The English Patient

by

Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient: Chapter VIII Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the library of the villa, Caravaggio accidentally knocks a fuse box off a table as he turns towards Hana’s voice in the hallway. Kip slides seamlessly to the ground and catches the bomb in his hands. Caravaggio looks to Kip on the floor and realizes suddenly that he “owes” Kip his life. Kip laughs awkwardly, holding the bomb and wires in his hands. Caravaggio knows that he will never forget Kip as long as he lives. Years later, Caravaggio will see an East Indian man getting out of a taxi in Toronto and think of Kip.  
The idea of “owing” someone comes up repeatedly throughout the novel. Here, Caravaggio doesn’t want to owe Kip, and Kip doesn’t want to owe Hana or be responsible for her saving life earlier, when he diffused the trick bomb in the orchard. Of course, neither Kip nor Caravaggio are able to escape these ties, regardless of how much time passes, which Ondaatje seems to imply is the nature of love and relationships.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Not long after Kip was sent to Italy, he was lowered by Hardy into a pit with a large Esau bomb. In 1941, Esau bombs with a new kind of fuse began to surface, and this was the second one Kip had been called to diffuse. As he began to work, he hummed a song Hardy had taught him about Christopher Robin and Buckingham Palace. After working for more than an hour, Kip ordered Hardy to put him on microphone and get away of the pit. “Okay, sir,” Hardy said. Hardy never hesitated to call Kip “sir,” unlike the other men in their unit. 
The song Kip hums is further evidence of his attempts to conform to Western culture. He doesn’t hum songs from his own Indian culture; he hums songs about Christopher Robin, a British literary character, and Buckingham Palace, the residence of the British monarchy. Regardless of how hard Kip tries to conform to Western ways, he is still not accepted by the other men, and the fact that they hesitate to call him “sir” is evidence of this.
Themes
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
As Kip continued his work defusing the Esau bomb, he sang the song Hardy taught him out loud. Within five minutes, Kip had the fuse out of the bomb and the gaine removed. He climbed out of the pit, exhausted and shaken, and Hardy helped carry their equipment back to the truck. Kip was wasn’t exactly scared when he was down in the pit with the bomb; he was mad at himself for nearly slipping up and detonating the bomb. Kip thought of himself as “an animal” trying to protect itself and realized that it was Hardy who kept him “human.”    
Kip calling himself “an animal” aligns with the racist assumptions of colonists. Those from the East were thought to be savages by those in the West, and Kip shares this belief here, thinking he is only made “human” by Hardy, an Englishman. This also reflects the power of love that Ondaatje highlights throughout the novel. Here, it is Kip’s love and comradery for Hardy that enables him to go on despite extreme violence and racism.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
On warm days, everyone at the villa washes their hair. They use kerosene to get out the lice and then rinse with water. Hana watches Kip as he lays with his hair spread out to dry. Through Kip, Hana pictures all of Asia, even though he has “assumed English fathers” and follows their rules “like a dutiful son.”
This again reflects Kip’s efforts to assimilate to Western culture. He has been forced to leave his country, family, and culture for the English, and he is a “dutiful son,” yet the West does not fully accept him. Even Hana, who undoubtedly loves him, constantly sees Kip for the color of his skin and the ways that he is different from her.
Themes
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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As Kip’s hair dries, he again tells Hana about his brother, who refused to fight with the British. Kip’s brother said that Kip will one day “open [his] eyes” to the fact that Asia is not a free continent. Kip’s brother didn’t understand how Kip could fight so easily in an English war. Kip always reminded his brother that Japan was part of Asia, and the Japanese had killed many Sikhs in Malaya. Kip’s brother, however, ignored this fact and said only that the British hang Sikhs who fight for independence.
Kip’s brother’s comment foreshadows the fact that Kip may indeed “open [his] eyes” to the West’s mistreatment of Eastern people. While Kip points out that there is also infighting among Asian countries, the fact that the British hang Sikhs for merely trying to live freely suggests that the country fundamentally devalues Indian people in spite of the wealth and prosperity Britain has gained from colonizing India for the past century.
Themes
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
During all the time Kip has spent fighting in Europe, he has never once considered himself. He spends most of his time with Englishmen, thinking about England or Lord Suffolk. Kip does not carry a mirror, and he wraps his turban each day without one, facing the garden outside. 
Like the other residents of the villa, Kip denies his identity when he refuses to look in the mirror. Kip blindly applies his turban, which implies he doesn’t want to be reminded of his nationality and all the ways in which he is different.
Themes
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
At 2:00 in the morning, Hana blows out the candle and leaves the English patient’s room. As she climbs the 36 steps outside the chapel, Kip slips out into the courtyard and quietly climbs into a well. Hana enters the library, as Caravaggio lay in the darkness on the far end of the room.
As Kip and Caravaggio prepare to play a trick on Hana, Ondaatje again draws attention to the 36 chapel steps. This suggests atonement and penitence, and implies that Hana feels considerable guilt related to the war, and especially to Patrick’s death.  
Themes
War and Nationality Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
In the library, Hana lays on the couch and Caravaggio sneaks across the room in the dark. He reaches out to grab her, but she is gone. Suddenly, Kip’s arm closes around Caravaggio’s neck, and they both fall to the floor. On the ground, Hana appears out of nowhere and places her bare foot at Kip’s throat, holding him down. “Got you,” she cries. “Got you.” Caravaggio works his way out of Kip’s grip and leaves the room without speaking.
Caravaggio leaves the room without speaking because he is obviously in love with Hana, but she doesn’t love him in quite the same way. Here, Hana gives her attention to Kip, not Caravaggio, and Caravaggio feels slighted. Despite this, however, this playful interaction between Kip, Hana, and Caravaggio is evidence of their collective healing. They are beginning to leave behind the pain and trauma of the war, due in large part to their shared bond with one another.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon