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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Chapter III

Chapter II

Chapter IV

Summary

One of the soldiers who has entered the library while Hana plays the piano is a young sikh, an Indian officer who works with the British forces to clear unexploded bombs and mines. He has run into the library out of fear for the piano player, as Germans often hid bombs in musical instruments and metronomes. The sikh finds the piano safe and then makes camp in the garden of the villa. He makes it his duty to clear the area and make it safe for the inhabitants. Hana notices that the sikh is always extraordinarily respectful and polite. She watches his muscles and notices the unashamed physicality of his body.

The sikh is sent on very dangerous and sensitive missions. He must protect the Italian people at their ceremonies honoring the Virgin Mary, and even look for bombs on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Although the sikh does not share these people's faith, he does everything he can to protect it.

Hana and Caravaggio talk. She tells him that she was pregnant and used to talk to the baby all the time, but lost the baby in an abortion when she got to Sicily, as the baby's father was dead anyway. Hana tells Caravaggio all she has learned about death in her work as a nurse. She tells him that, after a while, she refused to have anything to do with the soldiers on a personal level. She withdrew emotionally and threw herself into her work.

The sikh, named Kip, goes into the English patient's room to talk to him one day. It turns out that they get along very well, and they are able to spend much time talking of their expertise on bombs, guns, and weapons. Hana is glad that her patient has found a new friend.

The narrator tells the story of how the English patient got to Italy. The Bedouin tribe that saved him brought him to the British base at Siwa in 1944. He was moved from the Western desert to Tunis, then shipped to Italy. Because he could not be identified, and could hardly remember who he was, the British had a very difficult time trying to determine whether or not he was an enemy. He seemed very British and bombarded them with facts about Italy, the military, and history. His rambling drove them crazy, but they were never quite sure who he was. As the English patient tells Hana the story, he drifts off to sleep. She reads parts of his journal.

One day, Kip is searching the garden and he finds a large and complicated bomb with wires running through the grass and attached to a tree. He needs Hana's help to hold one of the wires while he tries to figure out which one to cut. He succeeds in neutralizing the bomb, but it has been particularly difficult and he is shaking. Hana tells him that she is not afraid of death, and that she just wishes she could curl up in his arms and feel safe here on the grass. While they are curled up and Hana is sleeping, Kip feels preoccupied. He knows that his brown skin will always make him a foreigner, unable to let his guard down and have real human contact.

That night, the four have a party in the English patient's room. Caravaggio has found a gramophone and he puts on music to dance with Hana. While they celebrate, Kip hears an explosion. He lies and tells them that it was not the explosion of a mine, but when he gets a chance, he runs down to the site of the explosion. He locates the dead and buries his second-in-command, Hardy. Kip is reminded of how dangerous his job is and is angered that Hana had treated her own life so casually that morning. He returns to the villa and finds Hana sitting by the side of the patient's bed, his hearing aid turned up to its highest volume. Kip thinks that he will be sane if he can just touch Hana. He cuts the wire of the patient's hearing aid, promising to rewire it in the morning, and touches Hana's shoulder.

The next morning, Hana, Kip, and Caravaggio are talking outside. Caravaggio wonders if it is possible for a person to be in love with someone who is not any smarter than that person. He is frustrated with Hana because she is so in love with her English patient that she refuses to do the reasonable thing and leave Italy to save herself. Caravaggio says that she and Kip should get out of this dangerous place and go off and have babies together. Hana begins to feel uncomfortable in the company of the three men now that physical attraction is palpably present. All she would like to do is lay with Kip and have him protect her.

At night, Hana sneaks across the garden into Kip's tent and they become lovers. She is very attracted to him and to the dark color of his skin. She knows that neither of them is beholden to the other. It is merely their choice to be together for the moment. Hana becomes annoyed sometimes at Kip's self- sufficiency, the way he is able to shut out the world around him. Nonetheless, she enjoys spending the night with him, lying under his protection.

Analysis

In Chapter III, Ondaatje explores the nature of love and shows how it can surface even in the middle of war. Caravaggio charges that Hana is in love with the English patient, reasoning that she is drawn to the patient because he is so smart and mysterious. What Caravaggio does not see is that Hana needs the patient as much as he needs her. Although it seems that the patient ties Hana to an unsafe place, she sees him as freeing her from the awful horrors of war. She feels she can once again become emotionally attached to someone, and that she can finally let down her guard.

The love Hana feels for Kip is of a different kind. Kip becomes her protector, a strong, healthy male figure to save her from dangers. Ondaatje writes that when Hana is with Kip, she feels "her tongue instead of a swab, her tooth instead of a needle, her mouth instead of the mask with the codeine drops to make him sleep." To Kip, Hana is not a nurse, but a woman, and this withdrawal from her professional duty is refreshing to her. Kip, on the other hand, finds in Hana a link to sanity, someone who is young and alive. Facing death every day, Kip is forced to come to grips with is own mortality, yet Hana links him to life. The love that emerges, therefore, is one based on mutual needs and the search for fulfillment of those needs during the stress of wartime.

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