Essay Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

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Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

World War II was a traumatic and life-changing experience for all who lived through the

time period. Michael Ondaatje’s novel, The English Patient is set in the direct aftermath of this

turbulent and violent era. Each of his characters is effected by the death and violence that go

hand in hand with war; Hana in particular is profoundly changed by her experience as a nurse in

an Italian hospital. Hana is a woman in ruins, both physically and mentally; by looking at her

experiences with death and her relationships to the English Patient, Kip, and her surroundings,

she can be seen as a representative of the victims of war, a complex human face on the backdrop

of the
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He also recalls an incident that hints to the future of her fears and doubts. He recalls that she was

in the hospital to have her tonsils removed and she threw a fit when the operation was to begin

and that “this, the most adaptable and genial of children, suddenly turned into a stone of refusal,

adamant” (Ondaatje 30). Caravaggio thinks the incident an odd one, but it reflects her future fear

of death. In his book, Richard Schulz, a scholar specializing in grief and the psychology of death,

says that humans fear death because of the fear of not being, and that “the idea of nothingness

can arouse anxiety so general that it influences our entire lives” (Schulz 20). Hana’s refusal to

have her tonsils removed is not just a silly childish fear, but one that reflects her deep-rooted fear

of death; it is a hint of what is to come. She will base her entire life on her fear/aversion to death

after the war. When traumatic events happen to Hana, her fear of death is aroused, and it affects

her deeply and psychologically.

A normal twenty year old “girl”, Hana is traumatized by the death and violence she

experiences as a nurse in the second World War. She is profoundly affected by the deaths of

three loved ones and by the deaths of anonymous strangers who pass through her life daily. The

first of these traumatic experiences is the separation from her family. Sibela Zvizdic, a Hungarian

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