The English Patient
With unsettling beauty and intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II. The nurse Hana, exhausted by death, obsessively tends to her last surviving patient. Caravaggio, the thief, tries to reimagine who he is, now that his hands are hopelessly maimed. The Indian sapper Kip searches for hidden bombs in a landscape where nothing is safe but himself. And at the center of his labyrinth lies the English patient, nameless and hideously burned, a man who is both a riddle and a provocation to his companionsand whose memories of suffering, rescue, and betrayal illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.
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You should notice that this novel has an outside narrator. Watch the video below for an explanation of the different types of narration. Try to determine as you continue to read which type of third person narrator is present in this novel. (This annotation contains a video)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
What two details in this paragraph help establish the setting of this novel?
The writer uses a great deal of figurative language. Here you should recognize this simile that expresses the desperation with which this man listens to the woman reading. Watch the video below for a quick review of some of the most common forms of figurative language. (This annotation contains a video)
Earlier the narrator mentions the Bedouin recognizing the planes that had been falling since 1939. Which war is "almost over" here?
The burned man, the English patient, is remembering again his time with the Bedouins and how they wrapped his face with a mask of grass and reeds. The English patient seems to be in awe of his rescuers, their mysticism, their generosity, their wisdom.
Which of the following literary devices is most prominent in this paragraph?
What can we infer is a real danger in this villa?
This is an allusion, a casual reference in literature to a famous person, place, event, or other piece of literature. Writers use allusions to create an implied association or make a point and do not explain the reference but rather assume the reader makes the connection. Watch the video below for a further explanation of allusions. (This annotation contains a video)
This is background information about the villa where the story is now set. It was once a nunnery and then during the war it became a German fort. Later the Allies turned the villa into a military hospital. Now, broken and crumbled by the war, it houses the girl and the English patient.
The writer uses this simile to suggest that emotionally the woman is also _______________.
The woman is playing hopscotch which shows her childlike behavior. We should consider the contrast of how strong and brave she is to rebuild stairs and clean out rooms that are very possibly hiding bombs to this act of playing hopscotch. (This annotation contains an image)
Herodotus is considered the Father of History. His book chronicles the conflicts between the Greeks and the Persians. (This annotation contains an image)
This is a long, rather detailed passage the woman in the villa is reading. It seems to be notes about the many different types of desert winds. The English patient has written these notes in the margins of the Herodotus book.
The picture below is a dust storm that seems to be a "sheet" dust storm. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on what we learn from his thoughts, the English patient has an astute grasp of which of the following?
The badly burned man is remembering his time with the Bedouins who rescued and cared for him in North Africa, in Libya. (This annotation contains an image)
So the Bedouins finally reveal their motive for the care they have given the English patient as they carried him across the desert. They brought him to an arsenal of guns, and the English patient identifies them by touch.
For most of the day as they move the English patient from place to place, his face is covered. Only at night do the Bedouins remove the face wrap. The English patient remembers fondly this sensual memory of the young boy dancing.
We have a new character. List two things you have learned about him so far.
The picture below is from the 1996 movie version of The English Patient. Ralph Fiennes plays the burned man and main character of this story. (This annotation contains an image)
WWII has just ended in Europe. The doctors are telling this man with burned hands that the villa where the nurse and English patient are staying is surrounded by "the last vices of war." Explain what they mean.
The walls of the villa in this room are covered in a "trompe l'oeil," or a painting that looks three-dimensional. Below is an example of a trompe l'oeil. (This annotation contains an image)
A Wurlitzer is a jukebox. Caravaggio longs for a place to drink and to listen to music. Hana and Caravaggio know each other from before the war, yet both are greatly changed. The war seems to have taken its toll on all of the characters we've encountered so far. The devastation of war may be an emerging theme in this novel.
Who rubs in the ground peacock bone on the English patient?
Caravaggio is telling Hana about his work as a spy. He must have worked for the Allies and was spying at a German party when he is accidentally photographed.
Caravaggio recalls the night where he comes back to the villa and breaks in. He steals the camera from the woman who caught him in a photograph. He startles her with her lover, but she doesn't give him away and he escapes with the camera.
Surely you've noticed that this novel continually intertwines the past and the present. The narrator alternates from one character's perspective to another's. This narrative structure makes this book challenging to read.
