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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Chapter VIII

Chapter VII

Chapter IX

Summary

Kip brings a ladybird for Hana to give to the English patient. The ladybird clutches the patient's dark skin. In the library, Caravaggio accidentally nudges a fuse box off a counter. Kip's body slides under it, saving them from the explosion that would have resulted. Kip knows he has made an impression on Caravaggio, and knows that one day, the thief will be kind to an East Indian in return and will think of Kip. Caravaggio tells a story about one of his burglaries that was foiled by a family of Indians. Hana partly believes this story, as she remembers that Caravaggio "was constantly diverted by the human element during burglaries."

Kip remembers a time in 1941 when he was lowered into a pit to defuse a giant Esau bomb. He was very cold, nearly twenty feet down a pit in muddy water with little sunlight to warm him. His fingers were so cold that they lost their agility and became almost useless. His body was so close to the bomb that he could feel the temperature changes. He describes in detail how he first tried to defuse the bomb, made a mistake, and then finally succeeded in neutralizing it. They pulled him out of the pit after the bomb was dead, and his body was almost frozen from the liquid oxygen he spilled onto himself in his first attempts. When he got out of the pit, he realized there was a crowd around, far too close to the bomb. They would have been destroyed if the bomb had exploded. But all Kip could think about was how he was not frightened in the pit, just angry at his mistake. Only Hardy, his next in command, still kept him human.

Hana and Kip sit out in the sun after Kip washes his long hair. She enjoys gazing at his body and imagining his quiet civilization. He tells her how his brother thinks he is foolish for trusting the English. His brother believes that Asia is not a free continent and the English will never give any credit to the Sikhs for their help in the war. On this point, Kip disagrees with his brother. Hana thinks that at night, when Kip lets down his hair, "he is once more in another constellation."

Kip never moves independently, but always in relation to things: his eyes are always observant, searching for something dangerous. He will never take a moment to consider himself, because he is the only thing that is certainly safe. Though he can describe Hana's clavicle and the shape of her shoulder, he would find it difficult to remember the color of her eyes. He only sees what he needs to see. He spends time with the English patient because he realizes that, though sick, the creature inside is noble, and has a memory that reaches far deeper than any of the others'.

The four in the villa are accustomed to rising at daybreak and eating dinner with the last available light. Late one night, long after Hana has blown out the candle in the English patient's room, she and Kip sneak into the villa from two different doors. This is a game they have arranged to play. It is completely dark, and Kip sneaks through the kitchen into the enclosed courtyard to hide in a well, waiting for Hana. He has swept the library for mines for a week, so he knows that this room, at least, is completely safe. Hana enters the library with a small light on her arm. She goes to look for one of the few English books among the many Italian ones. She finds what she is looking for and lies down on the couch to read the book. She can hear Caravaggio's wheeze, as he is lying on the floor at the other end of the library. Caravaggio knows Hana is there. He thinks how much more he loves her now that she is an adult. When she was little, he used to wonder what she would be like, but now he knows that she has consciously decided how her life will be shaped, and he feels happy to be a part of that.

Kip, from his vantage point at the well, also sees Hana lying on the couch. All at once, everything seems to be in movement. Caravaggio walks over to the couch and reaches down to touch Hana, but she is not there. He feels an arm close around his neck and he realizes Kip has him in a grip from which he cannot escape. He hears Hana's voice saying "got you, got you." This is all part of their game. Hana has used him as a decoy in her game with Kip. Caravaggio leaves the room, and Kip and Hana make love in the dark.

Kip and Hana feel there are greater forces than sex working between them. As she scratches his back when they are falling asleep, he is reminded of the comforting love of his mother.

Analysis

Chapter VIII highlights the differences between Kip and Caravaggio. Caravaggio, though a thief, is morally and emotionally complex. Far from perfect at his profession, Hana remembers him being "constantly diverted by the human element during burglaries. ...Breaking into a house during Christmas, he would become annoyed if he noticed the Advent calendar had not been opened up to the date to which it should have been." Such a diversion signals fallibility in Caravaggio, and his remarkably human actions give us the sense that even though he is a thief, he may not necessarily be immoral. In contrast, Kip's profession in the army is a noble one. He saves innocent lives every day by defusing bombs, a duty that neutralizes aggression. As a character, however, Kip is not gripped by the same humanizing diversions that occupy Caravaggio. While he is working on a bomb he completely puts aside the human element of his work. He does not give a thought to his feelings or emotions, but only to the task at hand. He repeatedly thinks that he needs either Hardy or Hana to "bring him back to humanity."

This contrast between Kip and Caravaggio emphasizes the nature of humanity in wartime. Because the characters find it is so necessary to protect themselves emotionally, they find it easy to sacrifice humanity. Kip sections off his humanity, seemingly saving it until after the war by placing a wall between himself and everyone else. The English patient also does this throughout the 1930s, refusing to let anyone get close to him in his travels, his affairs, and his friendships. He shares little about his private life, choosing to stick to only the descriptive facts when he writes about the landscape and the geography. This detachment is what makes Katharine's entrance into his life so disruptive to him. She forces humanity and fallibility into his life. In the end, Ondaatje offers no judgment on the characters' varying approaches to the question of humanity, as both Kip and Almasy are left with only the consequences of their decisions.

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