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The English Patient | Study Guide

Michael Ondaatje

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Course Hero. "The English Patient Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 7 June 2023. <>.

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The English Patient | Character Analysis


The English Patient

The English patient is a well-read, educated Hungarian count by the name of Ladislaus de Almásy, who spends the 1930s exploring the geography of the Gilf Kebir region of the Libyan desert. It is there he meets and falls in love with Katharine Clifton, the wife of another explorer, and the two have a passionate, but unhealthy affair for a few months. When she is injured, he walks across the desert for days to try to find help. Prevented from returning to her, he is distraught at her death. During the war, the English patient uses his depth of knowledge of the region to aid the Germans. He is burned beyond recognition in a plane crash trying to recover Katharine's body. Most of his waking hours are spent in a haze of morphine, telling his caregiver, Hana, about his affair and his time in the desert. He confirms his real identity when Caravaggio correctly deduces it.


Caravaggio is a Canadian thief who uses his skills to become a spy for the Allies during the war. He is disfigured and demoralized by German torturers who cut off his thumbs. Caravaggio is reunited with Hana, the daughter of an old friend, in a bombed villa where she is caring for the English patient. Caravaggio, who usually avoids emotional commitment, finds he loves Hana, although he doesn't try to come between her and Kip in their newfound attraction. Using his knowledge of British intelligence from his time in the war, Caravaggio correctly deduces the English patient's identity.


Hana is a nurse, originally from Canada, who joins the war effort and finds herself treating maimed and dying soldiers in Italy, leaving her psychologically and emotionally scarred. After she learns of her father's death in the war, she cares for a burn victim who is known only as the English patient. Traumatized and exhausted, Hana refuses to leave the makeshift hospital in a damaged villa when the other patients and staff leave. She decides to stay behind and care for the fragile English patient. Her resourcefulness enables her to enjoy the autonomy and relative safety of the villa, where she creates a small, temporary community with her patient, Caravaggio, and her lover, Kip.


Kip, born Kirpal Singh in India, is a young soldier who trains in England to disarm explosives. He is devastated when his mentor, Lord Suffolk, is killed defusing a bomb, and he feels a great responsibility to use his knowledge to carry on his mission. Kip is part of the Allied invasion of Italy. He works to disarm mines and bombs and rebuilds bridges blown up by the retreating Germans. He meets Hana at the villa and begins an intimate relationship with her. He has great faith in Western civilization—despite the racism he faces and his brother's warnings about the British—a faith that is destroyed when he learns of the Allied bombing of Japan. Although he returns to India to have a fulfilling life, he still thinks about Hana.

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