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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Chapter X

Chapter IX

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Kip makes dinner for Hana's twenty-first birthday, and together they celebrate with Caravaggio, drinking wine and singing. Caravaggio thinks how much he wants Kip and Hana to get married. He wonders how he got in this position.

Hana reflects on Kip. In the tents at night, he has told her all about his home, his family, and India. He has taken her mentally on a tour through his sacred temple, to the tree shrine, into his very favorite places. Hana thinks of her lover as a knight, a warrior saint. She would like to be closer to him, but she knows that his job requires him to separate himself from humanity. In any danger, he creates a space around himself and concentrates. He is able to replace loss quickly, and Hana knows this is part of his nature.

Kip remembers first arriving in Italy in October 1943. The German retreat across Italy had been one of the most terrible retreats in history. They laid mines everywhere, hoping to terrorize the Italian people and the Allies for years. The entire electrical system in Naples had been booby trapped so that the whole city would go up in flames when the electricity was finally turned on again. It was the job of Kip and the other sappers to make sure this did not occur. Naples was evacuated so the only humans left in the town were the twelve sappers. Kip spent the entire night looking for mines and explosives, trying to figure out how an entire electrical system could be bombed. By mid-afternoon he was so tired he could no longer bear it. He lay down to sleep in the back of a church with a statue of an angel above him. At three in the afternoon there was no explosion, but light.

One day in August, Hana sees Kip in the lower field of the villa. She hears him scream an awful sound and sink to his knees in agony, his headphones on. He runs to his tent, grabs his rifle, and charges into the English patient's room. He points the gun at Almásy and says he has just heard that they have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. He blames Almásy, as a representative of the English, for all of the terrible things the west has done to Asia. He knows that they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white country. Almásy entreats Kip to pull the trigger, to help him end his life, but Kip cannot. He puts the gun down, but a wall of silence has been constructed between him and the white people in the villa.

By morning, Kip has removed all vestiges of military insignia from his clothes. He finds an old motorbike behind the villa and drives away on it, refusing to say goodbye to Hana. As Kip leaves, Caravaggio hugs him, saying that he will have to learn now how to miss him. Kip rides on his motorbike toward the south. He plans to ride to the Adriatic and avoid the army as much as he can. As he is riding, he refuses to think of Hana. He skids on a wet bridge and is thrown, by the momentum of his bicycle, off the side of the bridge. He and the motorbike fall through mid-air into the water. His head rises above the water and he gasps in air.

Hana writes a letter to her stepmother, Clara. She has been unable to write to anyone at home since the death of her father, Patrick. She now finds the strength to write to Clara, telling her how her father died, how his men left him after he was burned beyond recognition. Hana mourns the sadness of geography: she, a nurse who knows so much about burns, could not care for her own father because he was far away. But she is comforted by the fact that her father died in a holy place, on a dove-cot, a comforting place built so that doves could be safe.

Years later, Kip thinks of the time he spent with Hana, Caravaggio, and the English patient in a small villa in hills of Italy. He is now a doctor, with a wife and two children, and is permanently busy taking care of his patients. He is happy with his family, whose hands are all brown and who are comfortable in their way of life. Nonetheless, he often thinks of Hana: where she is now, who she is with, what she looks like. She sent him letters for a year, but after receiving no replies, eventually gave up. He thinks of her now, smart and serious, accidentally brushing a glass off a shelf. Kip leans over and catches a fork an inch from the floor, and returns it to the hands of his daughter.

Analysis

The news of the atomic bomb brings the reality of the outside world back into to the sheltered environment of the Italian villa. When Kip hears about the United States' bombing of Hiroshima, he screams, falling to his knees. His pain comes not only from the shattered lives of the Japanese people, but from the shattering of his own ideals. Despite his older brother's anti-western warnings, Kip has put his faith in the west, adjusting to its culture and doing all he can to save it from destruction. He denies, in his own mind, that the west could be as oppressive to Asia as his brother claims. The explosion of the atomic bomb symbolizes the destruction of Kip's entire belief system. The bomb's intrusion on their villa existence highlights the fact that events and realities are not isolated. What happens in Japan touches the very heart of emotions in a small villa in the hills of Italy. Kip responds to the news of the bomb by running away, escaping his life in the villa. He views his running away as a flight from the oppression of the west. Ultimately, however, Hana's suspicion that Kip can so easily move on is confirmed, as he finds himself tied to the life he once led. Kip's emotional tie to Hana transcends time and geography, and transcends even the great realities of nationality.

The novel's characters frequently mention the idea of "dying in a holy place." Katharine dies in a cave, a holy place to the ancient people of the desert. Patrick, Hana's father, also dies in a holy place, a dove-cot, a ledge above a building where doves can be safe from the rats who try to prey on them. Likewise, Madox dies in a holy place, taking his life in a church England. This idea of death in sacred places recurs throughout the work, but the meaning of such places in the novel is complex. "Holy place" does not signify a place that is holy to individual people: Katharine hated the desert, Patrick hated to be alone, and Madox lost his faith in the holiness of the church. The locations of these respective characters' deaths were not special to the characters themselves. However, the figurative idea of a holy place touches on the connection between actual places and states of emotion in the novel. Emotionally, each of these characters died in a "holy place" by remaining in the hearts of people who loved them. In The English Patient, geography is transcendent, while it is the sacredness of love that endures.

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