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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

Almásy  -  The protagonist of the novel and the English patient of the title. Almásy is knowledgeable and reflective, the "blank screen" upon which the other characters reflect their thoughts and wishes. Though he is badly burned in a plane crash, he retains all his mental faculties and is able to tell Hana, Kip, and Caravaggio the pieces of his past and the story of how he fell in love with Katharine. Almásy strongly believes that nations are dangerous inventions, and that love can transcend both time and geography.

Read an in-depth analysis of Almásy.

Hana  -  A young Canadian who serves the Allies as a nurse in World War II. Only twenty years old, Hana is an excellent nurse who takes good care of her patients. She has quickly learned that she must not become emotionally attached to her patients, as she has seen too many young soldiers slip out of her life. Very close to her father, Hana had an emotional breakdown when she heard the news of his death. She falls in love with the idea of the English patient, of the thought that she is caring for a saint-like man. Her heart, however, belongs to Kip, to whom she looks for protection as she stands at the boundary between adolescence and adulthood.

Read an in-depth analysis of Hana.

Kip  -  A Sikh man from India who works as a "sapper," defusing bombs for the British forces in World War II. First introduced only as "the sikh," Kip is polite and well-mannered, and has both the skill and character to be an excellent sapper. A brown man in a white nation, Kip has grown emotionally detached, aware that people will not always react positively to him. His emotional detachment stands in the way of his relationships, most significantly his relationship with Hana.

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Caravaggio -  A Canadian thief whose profession is legitimized during the war when he puts his skills to use for the British intelligence effort. Caravaggio, whom we first know only as "the man with bandaged hands," proves endearing despite the fact that his actions are not always virtuous. Hana remembers that, in his burglaries, Caravaggio was always distracted by "the human element"—an Advent calendar that was not open to the right day, for example. Caravaggio serves as a kind of surrogate father to Hana, and sheds light on the identity of the English patient.
Katharine Clifton -  An Oxford-educated woman and the wife of Geoffrey Clifton. One of the most mysterious characters in the novel, Katharine is never fully understood. We know that she married Geoffrey quite young and traveled with him to Northern Africa, and that she is an avid reader who voraciously learns all she can about Cairo and the desert. Though polite and genteel, Katharine nevertheless takes what she wants, assertively approaching Almásy and telling him that she wants him to "ravish her." Though Geoffrey is a devoted and kind husband, Katharine never seems remorseful about her extramarital affair. We see Katharine's wild, dark side in her affair with Almásy, as she punches and stabs her lover, angry at him for refusing to change and daringly challenging the world to recognize their relationship.
Geoffrey Clifton -  A British explorer and Katharine Clifton's husband. A young, good-natured, affable man, Geoffrey is a new addition to the group of explorers who are mapping the North African desert. Geoffrey seems to have everything going for him: an Oxford education, wealthy family connections, and a beautiful young wife. He is a proud and devoted husband, and enjoys praising his wife in front of the other explorers. Goeffrey claims to have come to North Africa purely out of an interest in exploration, but Almásy finds out that Geoffrey has been working for British Intelligence as an aerial photographer. Everyone seems to like Geoffrey, but Katharine, who knows him best, knows his capacity to be insanely jealous.
Madox -  Almásy's best friend in the desert. Madox is a rational, level-headed man who, like Almásy, chose to live in the desert to study the features of the land and report back to the Geographical Society. Unlike Almásy, Madox includes his own emotional reactions in his writing and reports, and is not shy to describe his amazement at a particular mountain or his wonder at the size of the moon. Madox always carries a copy of Anna Karenina, the famous tale of adultery, but remains ever faithful to his wife back home. Madox sees the church as proclaiming a jingoistic pro-war message during World War II. He takes his own life in the church, and Almásy concludes that he "died because of nations."
Lord Suffolk -  A member of the old English aristocracy who, once the war begins, takes it upon himself to defuse bombs and train other men to do so. Lord Suffolk is the one "true English gentleman" whom Kip meets while he is abroad. Though Lord Suffolk is described as strange and eccentric, Kip finds that he is actually a wonderful man and a kind mentor. Kip especially values the fact that Lord Suffolk can look beyond his race and welcome him into the "English family." The nobleman's death is a large loss in Kip's life.
Patrick  -  Hana's father, the only parent who was present to raise her while she was growing up. Like Hana, Patrick leaves Canada to join the war effort. Hana is extremely close to her father, and the news of his death sparks her initial emotional breakdown. She takes comfort in the fact that he died in a "holy place," a dove-cot.
Clara -  Hana's stepmother and Patrick's wife. Clara does not appear in the novel as a character, but Hana thinks of her occasionally, remembering her in a canoe on the lake she loves so much. Despite her absence, Clara plays an important role in the novel because, to Hana, she symbolizes home, the place she has escaped from but the place to which she longs to return at the end of the novel.

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