Which of the following themes does this paragraph develop?
She is referring to "desertion" from the army. Hana doesn't feel that staying behind at the villa can be considered desertion because technically the war is over. This also confirms that the "present" time of this novel is 1945.
Below is a picture of the villa used in the filming of the movie version of The English Patient. (This annotation contains an image)
"He is a saint," Hana claims. "He doesn't even care," Caravaggio exclaims. Who is the "he" that Hana and Caravaggio are referring to?
Discuss what the three characters in this novel so far, Hana, Caravaggio, and the English patient have in common.
What does the writer mean by using the simile: "Then she would leave the thick-stoned building and walk outside into spring or winter or summer, seasons that seemed archaic, that sat like old gentleman throughout the war"?
The reference to the "Scarlet Pimpernel" is an example of what literary device?
Poliziano was an Italian scholar and poet of the Italian Renaissance. (This annotation contains an image)
Caravaggio is remembering when he was tortured and the nurse was forced to cut off his thumbs.
According to Caravaggio, why did his captors let him go so easily?
A Sikh is one who follows the religion of Sikhism. Click on the link and quickly read a list of facts about Sikhs. If you see someone who wears a turban, he is probably a Sikh. (This annotation contains a link)
Saps are men who diffuse bombs and perform other engineering tasks for the military.
Madonna del Parto is the name of the image of the Virgin Mary when she is pregnant. This painting is by Piero della Francesca. (This annotation contains an image)
This is one of the movie's most beautiful and moving scenes, yet it is different from the book. In the movie, the Sikh takes Hana into the church, gives her the flare, and swings her up to look at the breathtaking frescoes. Watch the clip and explain how the movie makes this scene more memorable.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DlxO2frMPE
We have read about this scene earlier in the novel, but now it is different. Why?
These men are in the Sistine chapel. The ceiling of the Sistine chapel was painted by Michelangelo. He painted a series of nine pictures showing God's Creation of the World, God's Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind's Fall from God's Grace. (This annotation contains an image)
The Sigh's interest in the Madonna, a symbol not from his own religion, coupled with his appreciation of the art in the churches, show us that his character possesses which character trait?
Hana has experienced tremendous sadness and loss. Emotionally she is broken. Perhaps what draws her to the English patient is his closeness to death. Perhaps she believes if she saves him, she can beat back the death that has taken so much from her.
This sentence is an example of what type of figurative language?
Caravaggio may be addicted to the morphine he takes for the pain in his hands. During 1945, morphine was packaged in small glass vials. (This annotation contains an image)
So now we know that the Sikh, the man who dismantles bombs and wears a turban, is called Kip. Below is a picture of Kip in the movie, The English Patient. (This annotation contains an image)
Use the Define feature on the word "moraines." Then read again the metaphor in this paragraph, "They hold the remnants of war societies, small moraines left by a vast glacier." What is the "vast glacier" in this metaphor?
The Annals by the Roman historian, Tacitus, are considered one of the finest written histories of the Roman Empire. (This annotation contains an image)
List several details from the novel so far that prove that the English patient is a well educated man.
Here we have a thought from the English patient about when he first met Hana at the sea hospital. What does this thought reveal about her: "He was familiar with such dead glances, knew she was more patient than nurse"?
The English patient, who may not be English at all, easily deceives his captors because he is so well educated and seems to know a lot about everything.
Hana reads the entry dated July 1936. What two phrases in the highlighted paragraph reveal that she has been standing there staring into the book for a long time?
What does the metaphor "...watching only the two tributaries of wire she held in her hands" suggest?
What does the music from his headphones allow Kip to do?
Emotionally, Hana is in such a dangerous place. She has witnessed death so often during the war that she welcomes it to her. She thinks she wants it. With her father's death, her unborn child, its father, she feels she has lost everything.
As he moved from town to town during the war, Kip found solace and comfort where?
Kip is emotionally crippled from his experience in the war. He faces danger every day until he finds himself now unable to relax or enjoy a moment without looking for danger. It seems all of the characters so far in this novel, all of the occupants of the villa, are victims of the war.
Caravaggio is making a bad joke, referring to how burned the English patient is.
Why does Kip suddenly leave the room where they are having wine and dancing?
