After Hana injects the English patient with another dose of morphine, he begins to tell her about his time in Cairo. In 1937, he went gone on an expedition with Madox to Uweinat. The English patient asked Madox what the name for the small hollow at the base of a woman’s neck was. Madox simply stared at him. “Pull yourself together,” Madox said.
Madox knows that the English patient is in love and that he definitely misses someone, he just doesn’t know who, which is why he tells him go “pull [himself] together.” Morphine always gets the English patient talking, a fact that will prove to be important as Caravaggio tries to uncover the English patient’s true identity.
Later, Caravaggio tells Hana a story about a Hungarian named Almásy who aided the Germans during the war. Almásy was a desert explorer who knew all about the landscape and the local dialects of the native people. When the war began, Almásy guided German spies across the desert. The point of Caravaggio’s story, he tells Hana, is that he doesn’t think the English patient is English.
Caravaggio believes that the English patient is Almásy. Whether or not this is true is unclear at this point—if the English patient really is Almásy, he will not want to admit this because, among other reasons, to do so would mean admitting that he helped the Germans (the enemy) during the war.
Hana is dubious and tells Caravaggio that his suspicions about the English patient are ridiculous. Caravaggio reminds of Hana of when they named the stray dog. The English patient had suggested three names: Cicero, Zerzura, and Delilah. Cicero, Caravaggio says, is a code name for a German spy thought by the British to be a triple agent. Hana tells Caravaggio that she has already heard all about Zerzura from the English patient. Caravaggio nods. The “spy-helper” Almásy is upstairs, he says.
Cicero was a Roman orator and philosopher from the 1st century B.C.E. who is widely regarded as one of Rome’s best prose writers, which aligns with the importance of books and literature throughout the novel. Cicero was the actual code name for Elyesa Bazna, a Nazi secret agent who operated in the Middle East during World War II.
According to Caravaggio, the Germans sent a spy named Eppler to Cairo in 1942 with a copy of the book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier as a code book to send messages back and forth. Almásy guided Eppler through the desert. After leaving Eppler in Cairo, Almásy went back into the desert and British Intelligence lost track of him. Plus, Caravaggio says, the man who caught Eppler in Cairo was named Sansom, which explains why the English patient wanted to name the dog Delilah.
The real-life Almásy really did guide a German spy named Eppler across the desert into Cairo, and they really used a copy of Rebecca to send coded messages back and forth to German Intelligence. The English patient’s suggestion of the Biblical name Delilah, in addition to its historical significance, is also in keeping with the theme of religion, which, although it seems absent in the war, is still present in subtle ways.
Hana tells Caravaggio that it makes no difference who the English patient is. After all, she says, the war is over. Caravaggio isn’t convinced. He wants to give the English patient a Brompton cocktail, which is a combination of morphine and alcohol, and see if he starts talking. Hana tells Caravaggio to leave the English patient alone, but he promises not to hurt him. If anything, the cocktail will ease his pain, Caravaggio says.
At this point, Caravaggio is clearly hung up on the English patient’s nationality, since this aspect of a person defined their identity and loyalties during World War II, a global conflict that pitted myriad groups of people against one another, often solely on the basis of national identity.
After giving the English patient the Brompton cocktail, he begins to tell Caravaggio all about Cairo and the desert. Caravaggio asks him about 1942, and the English patient says he had just come to Cairo and was headed back into the desert when his truck exploded. The war meant that many vehicles were sabotaged, and the English patient was forced to travel to the buried plane by foot. It was an extra plane, owned by Madox, which the expedition didn’t use anymore.
The sabotaged truck further highlights the incessant fear and violence caused by war. Like the hidden bombs in the villa, the English patient was clearly never safe or at ease during his time in the desert, which provides context to the emotional trauma with which he is suffering alongside his physical injuries.
