Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient

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Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient centers around ideas of identity. Each main character has its own identity story told in the book, and they all interconnect to form the storyline of rediscovered identity. One of the main subjects of the book presents itself in the title, and Ondaatje focuses much of his attention on the theme of Almasy, or the English patient, rediscovering his past traumatic experiences and life story. Much of the book focuses on his flashbacks and injuries as he and the other characters determine who he is and how he ended up in the hospital calling himself English. However, a contrasting theme that Ondaatje introduces centers around Kip, the Indian sapper who lives at the hospital with the English patient and the …show more content…
As he watches from his post in the military base with his guns, he seems in awe of the whole event, and feels conflicted between his military duties and the social gathering happening on the streets. Because of this, he does not seem to have a sense of belonging in either group, as “In his turban and with the weapons he was carrying he was a shock to them. They had not expected him to emerge too out of the no-man’s-land of the beach… He couldn’t walk among their children in white dresses with these guns” (79-80). He desires inclusion in the festivities, but he realizes his duty to his nation and the military. The power he holds in the weapons remains incompatible with the society he desires. However, at this point he seems to have found something he can at least personally connect with, as embodied by the quote “He had his own faith after all” (80). With this rudimentary sense of connection, Ondaatje has given something to Kip which he can take away later as he loses all sense of self. Ondaatje also highlights Kip’s lack of personal connections through his interactions with Hana. She seems to want some sort of advanced relationship with him, but when she tries to help him in his work, he says “Let me tape those to the tree, and you leave.” She attempts to protest, but he still resists, and when eventually he gives in, he states, “he was crouched about ten …show more content…
This conviction is shown when he starts his story with “I promised to tell you how one falls in love” (229). However, the love ends traumatically, and because of this Almasy seems to repress the memory psychologically. The main event Almasy suppresses is the death of Katharine. Her husband, George Clifton, crashed his plane with her in it, and he was killed, but Katharine survived, although severely wounded (248). He brought her to the cave of swimmers and stated “Now in the cave it was her beauty he did not want to lose, the grace of her, these limbs. He knew he already had her nature tight in his fist” (247). This scene perfectly demonstrates the difference between Almasy and Kip. Kip cannot commit to a woman, or get commitment back, but he feels as though he has surrounded himself with beautiful women. Almasy admits that he has Katharine’s “nature tight in his fist”, meaning that she shows full commitment to him. However, Katharine dies, and once Almasy almost dies in the desert, he seems to block all memories of trauma in the desert from his mind. However, once he fully remembers his past, he seems to find closure and acceptance of his fate. When Kip threatens him with the rifle, he simply says “Do it” and seems to want to die (285). This sense of closure in his life seems to stem from his realization of his past, and the fact that

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