The English Patient

by

Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient: Chapter X Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Caravaggio enters the kitchen of the villa, where Hana sits quietly. She asks him how the English patient is, and Caravaggio tells her that he is sleeping. She then asks Caravaggio if the English patient indeed turned out to be the Hungarian, Almásy. “He’s fine,” Caravaggio says. “We can let him be.” Caravaggio asks where Kip is, and Hana says he is on the terrace, planning something for her birthday. 
Caravaggio’s comment that Almásy is “fine” suggests that he really doesn’t care anymore which side Almásy supported during the war. Caravaggio has begun to see Almásy as nationless, just as Almásy wants, but Ondaatje implies that nationality can’t be escaped, and it indeed is about to come up again.
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Caravaggio tells Hana that he would like to tell her a story for her birthday, but Hana doesn’t want to hear it if it is about Patrick. He says it is only about Patrick at little bit but is mostly about her. She says again that she doesn’t want to hear it. “Fathers die,” Caravaggio says to Hana. “You keep on loving them in any way you can.” Hana stands and wraps her arms around Caravaggio, kissing his cheek.
While Hana has likely not fully come to terms with her father’s death, Caravaggio’s comment about Patrick’s death and Hana’s embrace of Caravaggio suggests that she is beginning to heal, due in large part to the love and support she receives from Caravaggio.
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Outside, tiny candles illuminate the terrace, and Caravaggio begins to think that Kip has gone overboard bringing candles out from the chapel, but then he realizes that the candles are actually seashells filled with oil. Kip says that there are 45 seashells total, one for each year of the century. Caravaggio notices three bottles of wine on the table and is shocked knowing that Kip won’t drink any of it.
Kip’s elaborate decorating for Hana’s birthday demonstrates his love for her, and it again reflects a focus on Western customs and traditions. As a Sikh, Kip doesn’t drink alcohol, but seemingly every Western celebration involves drinking. Thus, Kip is always on the outside looking in, not really able to participate in the same way as the others.
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As Hana, Caravaggio, and Kip eat and drink, they toast each other and the English patient. Kip joins a glass of water with Hana and Caravaggio’s wine and begins to talk a bit about himself with Caravaggio’s encouragement. Caravaggio tells Hana and Kip he would like to see them marry one day, and Kip stands to refill the seashells with oil. They must keep burning until midnight, he says. They talk about what they will do when the war with Japan is over and everyone goes home. “And where will you go?” Caravaggio asks Kip, but he doesn’t answer.
Kip’s glass of water again draws attention to the fact that he cannot fully participate in this type of celebration, making him more of an outsider, as does Caravaggio’s question. “Where will you go?” with the emphasis on “you,” implies that Kip doesn’t really belong in Europe, and the fact that Kip doesn’t answer suggests that he is beginning to agree. 
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As they talk, Kip is interested in hearing stories about Hana, but she steers Caravaggio away from any stories from her childhood. She wants Kip to know her as she is now. Hana has already told him about Patrick and Clara, and for her, this is enough. Caravaggio begins to tell a story about Hana singing the “Marseillaise” as a child, and Kip says that he has heard the song sung by the troops in his unit. Kip begins to sing a version of it, but Hana stops him, telling him he must sing it standing up. Then she removes her tennis shoes and stands atop the table. 
Kip’s desire to hear about Hana’s life in Canada is further evidence of his love for her, but Hana’s hesitation to let Kip into her life suggests that she doesn’t feel quite the same way. The “Marseillaise” is the French national anthem, which again reflects nationalism in the novel but also Kip’s widespread acceptance of Western culture, as he is familiar with even France’s customs. 
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“This is for you,” Hana says to Kip as she begins to sing the “Marseillaise,” letting her voice drift all the way up to the open window of the English patient’s room. Caravaggio heard the song many times during the war in his own unit, but he doesn’t like hearing it anymore. Whenever the men in Caravaggio’s unit sang the song, he heard Hana as a child singing. Now, Hana’s voice seems to have lost something from her youth. It is more “scarred,” Caravaggio thinks.