In the novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling, a young Irish orphan, Kim, becomes a student and follower of an old Indian lama. The boy and the older Buddhist travel together on an adventure to reach a river.
Kip heard the bomb go off, even though he told his friends it was nothing. Once the smell of the explosion hits him, he leaves abruptly to go assess the damage.
Read the highlighted sentences again. Describe what the writer means, "But between them lay a treacherous and complex journey."
Kip is beginning to care for Hana and it burdens him. Now each time he defuses a bomb, he will be worried for her. Before knowing her, Kip could separate himself and his job from the human world. His feelings for Hana have now dragged him into that world. Like the officer with the goat, Kip wants to carry Hana away from the danger and hurt of the war.
Michael Caravaggio was an Italian painter during the 17th century. Click on the link to see the painting the English patient is describing and then complete the sentence below.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/Caravaggio_-_David_con_la_testa_di_Golia.jp...In this dialogue about the painting, the English patient is lamenting his _____________________.
Which of the following character traits has been most prominent in Caravaggio's life?
The metaphor "...cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history..." suggests what about Herodotus's accounts of history?
We can infer that Caravaggio is ___________________Hana's feelings for the English patient.
Hana seems obsessed with death, even when she is thinking of lying in the arms of Kip, who is now her lover.
What does Hana want to use to replace her typical nursing tools?
Based on the highlighted text, we know the narrator is which of the following?
Throughout history's wars, sappers have performed a variety of combat engineering duties. They detonate bombs, lay and clear minefields, rebuild bridges, and repair roads. Here are sappers rebuilding a bridge. (This annotation contains an image)
The language of this writer is beautiful. What three types of figurative language are present in this one sentence?
IV - South Cairo 1930–1938
Clearly, the setting is changing in this next section. We are in Cairo, Egypt in the years before WWII.
"Conrad's sailors" is a reference to the classic novel by Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim. What do we call the device where a writer makes an indirect reference to another famous literary work?
The beginning of this chapter should remind you of the Preface to the novel where the opening of a Geographical Society Lecture begins with an acknowledgement of member Geoffrey Clifton's death and the disappearance of his wife, Katharine. The significance of this remains to be seen.
This tells us that the Geographical Society of London had a vested interest during the 1930's in discovering, or rediscovering, "lost oases" in Egypt. All of that stopped, however, when North Africa became "a theatre" of the war.
The reader can infer which of the following from this passage?
The Gilf Kebir is a plateau in today's Libya. (This annotation contains an image)
You may be interested in watching the video below of traveling in a sandstorm in the Sahara. Towards the end of the video, you will see the sand, rise like steam, as it is described in the excerpt from the English patient's book. (This annotation contains a video)
These lines should seem important to you. They are thematic. Read them again and explain in your own words what you think the English patient means.
The English patient wants to shed his nationality and just be human. The desert brings that out in him. In the desert there are no real boundaries; they are fluid and always shifting.
We are learning more about the English patient. We now know he was once involved in what?
Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus the Great, led a huge army across the desert and supposedly became lost in a sandstorm.
Sitting by the fire, Almasy, who is now known as the English patient, falls in love with Katharine, Geoffrey's wife.
We can infer that Almasy and Katharine have an affair.
Katharine's dream had been about Almasy.
If this novel was told in first person or third-person limited, which of the following would be the biggest impact?
Katharine asks Almasy if he would like to join her for a beer. He declines and tells her he has too much to do. But we know his immediate plans are to go out and drink. Why do you think Almasy refuses the invitation?
Which word best describes how Katharine finds Almasy at this point?
The relationship between Katharine and Almasy is intense and sometimes violent. It is tempestuous. Perhaps each time Almasy says something cold or cruel to Katharine to protect himself from feeling too much, she lashes out at him physically.
This plant is symbolic of whom?
Almasy is angry because he doesn't want to lose her even though he agrees they must stop seeing one another. She is married. He reacts by being cruel to her.
Madox is sort of an expedition partner of Almasy's. What can we infer from this statement?
Caravaggio is suspicious that the English patient is the Hungarian man named Almasy. Caravaggio is right.
The famous novel Rebecca is about a widower who marries a young girl but both are vexed by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca. (This annotation contains an image)
According to Caravaggio, the English patient, who he believes is Ladislaus de Almasy, acted as what during the war?
