The English Patient

by

Michael Ondaatje

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An Italian immigrant to Canada who fights on behalf of the Allies during World War II. Caravaggio is a thief whose “skills” are “legitimized” during the war, and he is enlisted by the Allies to infiltrate German strongholds and steal various documents. Caravaggio is caught by the Germans near the end of the war, and they nearly cut off his hands. He is sent to a military hospital in Rome, where he is received as a hero and hears about a nurse, Hana, who has refused to evacuate an unsafe villa in the north on account of her unstable patient, a burned amnesiac known only as the English patient. Caravaggio was close to Hana’s father, Patrick, before the war, and has known her for years. Arriving at the villa, Caravaggio falls in love with the woman he knew as a child, but she is in love with the English patient, a man she sees as a representation of her father, who was also badly burned and killed during the war. When Kip arrives at the villa, Caravaggio has a difficult time adjusting to life with the Indian sapper. Caravaggio is critical of Kip’s customs and habits; however, it is not long before Caravaggio grows fond of Kip and overcomes his obvious prejudice. Caravaggio soon grows fond of the English patient as well, despite the fact that he knows the English patient is really László Almásy, a wanted Hungarian explorer known to assist German spies through the desert during the war. Ondaatje never reveals what happens to Caravaggio after Kip threatens to kill the English patient and life at the villa unravels, but Caravaggio’s character serves to illustrate the power of love to heal psychological wounds after the violence of war. Caravaggio arrives at the villa an emotionally-distant and damaged thief, but by the end of the novel, he has transformed into a loving and honest man.

Caravaggio Quotes in The English Patient

The The English Patient quotes below are all either spoken by Caravaggio or refer to Caravaggio. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The English Patient published in 1993.
Chapter II Quotes

He sits with his hands below the table, watching the girl eat. He still prefers to eat alone, though he always sits with Hana during meals. Vanity, he thinks. Mortal vanity. She has seen him from a window eating with his hands as he sits on one of the thirty-six steps by the chapel, not a fork or a knife in sight, as if he were learning to eat like someone from the East. In his greying stubble-beard, in his dark jacket, she sees the Italian finally in him. She notices this more and more.

Related Characters: Hana, Kip/Kirpal Singh, Caravaggio
Page Number: 39-40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter III Quotes

At lunch there is Caravaggio’s avuncular glance at the objects on the blue handkerchief. There is probably some rare animal, Caravaggio thinks, who eats the same foods that this young soldier eats with his right hand, his fingers carrying it to his mouth. He uses the knife only to peel the skin from the onion, to slice fruit.

Related Characters: Kip/Kirpal Singh, Caravaggio
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter VI Quotes

“Let me tell you a story,” Caravaggio says to Hana. ‘There was a Hungarian named Almásy, who worked for the Germans during the war. He flew a bit with the Afrika Korps, but he was more valuable than that. In the 1930s he had been one of the great desert explorers. He knew every water hole and had helped map the Sand Sea. He knew all about the desert. He knew all about dialects. Does this sound familiar? Between the two wars he was always on expeditions out of Cairo. One was to search for Zerzura— the lost oasis. Then when war broke out he joined the Germans. In 1941 he became a guide for spies, taking them across the desert into Cairo. What I want to tell you is, I think the English patient is not English.”

Related Characters: Caravaggio (speaker), The English Patient/László Almásy, Hana
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter IX Quotes

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography— to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books.

Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The English Patient LitChart as a printable PDF.
The English Patient PDF

