in The English Patient
War has always left a deep footprint in human history. The two world wars that occurred in this century had left millions dead and homeless. The protagonists' fates in The English Patient were adversely affected by the World War Two. This causes them to be unable to control their destiny.
The suffering that comes with war is inevitable, yet painful. In The English Patient, Caravaggio suffers continuously from the memories of the day when he had his thumbs cut off. Hana would forever remember how her friend Jan dies after chancing on a mine. The physical wounds may heal with time, but the emotional memories hurt too deeply that one cannot forget forever. Almásy's remembrances of Katharine are shown by Ondaatje to be comparable to those of World War Two. He remembers his experiences with Katharine, from acquaintance to spark, just like Caravaggio recounting his war experiences. This sets the general atmosphere of the plot itself, full of flashbacks and memories of the past.
|Life and death in The English Patient is separated by just a single thread. We see Jan borrowing money from Hana in one moment and dead without a warning after her jeep speeds into the mine trap. In the war, life is unpredictable and even the experienced Almásy changes and defects to the Germans. Death is explored not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually as well. We see Almásy disillusioned with life and without hope after the death of Katharine. This is comparable to the soldiers' loss of faith in life during the war.|
When war occurs, life changes and would not be the same again. The characters in The English Patient change after the nightmare of the war. Almásy cannot live without concealing his identity. Caravaggio would never be able to use his hands as efficiently as before, a scar which will remain forever. These are but the physical sides which are less torturous than the longer lasting emotional wounds. For example, Hana will forever remember the English Patient's stories of the Herodotus, and Kip, her lover during the war. A person's character changes with experience just like Katharine when she joins Almásy's party of travellers.
Love is shown to be the truest and most lasting during war times. Amidst times of difficulty, Almásy and Katharine are able to develop a sensational relationship that is both romantic and inextricably complicated. In Kip and Hana's case, love is born through simple things in life. This love is not infatuation but a sense of attachment and bond towards the other. Difficulties in life bring people's communication and understanding of each other to a deeper level, because of the true self brought out during times of danger. For example, the desert storm that brings out the hidden feelings of the couple. This contrasts with Almásy and Katharine when they were avoiding each other, a time of superficial masks and safety assured in Cairo.
It is obvious that everyone hates the war. Even commanders do not behave without worry, pressure and fear. It is because we tend to generalise that only peasants suffer the most. However it is ironic that only the people who are involved in fighting the war are shown to be suffering. Ondaatje does that to show us that in war not only the peasants suffer but also the soldiers, miners, nurses, victims, prisoners and even the commanders as well. This is done to serve as a bitter reminder of the overall hate for the war.
||The war causes people to be suspicious of each other. The commander who chopped off Caravaggio's thumbs represents the general fears of being betrayed. This suspicion is contrasted with the peaceful aura in the monastery where knowledge of the others' character forms a trust between the four. Ondaatje does to illustrate that in war, people should unite. The union of the spirits bring tranquility and peace which is examplified in the Monastery.|
The fact that Almásy defected to the Germans poses a doubt in our minds. Why did the protagonist defect to the enemy of the English yet did not win our scorn over him? This is because he is forced into doing that when the English refused to help him save Katharine. It signifies how heartless, cruel and wrong the whole war is. When war occurs, both sides are wrong. Therefore, whose side a person is on is irrelevant, because war is fickle. What matters most for the characters is the friendship and the bond that is priceless. This can be compared to Almásy fascination with Geoffrey's wife. Love and war are both capricious and subjective which no right or wrong can be defined.
The isolation in the monastery is the same as the isolation within the soldier. In times of difficulty and danger, if one is able to preserve calmness and coolness in oneself, one is able to survive, just like the people living in the monastery. The brief period when Hana stayed in the monastery is like the soldiers' stay in the battlefield, brief, yet tough and hard to forget. However, it tells the individual that such suffering will not last and will pass soon. One will leave the present phrase of life and enter the next, notwithstanding his reluctance or eagerness. Such is the progression of life until death.
During the war, tangibles that do not seem to be important in times of peace become very precious. For example, the eggs Caravaggio gives Hana accidentally are dropped onto the ground, yet Hana still cooks them for the English Patient. This exemplifies the scarcity of that era. This can be compared with the lack of company and love in the area .This scarcity brings out the best of the characters by their accommodating and tolerating the others
The involvement of the war in The English Patient concerns everybody. Therefore, even though the people are unwilling to involve themselves in the war, they still have to restore peace, clear mines under the risk of getting killed, among others.
War is always unpleasant and terrifying. However, commoners could never control wars. They change a lot of the earth's landscape, causing physical and emotional wounds to every individual. However, through The English Patient, we can see that wars bring out the true self, the experiences that one could never forget, and strong bonds between comrades that are true and everlasting. It is ironic that love can occur in the hate or war, but this love is everlasting and all-conquering. This is due to the harship and barriers that they overcame to be together.
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