Here is another picture of the Gilf Kebir. Within it is the Cave of Swimmers. (This annotation contains an image)
The narrator has switched to Hana. She is talking to the English patient, telling him about Caravaggio's theories and his suspicions of the English patient.
This paragraph reveals what about Almasy?
The English patient tells Hana that Geoffrey Clifton, with his wife on the plane, tries to run over him in the desert, attempting to kill all three of them because he suspected the affair. Geoffrey is killed, but Katharine and Almasy, or the English patient, are not. Katharine is wounded and cannot travel, so Almasy leaves her in a cave so he can go and get help. Watch the clip below of this scene from the 1996 movie version. (This annotation contains a video)
This is a profound sentence. Almasy claims, as if it is a second thought, "Everything else out there was a war. This novel isn't really about the war is it? The war is simply in the background. This novel is about people and how they deal with love and loss and picking up the pieces.
Use the Define feature on "carrion." Explain what is meant by the metaphor, "They are carrion."
Now we understand how the English patient, or Almasy, becomes so badly burned in the plane. While finally returning to Katharine in the cave after three years, he takes her body with him in the buried plane. Overcome with grief and loss, he tries to end his life.
Although the war plays a secondary role to the personal lives of the characters in this novel, it is the destroyer of all the characters.
These grisly memories of Hana's further develop which theme?
One of the greatest challenges of reading this novel is not only the ever shifting point of view, but also the going backward and forward in time.
At this point in the novel, we are with Kip as he is training in England to be a sapper.
List three details you've learned about bombs and bomb units from this section.
The white horse on the hills in Westbury, England is an old symbol of war dating back centuries. It is a site where Kip and his bombing unit are practicing their skills under the tutelage of Lord Suffolk. (This annotation contains an image)
We can tell that Kip feels _______________towards Lord Suffolk.
According to this paragraph, why are the people of India so good with mathematics and engineering? Use details from the paragraph in your answer.
This explains why Miss Morden kept looking at Kip in the library prior to the exam. She was sizing him up. The fact that she "knows" Kip doesn't drink shows that she is familiar with his religion.
We learn that Kip was greatly affected by the deaths of Lord Suffolk and Miss Morden, his friends. Because of his grief, he joins another less conspicuous unit, where he can lose himself.
As described in this section, what could Kip have chosen just after Lord Suffolk dies?
Kip has discovered a critical trap planted by the Germans. Bombs would actually have to be detonated twice.
In other words, if they ignore the first fuze, it won't set off the second fuze.
Kip's older brother was a ______________.
Hana is making notations about Kip in a book of poetry.
We know this is a flashback because Hardy is alive in it and working with Kip.
Explain why you think Hardy is recording everything Kip is doing.
We know that Hardy gets killed later with a bomb. Kip protects himself from feeling by focusing only on his work.
What can we infer Kip's brother wants him to do?
It's interesting that the writer refers figuratively to lifeboats. Do you think Hana and Kip are in a sense lifeboats to each other? Explain your answer.
The darkness, the walking around using their hands to guide them, the lack of color... all of these things are symbolic of another theme in this novel. Which of the following is the most likely theme?
Caravaggio is in love with Hana. When he knew her before, he was amused by her and anticipated the woman she would become.
Who is Kip's ayah?
This is a beautiful image and it supports another theme of love transcending nationality and race. This is especially poignant during a world war between nations and about borders. Love has no borders.
The English patient is talking to Hana, telling her how he fell in love with Katharine. The narration goes back in time again and now the story will deal with Almasy and Katharine.
How is Geofrrey Clifton like Candaules in the story?
You may enjoy the film version of this scene. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is the best interpretation of Almasy's words, "So power changed hands"?
What can we infer from this sentence about Almasy?
This indicates that Geoffrey Clifton is known to many because of his family name. Even though Geoffrey himself may not catch Almasy and Katharine together, others certainly will.
Why do you think Maddox took his own life?
Almasy's home is Hungary.
Caravaggio and the English patient (Almasy) have what in common?
Caravaggio is confused because he believes the English patient is Almasy, and yet the English patient is referring to himself (Almasy) in 3rd person.
Why is Almasy so angry?