Hana is more “scarred” after the trauma of the war. She is no longer the innocent young girl she was in Canada, and everything about her, including her voice, reflects this. It is ironic that Hana gives Kip a French song—a Western song—and it is further evidence of Western culture being pushed upon him.
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At night in Kip’s tent, Hana and Kip often talk until the sun comes up. Resting on Hana’s neck while she sings and hums, Kip tells Hana all about India. He tells her about Indian rivers and the “great gurdwara,” or place of Sikh worship, known as the Granth Sahib. The temple was built in 1601, destroyed in 1757, and rebuilt in gold and marble in 1830. At Granth Sahib, there is a shrine of the Holy Book, where the ragis sings the Book’s verses. Kip tells Hana about Baba Gujhaji, the first priest of the temple, who is buried near the gurdwara. 
Here, Kip finally tells Hana more about his life in India, but she doesn’t seem overly interested to learn about his life or culture. Kip’s mention of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Book of Sikhism, comes into play when Kip is later offered a Christian Bible. Kip has his own religion and his own Holy Book, but it is insignificant within Western culture.
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Hana loves spending time with Kip, but she does not think that can give herself completely to him and be his lover. He moves much more quickly than Hana in replacing the loss of the war, yet she does not fault him for this. Each morning, as she watches Kip leave his tent, she thinks that it may be the last time she sees him. Kip is her “warrior saint,” and, like the English patient says, is the “fato profugus—fate’s fugitive.”
Hana is still having a difficult time finding peace after the war, which impacts her ability to fully love, but she also fears that Kip will be the next one to be killed, and she is hesitant to give herself over to him. Her description of Kip as a “warrior saint” again hearkens to religion, but it also suggests that Kip is her hero and savior. Kip protects those at the villa and escapes death himself each time he diffuses a bomb, making him a “fugitive” from death, or the “fate” of war.
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In 1943, 30 sappers were flown into Naples, including Kip. When the Germans left Italy, they had laid thousands of bombs, and what should have taken the Allies a month to clear took almost a year. Mines were everywhere; galvanized pipes with explosives were left along military paths, and wooden boxes rigged to explode littered civilian homes. By the time Kip and the other sappers got to Naples, they didn’t trust anything or anyone, and they immediately went to work clearing the city. 
Kip’s job as a sapper and bomb specialist, in addition to his identity as an Indian and the racism he faces because of this, goes a long way in explaining why he doesn’t easily trust. In Kip’s experience, people and objects are equally suspicious and can both be dangerous. 
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A German soldier turned himself in and told the Allies that thousands of bombs were wired in the harbor to explode when the city’s dormant electrical system was restored. After interrogating the German seven times, the Allies could not decide if he was telling the truth, but they evacuated Naples anyway. Only 12 sappers, including Kip, remained behind to continue sweeping for bombs. The electricity was to be restored at 3:00 the next day, and in the deserted city, Kip experienced the “strangest and most disturbing hours” of his life.
Kip is virtually alone in the abandoned city as he sweeps it for bombs and mines, which is essentially how he feels during the entire war. The city of Naples was one of the hardest hit during the war with hundreds of air raids and attacks focused there. By the end of the war, it is estimated that a total of 25,000 civilians were killed in the city of Naples. 
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In the evening, thunderstorms gathered over the villa. Kip returns each night around 7:00, at which time a thunderstorm will begin, if there is to be one. Hana and Caravaggio watch Kip return each night as he walks to his tent, not sure if the rain will fall or not. If it does begin to rain before he reaches his tent, he never quickens his pace, but walks in his usual measured step. In his tent, Kip unwinds his wet turban, dries his hair, and wraps a new, dry turban around his head.
Hana and Caravaggio view Kip’s daily return to the villa because of the weather as another way he is different from them, but Hana does the very same thing at the beginning of the novel. She senses the weather changing and immediately goes to the villa. This implies that there is really little difference between Easterners and Westerners, as they still share the same inherent human intuition.
