The English Patient | Study Guide

Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient | Chapter 7 : In Situ | Summary

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Summary

Kip had to come to England from Punjab, a state located in northwestern India. His older brother opposed authority, specifically the English, and wound up in jail. Kip learned to take a more subversive way of navigating conflict. He found "the overlooked space open" to him. Instead of open defiance, he waited until he was "invisible" and went his own way. In their family, the first son traditionally joined the army, and the second became a doctor. Kip took his brother's role. He began training as a sapper in England when he was chosen by Lord Suffolk not only for his mechanical skills but for his character as well. During the recruitment exam, Kip was conscious of being the only Indian, suspecting he would not be chosen because of his race. He believed it was typical of the English to "expect you to fight for them but [not] talk to you." But Kip adores Lord Suffolk and his secretary Miss Morden, who was the first British woman to speak more than a few sentences to him. Kip learned all about bombs and English customs from his instructor and friend and felt "he had stepped into a family" with mutual trust.

After the blitz, England was covered with over 3,700 unexploded bombs, some designed for delayed detonation. Sappers like Kip had a life expectancy of mere weeks, because the enemy kept changing the designs of the bombs. After a year of training, Kip was working in London on a large bomb, called a "Satan," when he received the news that Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden, Mr. Hart, and four trainees had been blown up at Erith. He is so devastated that he pretends his teacher is still alive. But the officer who brought him the news, says there is another bomb near the one that killed Suffolk, and Kip's help is needed. At Erith, soldiers who wouldn't speak to Kip in a bar followed his commands readily. He preferred "being the anonymous member of another race ... trusting only those who befriended him." He felt the weight of Lord Suffolk's absence heavily, carrying the sum of his teacher's knowledge. Kip removed the bomb's fuse and discovered the bomb had two gaines—initiating charges—the second of which was designed to detonate an hour after the first was removed. He passed the information to the other sappers, dedicating his diagram of the bomb to Lord Suffolk and then, leaving England, "escaped to Italy."

Analysis

In this chapter, the author explores the theme of race. Readers may have noticed that Kip is the only main character who isn't Caucasian, and he is literally an outsider in the small circle, sleeping in the tent in the garden. In England, he feels left out. Women won't really talk to him, and although his fellow soldiers will obey him during working hours, they don't socialize with him. Perhaps because he has experienced racial isolation and social stigma, he comes to expect it. During his exam with Lord Suffolk, he anticipates not getting the job because of his race. This expectation turns out to be wrong, but Kip's initial reaction to racism is to put up defensive walls. He trusts only people who go out of their way to befriend him, like Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden, and Hana.

The author gives readers a small glimpse into Kip's past, as he has already done for other characters. Kip comes from Punjab, the second son of an Indian family. He differs from his older brother in the way he relates to British colonial forces, choosing to join the army when his brother is arrested for protesting. Kip trained to become a sapper under Lord Suffolk, and the death of his mentor traumatized him. This is the reason he came to Italy. It has led him to where readers find him, next to the villa.

The symbol of bombs is explored more in this chapter than in any other. Bombs represent human's potential for evil. Bombs are a deadly trick, an enemy's puzzle. Readers understand the bomb to be a skillfully designed weapon, created to defeat and damage not only the enemy but those who would disarm them should they fail to detonate. Some bombs are even designed to have a delayed detonation, maliciously and cleverly created to explode after a sapper believes the bomb is defused. The second gaine is designed to explode exactly one hour after the fuse is removed. This malevolent trick is one of many Kip is all too familiar with.

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