The English Patient

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A young Canadian nurse, a Sikh bomb disposal expert, a thief turned spy, and a man burnt beyond recognition, meet in the last moments of the Second World War. The identity of the patient is the heart of the story as he tells his memories of a doomed love affair in the North African desert. Love and passion are set against the devastation of war in this inspired novel by Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje. It is a novel of revelation, and just as the identity of the English patient is slowly revealed as the novel progresses, so are the inner selves and spiritual identities of the other characters in the novel. Ondaatje writes his novel of discovery revealing things only briefly and subtile. Indeed, such brief moments abounds in this novel, lighting up the dark and melancholic landscape for a very brief period, but long enough to reveal hints of the truth. The truth, however, is never fully known in this novel. It is almost as if the novel is an exploration of the way we understand things and discover the truth. People are always meeting in the dark, and the only way we can know them is through casual, occasional bumps in that darkness. The aim of this paper is to show the slow development

of the recognition of the characters´ identities with all it´s frustrating, thrilling and surprising "truths" by pointing out several important and significant passages. All the characters are governed by questions of nation, language and identity; all are joined by their sense of being illegitimate, in flight from patriarchy and imperial-nationalist identity. The four main characters of the book - Hana, Caravaggio, The English Patient (Almásy), and Kip - each have their own story to tell. Their plots intersect with each other, often without clearly explaining why.

I will start with a general overview of the main characters and put special attention on their identical background and misery, which each of them gives away just gradually along the chapters. Later on I will go more into detail and explore the function and the interpersonal relationship of the mysterious identity of the English patient not only as a character but a general metaphor for mankind.

Finally I will draw a conclusion and present my invastigations made in this seminar paper. With this paper I hope to show clearly that the contents of this book are strongly related to the question of the self and the other and that identifying truth is a matter of self-finding, which sometimes turns out to be work for a lifetime and which seems to roll up mankind.

The term "identity"
In general we differentiate between two "kinds" of identity. On the one hand there is the so called social identity, which stresses self-interpretation as a member of a certain social group and on the other hand there is the personal identity, which puts it´s emphasis on individuality and distinctiveness. This distinction is widely known as "patchwork-identity". Both identities are only a subgroup of many different subjectively interpreted identities that everyone of us has innate. "Life is made up of many windows and real life is only one of them." The question is, which of these identities will I present, which of them will I develop and how do I realize other persons´ identities? In the novel "The English patient" both of the above mentioned identities can be discovered within all the expressingly dynamic characters. If we take Hana as a first example we might simply say that she is a canadian nurse aiding injured soldiers during the second world war. This statement can be referred to as social identity – it is the way Hana behaves within society. Her personal identity, however, is much more subtile and not that easy, neither to discover, nor to understand. The same, of course, applies to the other characters, especially to the English patient, whose rediscovery of identity is the focus of this novel and mainly dealt with. His story of identical background is told in flashbacks, as he has...
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