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The 12 sappers in Naples were told to evacuate at 2:00, one hour before the electricity was set to be restored. In the abandoned city, Kip could hear only birds and barking dogs. He came upon the Church of San Giovanni a Carbonara and, feeling exhausted, went inside, where a statue of an angle stood 15 feet tall. Kip stopped to rest, looking at the dusty light bulbs attached to the back of the angle. Soon, the electricity would be turned on. If Kip was to die, he wanted to die in the presence of the angel. Suddenly, all but two of the lightbulbs attached to the angle began to glow, illuminating the dark afternoon.
Like Almásy says earlier in the book, it is important to die is a holy place, and Kip enters the church for this very reason now. Kip obviously isn’t Christian, but he still respects this Western religion—and since he doesn’t know if he will live or die once the lights go on, he finds comfort in the church. The novel argues that war brings out the need for new or altered forms of religious practice and observation, and Kip’s escape into the church is further evidence of this.
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 Hana looks down to the field from the villa and sees Kip grab his head. She thinks he is in pain but then realizes that he is attempting to listen to the earphones he constantly wears. She hears him scream as he falls to his knees. After a moment, Kip stands and walks to his tent. A moment later, he comes out holding a rifle and heads for the villa.
Kip is hearing the first radio communication about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. As both India and Japan are part of Asia, Kip feels a cultural connection to the Japanese, and he acutely mourns the tragedy of the bombing.
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Kip passes Hana sitting in the kitchen and goes to the stairs, taking three at a time. The English patient greets him as Kip enters the room, and Kip stares at him as if “condemned” with his “brown face weeping.” He turns and fires the rifle out the window, blowing chunks of plaster from the fountain, then levels the rifle at the English patient. He asks Kip to put the gun down, and Kip backs up against the wall to stop from shaking, never moving the rifle.
Kip is crying on behalf of the Japanese, and Ondaatje again draws attention to his “brown face,” which reflects Kip’s cultural and racial connection to Asia, and therefore a sense of allegiance with Japan. In this moment, Kip sees the English patient as a representation of all of England, and indeed all of the West, and the violence brought about by this region against the East.
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“I sat at the foot of this bed and listened to you, Uncle,” Kip says to the English patient. Kip had done the same as a child and always thought he could fill himself with the wisdom of older people. He grew up with Indian traditions, and later with English traditions. He has always known that if he didn’t behave as they wanted, they would reject him, but he wants to know what gives the English such power. Is it because they have ships or “the histories and printing presses?” Kip asks the English patient. 
Kip has looked up to the Englishmen in his life, such as the English patient and Lord Suffolk, as wise “uncles.” But just as his brother said, Kip is beginning to open his eyes to Europeans and the truth behind colonialism and war. This passage also underscores Ondaatje's overreaching argument about the importance of personal stories in understanding history. As the English control “histories and printing presses,” the only way to get authentic Eastern history is through personal stories. 
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Kip tells the English patient that the English and the Americans have “converted” Indians to be “pukkah,” and he tells him to listen to what the English patient’s people have done. Kip throws the rifle on the bed and puts the earphones on the burned head of the English patient, who winces at his touch. Hana and Caravaggio enter the room as the English patient hears of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Caravaggio tries to touch Kip’s arm, but he grabs the rifle and hits Caravaggio in his ribs, like “a swat from the paw of an animal.”
Pukkah is a Hindi word that means to be made respectable for society, and this further underscores the racist way in which the West views those from the East. The English and the Americans think Indians must be “converted,” or changed, to be made respectable or civilized, which again highlights the Western superiority of colonialism. By comparison, Kip is considered an “animal” that must be tamed.
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Kip says that his brother told him not to trust Europeans. They are the “deal makers,” the “contract makers,” the “map drawers,” and they are cannot be trusted. Hana and Caravaggio ask what is going on, and Kip tells them to listen to the celebration on the radio. They tell him that he doesn’t know who the man in the bed really is, and he again levels the rifle at him. “Do it,” Almásy says. He doesn’t want to listen anymore. 
