kip is the only person that has this effect on Hana. When Caravaggio shows up at the Villa, the darkness continues. Hana also states things like “As if he was preparing himself, and if he wanted to slip into his own death by imitating its climate and light” (Ondaatje 62) when describing her relationship with Caravaggio.
    There are many ways that darkness plays a role in the book that aren’t directly told to us. The English Patient is a perfect example because of the amount of “darkness” that he has in his head when it comes to his memory. The E.P has to struggle through the darkness within his mind to remember his past and solve all the riddles that are brought up while at the Villa. The E.P’s relationship with Katherine is surrounded in a different kind of darkness. The darkness that is shown to us in his relationship is more of a “evil darkness” kind of darkness. It is a darkness that ends up hurting Clifton, Maddox and almost everyone else that the E.P knows in the end. The ironic part of the darkness there is that Katherine hates lies. She hates the darkness that they bring.
    There are not many light references that are in the play, and it makes sense. There really are no bright points during the play. The desert is a bright place because it is a bright place within the E.P’s life. The desert is also bright for Katharine because her time with the E.P was the bright time in her life. Katherine dies in a dark cave without a light. This is symbolic in the way that she died in a dark place, just like the E.P. The interesting thing about this book is that everything is linked together in ways that you would’ve never expected. Things like light and darkness can be looked at in more symbolic ways and can really open new views on the book.

  29. Desert: A State of Mind

    In Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the desert plays an important role in the English Patient and Katharine subplot; it is the measure of their characters. There are several quotations throughout the story which indicate that there is a certain state of mind associated with the desert, and that this is the essence of the English Patient’s character.
    There is a scene where Katharine reads a poem to the assembled expedition. In it, a person cries out against the desert, and is only told that “it is no desert” (Ondaatje 97). She then names the author, Stephen Crane, and specifies he never actually went to the desert. Madox simply replies: “he came to the desert” (Ondaatje 97). This suggests to me that to understand and to love the desert as does the English Patient, you must not necessarily see the desert. When Madox says that Crane came to the desert, it is not literal; Crane never physically came to the desert; however, as it is also a state of mind, Crane must have come to the desert metaphysically.
    There is another suggestion within that same poem: that the desert is not an empty space. The last few lines of the poem say:

    I cried: “Well, but –
    The sand, the heat, the vacant horizon.”
    A voice said: “It is not desert.” (Ondaatje 97)

    This is an obvious contradiction of the belief that the desert is not a place of sand, heat and emptiness. And yet, as the English Patient says: “In the emptiness of deserts you are always surrounded by lost history” (Ondaatje 135). Neither is the desert a place of sand, but rather of water. Even at the beginning of the novel, we are told this: “And here, though I was in the dry sands, I knew I was among water people” (Ondaatje 18). In many ways, the desert is merely the flip side of the coin of water, and bears as many similarities as not.
    In The English Patient, the desert’s prime importance is that it is the English Patient, and the English Patient it; the two repeatedly appear in association. If the state of mind associated with the desert is more important than the thing itself, so is the English Patient’s mind more important to the story than his injured body; and as the desert is a place of contradictions – of sand and water, then so is the English Patient a man of contradictions. Not the least of which is his identity. That is the purpose of the desert: an exploration of character and identity.

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