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The English Patient | Study Guide

Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient | Quotes


She drew her own ... rules ... She would not be ordered again ... for the greater good.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Hana decides her participation in the war is over. She refuses to leave the villa or move her patient. Traumatized by her experiences with the wounded and dying, Hana removes her uniform and creates her own rules. She is done with the war and with being ordered to care for others endlessly at the cost of her own well being.


She ... nursed him for months ... He is her despairing saint.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Hana cares for her patient although his case is hopeless, his burns too severe for him to survive. She devotes herself to him, as to a saint, a martyr.


You have to protect yourself from sadness. Sadness is very close to hate.

Caravaggio, Chapter 2

Caravaggio advises Hana to give up on the English patient. He worries that Hana will throw away her life on a hopeless case. His advice reflects his own avoidance of emotional intimacy and commitment, but it also foreshadows the climax of the novel when Kip's reaction to grief is one of pure rage.


In his commonplace book ... all that is missing is his own name.

Narrator, Chapter 3

The English patient's commonplace book is his copy of Herodotus's Histories, and he uses it as a repository for everything he loves. He pastes in fragments of other texts, makes his own sketches, and records his findings. Still, his identity cannot be found in the book, and his name remains a mystery.


Here they were shedding skins. They could imitate nothing but what they were.

Narrator, Chapter 3

After years spent hiding in disguise and surrounded by lies as a thief and spy, Caravaggio comes to the villa, a place where proximity and vulnerability reveal people's true identities. He finds they are all forced to show who they really are, as everything else has been stripped away.


I came to hate nations. We are deformed by nation-states ... Erase nations!

The English Patient, Chapter 4

In the desert, the English patient and his fellow explorers left behind their allegiances to their country to explore a new land. To the native inhabitants of the land, the explorers were all the same. Then the war ended their expeditions, and people were divided by, and died for, their countries. The English patient rejects nationalism, and blames it for the war.


He has been disassembled by her.

Narrator, Chapter 5

The English patient's passionate affair with Katharine, and its subsequent breakup, devastates him. Her absence leaves him in pieces. The affair eventually leads to the injury from which his identity is undone.


It doesn't matter who he is. The war's over.

Hana, Chapter 6

Hana rejects Caravaggio's suspicions about the English patient's identity. She doesn't care if he was once a spy for the Germans. The end of the war makes it irrelevant to her. She is weary of the divisions of war. He is simply her patient, and he is no longer a threat to anyone. His identity doesn't matter to her.


She looks at the sapper ... no expression of sadness ... she can read it.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Hana recognizes the blank look on Kip's face when he talks about the death of his mentor. She knows because it is the same way she feels about traumatic experiences from the war. She knows the lack of expression belies how deeply he feels the loss. He has been forced to push it down and ignore it in order to move forward and function, just as she has as a nurse.


You must consider the character of your enemy. This is true of bomb disposal.

Lord Suffolk, Chapter 7

Lord Suffolk teaches Kip that disarming bombs is similar to playing bridge. The sapper must think of the person who created the bomb as the opponent, taking into consideration the character of the enemy. Kip learns to think of what tricks the enemy might have placed in each bomb.


He is a man from Asia who ... assumed English fathers, following their code like a dutiful son.

Narrator, Chapter 8

Kip trusts the English. He left his home country and has risked his life in the English army. He learns from them, obeying without question like a son. This is his position until the climax of the novel, and it is necessary to know in order to understand his reactions later.


I promised to tell you how one falls in love.

The English Patient, Chapter 9

In the nonlinear format of the novel, the English patient reveals the start of his affair with Katharine, a story he has already visited a couple of times previously. He tells Caravaggio he falls in love with Katharine—the wife of another explorer—when she reads him a story from his copy of Herodotus.


She had always wanted words ... whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water.

The English Patient, Chapter 9

Katharine wants the English patient to make her promises, to tell her he won't ever love another woman even if she leaves him. But he shies away from verbal commitments.


Whatever the trials around him there was always solution and light. But she saw none.

Narrator, Chapter 10

Unlike Hana, Kip has an unshakeable optimism and resiliency. This fundamental difference seems to account for their different destinies. Years later, Kip has returned to his country and lives a fairly traditional, happy life with a family. Hana does not find a community she can belong to.


A terrible event ... A new war. The death of a civilization.

Narrator, Chapter 10

The nuclear bombings in Japan shatter not only Kip's faith in the West, but the fabric of civilization itself. The catastrophic event brings the story at the villa to a close and divides the characters.

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