The East has been repeatedly oppressed by the West through colonialism. The West makes all the rules and laws, and they even make the maps, like Almásy does in the desert, drawing territorial lines and affecting people they know little about and have no right to control. Almásy seems to realize this, and coupled with his pain and history in the desert during the war, he feels Kip is more than justified in killing him.
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Caravaggio tries to tell Kip that the English patient isn’t really an Englishman, but Kip says that it doesn’t really matter. “When you start bombing the brown races of the world, you’re an Englishman,” he says. Caravaggio continues to try to convince him otherwise. You don’t understand, he says to Kip, “of all people he is probably on your side.”
British colonialism has led to widespread prejudice and oppression of the East by other Western powers, so Kip sees little difference from one Western country to the next. Caravaggio says that Almásy is probably on Kip’s side because he is Hungarian, which means he is probably an ally of the Axis powers, including the Germans and Japanese. 
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Caravaggio sits in a chair and looks away from Kip. He knows that Kip is right; bombs like those dropped on Japan would never have been dropped “on a white nation.” Kip leaves the room, leaving Caravaggio and Hana behind. In the future, if and when the English patient dies, Hana and Caravaggio know that they will bury him, and everything he owns, except for Herodotus’s book.
The United States and the Allies don’t drop such destructive bombs on the European countries of the Axis, only Japan, and Ondaatje implies that these bombings are directly related to the racism brought about by colonialism.
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Back in is tent, Kip stares into the darkness. He closes his eyes and sees people jumping into rivers as everything around them burns, including their skin and hair. He has already stripped the tent of anything to do with the military, including his bomb disposal equipment, and removed the insignia from his uniform. He had taken off his turban and tied his hair into a topknot.
Kip feels a cultural connection to the Japanese, and so he takes off his turban and ties his hair in a topknot (a traditional Japanese hairstyle) in a display of solidarity. By stripping his tent and uniform of military insignia, Kip rejects the Western identity he has assumed and returns to his Asian roots.
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Kip knows nothing about the bombs that have been dropped on Japan. He does not know if they were quick and sudden explosions, or if “boiling air” slowly ripped through everything. All he knows for sure is that his name is Kirpal Singh, and he has no idea what he is doing in Europe. He leaves the tent wearing only a kurta and walks in the direction of the villa.
A kurta is the traditional dress of India, and it is further proof that Kip is returning to his native roots. He even rejects his nickname, which is undeniably British, and returns to his real name, Kirpal Singh, again embracing his Indian culture.
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Hana can see Kip standing outside his tent and watches him disappear into the chapel. Inside, Kip removes the tarpaulin from the Triumph motorbike hidden in the back of the chapel, as Hana comes through the door. She tries to talk to him and asks him what any of them have to do with the bombings in Japan. She leans against him and places her head on his chest, listening to his heart.
Hana’s comment that she had nothing to do with the bombings in Japan is again naïve and a bit insensitive. Of course Hana was not directly involved, but she seems more concerned with what Kip thinks of her than trying to understand his feelings of loss and betrayal.  
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As Kip climbs on the Triumph and “guns [it] to life,” Caravaggio waits halfway down the path to the villa’s gate, holding the rifle. He steps into Kip’s path as he approaches, but he never raises the rifle. Kip stops and Caravaggio embraces him. “I shall have to learn how to miss you,” Caravaggio says. 
Ondaatje’s language here reflects the violence of the war, as Kip “guns” the motorcycle to life, though here it signifies Kip’s escape from violence rather than his continued involvement in it. Caravaggio’s comment hearkens to a comment Almásy made to Katharine about missing her, and it reflects the deep feelings Caravaggio has developed for Kip.
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Kip rides away from the villa and heads south, steering clear of Florence. He goes through Greve and heads to Cortona, riding “against the direction of the invasion, as if rewinding the spool of war.” He drives through every village and town without slowing, ignoring his memories of the war.
Kip rides against the direction of the war, “as if rewinding” it, in an effort to undo the Westernization he has endured because of the war and return to his native roots and culture.
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In Cortona, Kip rides the Triumph up the steps of a church and goes inside. He finds a statue there, “bandaged in scaffold,” but he can’t get close enough to see it without the scope of his gun. He leaves the church and goes on to Arezzo, and then on to the mountains, moving in the direction of the coast.