After four days walking in the desert, the English patient finally reached the Cave of Swimmers, where he had left Katharine years earlier. Her dead body was still there, wrapped in a parachute. Still very much in love with her, he “approached her naked as [he] would have done in [their] South Cairo room, wanting to undress her, still wanting to love her.” “What is terrible in what I did?” the English patient asks. “Don’t we forgive everything of a lover?” The English patient carried Katharine’s body out of the cave. She had been injured three years earlier, in 1939. Geoffrey had attempted a murder-suicide of himself, Katharine, and the English patient by crashing his plane. He killed only himself, however, and badly injured Katharine. She couldn’t be moved, and the English patient’s only choice was to go get help.
While he doesn’t explicitly say it, the English patient implies that he had sex with Katharine’s dead body, which again suggests that love can transcend anything—including death. Whether or not it is easy to “forgive” the English patient of such a taboo and grotesque act, his all-consuming love for Katharine cannot be denied, and he certainly suffers because of it. He knows that Katharine is obviously dead after three years in the desert, but he is still compelled to retrieve her body.
After the English patient’s affair with Katharine ended, he became angry and introverted, and grew suspicious that Katharine had taken a new lover. Just before the war, he returned to Gilf Kebir to take down base camp. Geoffrey was scheduled to pick the English patient up in his plane, and when he arrived, Geoffrey flew the plane directly at the English patient, attempting to hit him. Geoffrey missed, and the plane crashed to the ground. Geoffrey was killed instantly, but Katharine, who was a passenger in the plane, was not.
Geoffrey’s murder-suicide attempt is further evidence of the extremes one can be driven to by love. Geoffrey discovers Katharine’s affair after the fact, and he is so destroyed by his wife’s betrayal that he attempts to kill her along with her lover and himself. Just as Katharine had feared, Geoffrey indeed “goes mad” when he discovers Katharine and the English patient’s affair.
When the English patient took Katharine’s broken body from the plane, she asked him why he hated her so. Geoffrey began to suspect their affair long after it was over because the English patient treated her so badly. As the English patient talks, Caravaggio places another morphine tablet in the English patient’s mouth, and the English patient tells him he left Katharine in the Cave of Swimmers with his copy of The Histories.
This passage again implies that love and hate are two very closely linked emotions, as the English patient’s anger, or hate, for Katharine is what tips Geoffrey off to their affair in the first place. This is understandable, since love and hate are both deeply passionate feelings and suggest a significant level of investment in another person, for better or worse. Similar to Katharine’s abuse, the English patient’s love (at this point, at least) manifests as hate and anger.
When the English patient finally reached Madox’s plane buried in the desert in 1942, he loaded Katharine’s body into it and took off. The plane, however, was beginning to rot after being left in the desert for so long. Oil leaked all over, saturating the English patient’s lower legs. A spark ignited the oil and the plane began to burn. He slipped into a parachute and ejected from the plane, and it wasn’t until he was flying through the air that the English patient noticed he was on fire.
Hana notes earlier that the English patient’s legs contain the worst of his burns because the fire begins around his lower legs, which here sustain the brunt of the damage. Katharine’s body is presumably lost in the fire, and he is unable to get her out of the desert after all, which adds to his misery and pain later at the villa.
Later, Hana enters the English patient’s room to find Kip standing at his bedside. The English patient claims he and Kip get along so well because they are both “international bastards.” They were both born in one place but choose to live in another, and they spend their lives “fighting to get back or get away from [their] homelands.”
While the English patient seems to fight to get away from his homeland, Kip must fight to get back to his, which reflects the English patient’s privilege as a white Westerner and (in Kip’s mind, at least) an Englishman.
Kip tells Hana and the English patient about his time as a sapper, diffusing bombs all over Europe. The English patient claims that Kip’s teacher must have been Lord Suffolk, and Kip confirms that he was. Lord Suffolk, along with his secretary, Miss Morden, and his chauffer, Mr. Fred Harts, were known as “the Holy Trinity,” Kip says, until they were blown up in 1941 at Erith.
“The Holy Trinity” is another obvious biblical reference as it connotes the father, the son, and the holy spirit, but this reference also reflects the near-complete disregard of religion and God during the war. The Holy Trinity, like many other religious symbols in the book, are blown up, too.