Search Menu

The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Contents

Themes

Themes

Nationality and Identity

Nationality and identity are interconnected in The English Patient, functioning together to create a web of inescapable structures that tie the characters to certain places and times despite their best efforts to evade such confinement. Almásy desperately tries to elude the force of nationality, living in the desert where he creates for himself an alternate identity, one in which family and nation are irrelevant. Almásy forges this identity through his character, his work, and his interactions with others. Importantly, he chooses this identity rather than inheriting it. Certain environments in the novel lend credence to the idea that national identity can be erased. The desert and the isolated Italian villa function as such places where national identity is unimportant to one's connection with others. Kip, who becomes enmeshed in the idea of Western society and the welcoming community of the villa's inhabitants, even dismisses his hyperawareness of his own racial identity for a time.

Ultimately, however, the characters cannot escape from the outside reality that, in wartime, national identity is prized above all else. This reality invades Almásy's life in the desert and Kip's life in the Italian villa. Desperate for help, Almásy is locked up merely because his name sounds foreign. His identity follows him even after he is burned beyond recognition, as Caravaggio realizes that the "English" patient is not even English. For Kip, news of the atomic bomb reminds him that, outside the isolated world of the villa, western aggression still exists, crushing Asian people as Kip's brother had warned. National identity is, then, an inescapable part of each of the characters, a larger force over which they have no control.

Love's Ability to Transcend Time and Place

One theme that emerges in the novel is that love, if it is truly heartfelt, transcends place and time. Hana feels love and connection to her father even though he has died alone, far from her in another theater of war. Almásy desperately maintains his love for Katharine even though he is unable to see her or reach her in the cave. Likewise, Kip, despite leaving Italy to marry in India, never loses his connection to Hana, whom he imagines thirteen years later and halfway across the world. Such love transcends even death, as the characters hold onto their emotions even past the grave. This idea implies a larger message—that time and place themselves are irrelevant to human connection. We see this especially in Almásy's connection to Herodotus, whose writings he follows across time through the desert. Maps and geography become details, mere artificial lines that man imposes on the landscape. It is only the truth in the soul, which transcends time, that matters in the novel.

Test Your Understanding with the Themes Quiz

TAKE THE QUIZ
+
#

THEMES QUIZ

What do certain environments allow characters to ignore or erase, if only temporarily?
National identity
Gender norms
Test Your Understanding with the Themes Quiz
TAKE THE QUIZ

Themes QUIZ

+
Test Your Understanding with the Themes Quiz
TAKE THE QUIZ

More Help

Previous Next
Addendum on Count Almasy

by Desdichado32, March 18, 2017

One point in this analysis I cannot entirely agree with is the argument that Almasy places no value in the concept of nations and states. Certainly he believes them to be man-made and irrelevant in the brutal landscape of the desert; however, his value of nations changes once he is betrayed by the British. When they refuse to help him and in effect allow Katherine to die his perspective of nations changes. At this point nations do assume value for Almasy. He sees the Germans as the most effective conduit for revenging himself on the British.... Read more

0 Comments

7 out of 7 people found this helpful

You may be very interested

by averybusyman, June 20, 2017

You may be very interested in this site

https://domyhomework.guru/

that features some essay help

essay help

by josephbanks, August 10, 2017

I’ve only tried one essay service but I can tell you that the website I used was really solid. It’s called

https://digitalessay.net

Basically you get to pick a writer and you can communicate with them through an internal chat system which makes explaining how to do specific assignments a lot easier (especially if your teacher is a hard-ass like mine was.) Good luck with your paper!