The English Patient Commentary Page 136-137
This key passage is from Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, found in the first few pages of chapter four. Before, this passage, Hana is sitting beside Almasy while he begins to describe his first expedition in the deserts in the 1930s. After, Almasy explained how he came to hate nations, but was attached to the desert as it could not be claimed or own. The passage between reinforces the idea that identity is not fixed, it changes over time as people grow and gain experience. This is made evident through Almasy’s character which is portrayed through the symbol of the desert. Symbolism is used to encapsulate plot elements that are crucial to the theme and allow the reader a deeper level of interpretation of the novel. The desert represents transience; it is neither fixed nor unitary. Further, it cannot be claimed, owned or defined similar to Almasy’s identity, which is constantly shifting. Almasy explained: “The breeze that had been refreshing had gradually strengthened. Eventually we looked down, and the surface of the desert was changed.” This demonstrates the desert’s refusal to use anything artificial such as borders, or names as a landscape because it’s continuously changing by sandstorms, similar to how Almasy refuses to reveal his identity because it changes over time and does not reflect where he comes from. Identity is dynamic, and many factors are needed to create an identity. The reader is prompted to reconsider what exactly makes up an identity, what defines who you are. Identity should be chosen rather than inherited.
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