Almasy has escaped to the desert to grieve the loss of Katharine and the loss of Madox and the life he knew.
The English patient is confusing Madox with who?
The writer uses figurative language here to reveal what about the English patient's story?
This is the very month and year that WWII starts in Europe with Hitler's invasion of Poland.
The simile, "...dropped like a calling card into their hands..." implies what?
Caravaggio assumed that Almasy lied about his own name because he was a spy. But he didn't lie. He lies about Katharine, claiming she was his wife to protect her. This proves again that this novel isn't about war; it's about people.
But Caravaggio is not in a desert; he is in a villa in Italy. Perhaps the "desert" is symbolic in this novel as well as part of the setting. The desert is in a sense directionless, like many of the characters' lives now after the war has ravaged through them. The desert is beautiful, but dangerous, like the love Almasy and Katharine shared. Finally, the desert is "unmarkable," difficult to tie up with boundaries. It is alive and constantly shifts and so it sloughs off ownership. Ancient cities and oases get lost in it. The desert is a powerful symbol in this novel. Watch the video below on symbolism. Are there any other important symbols in this novel? (This annotation contains a video)
This is the English patient, his real identity.
Eppler is a German spy. So Almasy does help the Germans, but only so he can return to Katharine, even though he knows she is dead.
Remember, Libya is the country whose deserts have played such an important role in this novel. (This annotation contains an image)
Almasy seems to be talking to Katharine. He is telling her that he knew her back in England when she was much younger, when she first meets Geoffrey.
Listen to the refrain of the following popular song. Explain how it connects with what Almasy is trying to explain to Katharine about fate, and about their love.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtOvBOTyX00
Remember, Madox and Almasy did a tremedous amount of work, drawing up maps of the deserts in Libya. Then later, in exchange for his release and a ride back to the cave, Almasy gives the Germans the maps.
This sentence is rich with imagery and figurative language. In it is a profound observation about human beings at the hour of our deaths. Explain what you think this sentence means.
Here again we have support that the desert is a symbol in this novel, a place that everyone belongs to, that everyone shares.
The war has changed Caravaggio, but it has humanized him, humbled him. We can infer that he has forgiven Almasy, and no longer cares whether or not Almasy was a spy. He understands that Almasy acted out of love, not any national loyalty.
"La Marseillaise" is the French National Anthem and would, of course, be sung by French Canadians. Listen to the anthem below. (This annotation contains a video)
The scene with Hana singing the French national anthem, a song she sang in her youth that sounds so differently now, supports which of the following themes?
Punjab is in northern India. It literally means "place of five rivers." Kip is taking Hana through his sacred country by talking to her about his home. (This annotation contains an image)
Who is Kip referring to here?
The English patient means that Kip _______________ fate.
It is said that "All is fair in love and war," but doesn't the thought of leaving behind hidden mines and bombs seem sneaky and unfair? There is something even more sinister and evil in it compared to actually shooting at the enemy face to face.
Which of the following sentences does not support the theme of "the devastation of war"?
Pompeii is the ancient city buried under the ash of Mount Vesuvius. The picture below is a cast of a dog found in Pompeii, sealed in its contortions forever in ash. (This annotation contains an image)
Perhaps the English patient is right about Kip: He is fate's fugitive.
Kip is referring to the time and respect he has given England, the "fragile white island." He feels betrayed and made a fool of to believe in the civility of the western world. Cricket is a form of baseball in England. Kip is implying that England makes a game of war.
Now we know why Kip is emotionally destroyed. He has heard the news that the Allies have bombed Japan. By working with the Allies all these years, Kip has betrayed his own continent.
What is the "tremor of Western wisdom"?
Kip implies that Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman are all hypocrites.
Kip seems to have found his identity after this tragedy. We can infer that he will soon return to India where he feels he belongs.
This is probably symbolic. Kip, once fiercely loyal to duty, has turned his back on anything to do with the war.
The knowledge that her father dies in a dove-cot comforts Hana. It is a place of safety and peace, a sacred place. Katharine also dies in a sacred place, in the Cave of Swimmers.
Kip seems to have been thrown off the bridge by skidding on the wet road.
This is Kip, and many years have passed since the end of the war. He is a doctor, married with two children. Sometimes he thinks of Hana.