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The English Patient

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Quotes

Important Quotes Explained

Quotes Important Quotes Explained

Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet…Above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone. She has nursed him for months and she knows the body well, the penis sleeping like a sea horse, the thin tight hips. Hipbones of Christ, she thinks. He is her despairing saint. He lies flat on his back, no pillow, looking up at the foliage painted onto the ceiling, its canopy of branches, and above that, blue sky.

This passage, found at the beginning of Chapter I, describes the way Hana cares for the burned English patient. Like many passages in the novel, it is replete with body imagery. The style is excruciatingly descriptive, forcing to us to visualize the unpleasant image of the burned body. It is Almásy's body, the pain of his burns, that ties him to the present moment and connects him to Hana. Without this black body, or what is left of it, he would exist only in the past, merely part of a larger history.

Here we see that Hana imposes religious imagery on the blank screen that is her patient's body. She thinks of his "[h]ipbones of Christ," and views him as her "despairing saint." These ideas heighten Hana's own position in the world and in her mind. If the English patient is great and noble, a saint of suffering, then her status is elevated in her caring for him.