The “bandaged” statue reflects Kip’s own wounded state. As Kip leaves the villa, and moves further away from the West, he is no longer drawn to Western religion—especially without his rifle, a symbol of Western influence in his life and his involvement in World War II. 
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Hana writes Clara a letter. This is the first letter Hana has written in years, and while she has forgotten the exact year, she knows the date, because it is one day after the bombs were dropped on Japan. “If we can rationalize this,” Hana tells Clara, “we can rationalize anything.” Hana tells her that Patrick died in a dove-cot in France, which is a large house built just for doves. A dove-cot is “a sacred place,” Hana says. “A comforting place. Patrick died in a comforting place.”
Hana’s comment that anything can be rationalized if the bombing of Japan can be rationalized seems to be Ondaatje’s overarching point. The racism of white people toward non-white people is violent and destructive, and it has led to the annihilation of two Japanese cities, in which it is estimated that nearly 150,000 people were killed.  
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On the Triumph, Kip arrives in Ortona. He does not allow himself to think of Hana as he rides, but he does, however, carry the English patient with him, who sits facing him on the gas tank. He can hear the Englishman’s voice talking about Isaiah. Riding in the rain, Kip thinks of the ceiling he had loved. Isaiah had been in the English patient’s book, his “holy book,” which he passed to Kip. Kip had refused the book, telling him that he has “a Holy Book too.” As Kip rides around a curve near the Ofanto River, he takes off his goggles to clean them, and begins to skid on the bike. There is no side to the bridge he is on, and Kip finds himself thrown through the air, falling toward the water. 
Kip continues thinking about the English patient because, like Lord Suffolk, he had looked up to these men and loved them, and he feels as if they have all betrayed him. Kip again thinks of the Sistine Chapel, where he saw Isaiah painted on the ceiling through his scope. The English patient’s attempt to give Kip his copy of The Histories, thereby imposing his beliefs and culture on Kip, reflects further disrespect for Kip’s own culture and religion.
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As Kip’s head breaks above water, a candle burns in the English patient’s room back at the villa. In the middle of the night, he senses someone is in the room, and he sees a “slight brown figure” near the foot of the bed. He hopes it is Kip, and he stays awake waiting for the figure to come towards him, but the figure never moves. 
Kip’s fall into the river and his emergence from the water represents a symbolic rebirth of sorts. Kip is cleansing himself of the Western influence of the last several years and is preparing to return to his traditional culture and life. The English patient’s obvious hallucination reflects his own guilt related to colonialism and the oppression of others like Kip. 
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Years later, Kirpal Singh still thinks about Hana. He is a doctor now, with two kids and a wife. Sitting in his garden in India, Kirpal is able to see Hana in her own country, as she goes about living her life. He can see Hana’s life, but only in silence, and he can see nothing about the people in her life. He can see, however, that Hana is no longer a young girl and has grown into a woman. 
Kip returns to his life and culture in India and becomes a doctor like he was supposed to do before the war. He still thinks about Hana, which suggests that love has the power to transcend time and distance.
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As Kirpal Singh sits down to eat with his family, his daughter fumbles with her silverware. At Kirpal’s table, “all of their hands are brown,” and they live a life of comfort in their traditional “customs and habits.”  In Canada, Hana is 34 years old, and she still thinks of the English patient and the words he read from his book. She accidentally hits a cupboard with her shoulder, knocking a glass from the shelf. As the glass falls, Kirpal’s left hand shoots out and catches the fork dropped by his daughter before it hits the ground and smiles.
Earlier in the novel, Caravaggio points out that Kip always eats with his right hand and that he doesn’t use silverware, which is common practice in India. As Kip’s daughter fumbles with her silverware, this suggests she isn’t used to eating in this foreign, Western way. Interestingly enough, while Kip obviously has a deep connection to Hana that transcends time and space, she is thinking of the English patient instead of Kip, which again implies she doesn’t  quite reciprocate his feelings.
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