The English Patient | Study Guide

Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient | Chapter 10 : August | Summary

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Summary

Kip creates a birthday dinner for Hana. She stands on the table to sing "La Marseillaise" for him, and her voice is "the voice of a tired traveler, alone against everything." Kip "has mapped her sadness more than any other," but she understands he is different from her. He has the ability to "replace loss," and for him, there is "always solution and light" where "she saw none."

The narrator recalls when Kip first arrived in Naples, Italy, with the other sappers. They were given the task of saving the city that was reportedly rigged with bombs wired to the power grid. When power was restored, the city would explode. The sappers worked through the night to find the bombs before the power was due to come back on, but they found none. Kip went to a church to rest and await his fate.

Listening to his radio in his tent outside the villa during a rainstorm, Kip hears a word he has heard before only "in the theory rooms and through his crystal set, which is 'nuclear.'" Kip isn't afraid of lightning in such storms, because the danger it poses is so much less than what he faces daily. Hana sees Kip walking in a field near the villa when he presses his radio set to his head, suddenly screams, and sinks to his knees. He hears a report of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki dropped by Allied forces. He comes into the house with his rifle, which he points at the English patient. Crying and shaking, he accuses the British of fooling and betraying him and other Indian soldiers. He has grown up with British traditions and spent years filling himself with their knowledge, but they have betrayed him. Kip forces the English patient to listen to his radio. The English patient tells Kip, "Do it ... I don't want to hear any more." Caravaggio tries to stop Kip, telling him the English patient isn't even English. Kip retorts that anyone who would "start bombing the brown races of the world" is an Englishman. He puts the gun down, and leaves the room. Caravaggio admits to himself that the Allies "would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation." He thinks of this "terrible event" as "the death of a civilization."

Kip gets his motorcycle ready, and Hana asks him what the bombing has to do with them. He touches her arm before he leaves, tearing through Italian streets, heading southward, "rewinding the spool of war." He tries not to think of Hana. Instead, he thinks of the English patient and the words of the prophet Isaiah, full of divine judgment. In the rain, he skids off the side of a bridge and ends up in the water.

Hana writes to Clara, telling her how her father, Patrick, died. He had been burned and abandoned by his fellow soldiers, left in a dovecot to die alone. She regrets she was too far away to have nursed him. Hana wonders how Clara was the only one not fooled into joining the war. Hana packs up the things Kip left behind, keeping only a photo of him and his family.

Years later, Kip becomes a doctor in India. He is married with children but still thinks about Hana. He never replied to her first letters, and she doesn't write him anymore. Now 34 years old, she still "has not found her own company."

Analysis

The final chapter of the novel contains the climax. The climax is the moment toward which all the events of the novel have been building. Readers have learned the history of the four main characters, and what has brought them all together at the villa, as well as various events in the progression of the war. The author uses foreshadowing to hint at the climax by having Kip hear the relatively unfamiliar word nuclear over the radio one night during a storm. Readers familiar with World War II history will already know the "terrible events" that brought the war in the Pacific to a close, but it is Kip's reaction to learning of the use of atomic weapons that is the focus of the climax in the novel. As an Indian man who has risked his life daily for the Allied cause, Kip feels profoundly betrayed by the use of these weapons—many times more powerful than the ones he worked so hard to neutralize—against thousands of non-whites, specifically the Japanese. He expresses his rage by pulling the gun on the English patient who, in that moment, represents all he once admired about Western civilization, but who has come to "betray" him. The events of the novel have led to this moment, and everything that follows is the resolution of this moment.

The author returns to the theme of race in the final chapter. Kip feels betrayed by the English because he has persevered through racism to serve a country he now understands disregards the lives of people of color. Now the English are "bombing the brown races of the world." Even Caravaggio has to admit the Allies would never have used such a weapon "on a white nation." Kip is angry because the act—"the death of civilization" and all that he admired about the English—shows they believe the lives of people of color are less valuable than the lives of white people.

Readers have witnessed the destructiveness of war throughout the novel. Certainly, the use of atomic weapons—mentioned but not described in detail—is the ultimate example of this theme. However, the aspect of war the author focuses on in the final chapter is how war destroys people's faith. Kip had faith in the English, despite his brother's suspicions and warnings. His loyalty and faith in England and Western civilization are shattered by the bombings of Japan. Hana too reflects on her intentions when she entered the war, realizing now that she and her father were fooled into joining the war. They had faith in their country at first. Readers will recall Hana's first singing of the French national anthem as a child, and note how different her song is for Kip. The war has broken her faith in nationalism. She wonders how Clara managed to be so wise to avoid being fooled.

The author both begins and ends this chapter by contrasting Kip and Hana. The contrast juxtaposes hope and despair, belonging and alienation. While Kip has the ability to "replace loss" and find answers and light, Hana is unable to find hope. In later years, Kip has built a good life for himself. He is surrounded by a happy family. Sadly, Hana has never managed to find "her own company."

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