Caravaggio Character Timeline in The English Patient

The timeline below shows where the character Caravaggio appears in The English Patient. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter II. In Near Ruins
War and Nationality Theme Icon
Caravaggio, with his bandaged hands, has been a patient at the military hospital in Rome for... (full context)
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The doctors tell Caravaggio that the nurse, Hana, is in an old nunnery just north of Florence. The villa... (full context)
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The doctors tell Caravaggio that they can arrange a ride for him to the villa, but they remind him... (full context)
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
On the train moving north, Caravaggio can’t sleep as he is tossed about the small, smoke-filled cabin. He suddenly remembers that... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
“I keep remembering how you stormed out of the hospital followed by two grown men,” Caravaggio says to Hana. He asks her where the kitchen is and goes to look around.... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
The next day, Caravaggio finds Hana washing sheets in the fountain outside the villa. The Allies destroyed the water... (full context)
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Hana says that if Caravaggio plans on staying at the villa, they will need more food. The vegetables won’t be... (full context)
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Hana often looks for Caravaggio late at night, after she has left the English patient. She finds him on the... (full context)
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Caravaggio had snuck into the girlfriend’s room late that night while she was having sex with... (full context)
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Caravaggio stares at Hana sitting at the table and thinks about his wife, which he hardly... (full context)
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Later that night, Caravaggio finds Hana weeping shirtless at the kitchen table. He touches her gently on her bare... (full context)
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...of the war, she took only the hammock and a pair of tennis shoes, unlike Caravaggio, who has made a career stealing from others. Caravaggio had been Patrick’s friend before the... (full context)
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The next day, while sitting in the garden, Hana offers to remove Caravaggio’s bandages. After all, she is a nurse, she says. He is hesitant; he has come... (full context)
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As Hana inspects Caravaggio’s hands, she tells him that she used to think of him as the Scarlet Pimpernel... (full context)
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Hana and Caravaggio suddenly become aware of the English patient shouting, and Hana immediately runs up the stairs.... (full context)
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In the kitchen, Caravaggio gets the dog some water. He thinks of the villa as Hana’s house, so he... (full context)
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...shelf and begins to write on a blank page near the back. She writes about Caravaggio, whom she has always loved, even though he must be at least 45 years old... (full context)
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...that one man wears a turban, and she nods at them, continuing the song. Later, Caravaggio returns to the villa and finds Hana making sandwiches in the kitchen with two sappers.  (full context)
Chapter III. Sometime a Fire
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...in a small basin of rainwater, staring as the water pours over his brown skin. Caravaggio is irritated by Kip’s constant humming of Western songs, which Kip learned from Hardy, the... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
Kip notices that Caravaggio often wanders at night, and he begins to trail him. After two nights, Caravaggio corners... (full context)
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One day, Caravaggio enters the library and, looking around to make sure he is alone, notices Kip up... (full context)
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Caravaggio walks into the library, where he has been spending most of his time lately. He... (full context)
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Patrick must have died not long after the baby, Caravaggio says to Hana. Yes, she says, but she wasn’t aware that Caravaggio knew about her... (full context)
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Caravaggio asks Hana when she stopped talking to the baby, but she can’t really remember. Things... (full context)
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After about a week, Hana and Caravaggio grow more used to Kip’s strange eating habits. He sits with Hana and Caravaggio, pulling... (full context)
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Sitting at the table with Hana and Caravaggio, Kip thinks everything looks “temporary,” as if nothing is permanent. He looks down at his... (full context)
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Kip and Caravaggio take a cart into the village to pick up some flour, and they talk about... (full context)
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...a mirror walking down a road,” and that is how she thought of her father. Caravaggio says Patrick died in a dove-cot. Everything she knows about Patrick’s death is from Caravaggio,... (full context)
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...that night, the residents of the villa have a party in the English patient’s room. Caravaggio has found a gramophone, and Kip, despite the fact that he doesn’t drink, has come... (full context)
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Caravaggio places a record on the gramophone and declares it time to dance. Hana looks at... (full context)
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Hours later, Kip returns from the mine explosion, which killed Hardy, Kip’s second-in-command. After passing Caravaggio asleep on the library couch with the stray dog, Kip removes his shoes and silently... (full context)
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The next day, Caravaggio sits visiting with the English patient. The Englishman tells him that Caravaggio is “an absurd... (full context)
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Later, Caravaggio sits in silence and thinks. He is nearly middle-aged and has nothing to show for... (full context)
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Caravaggio, who is high on morphine, sits with Kip and Hana, and asks them if they... (full context)
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Hana tells Caravaggio to stop talking. After all, with the English patient upstairs, they already have one excessive... (full context)
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Caravaggio tells Hana and Kip that they should all just leave the villa, but Hana refuses... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
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...does not want the food she grows or access to her stash of morphine, like Caravaggio. He doesn’t need her to take care of him like the English patient. Kip finds... (full context)
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...“remarkable.” He loves her face and the sound of her voice as she disagrees with Caravaggio. And he loves the way she lays against his body “like a saint.” She asks... (full context)
Chapter VI. A Buried Plane
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Later, Caravaggio tells Hana a story about a Hungarian named Almásy who aided the Germans during the... (full context)
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Hana is dubious and tells Caravaggio that his suspicions about the English patient are ridiculous. Caravaggio reminds of Hana of when... (full context)
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According to Caravaggio, the Germans sent a spy named Eppler to Cairo in 1942 with a copy of... (full context)
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Hana tells Caravaggio that it makes no difference who the English patient is. After all, she says, the... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter VIII. The Holy Forest
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In the library of the villa, Caravaggio accidentally knocks a fuse box off a table as he turns towards Hana’s voice in... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter IX. The Cave of Swimmers
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The English patient tells Hana and Caravaggio, that when he first met Katharine, she was a married woman. When Geoffrey Clifton arrived... (full context)
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History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...read, the English patient fell in love with her. “Words,” the English patient says to Caravaggio, interrupting his own story. “They have power.” (full context)
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Katharine loved words, the English patient says to Caravaggio. In words Katharine found “clarity,” “shape,” and “reason,” but the English patient says that words... (full context)
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...camel, which is about two and a half miles per hour, the English patient tells Caravaggio. He walked for three days without food. When he arrived in El Taj, English military... (full context)
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Caravaggio suddenly wants to leave the villa. He is only a thief, and he doesn’t belong... (full context)
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...by British Intelligence to keep an eye on Almásy and his expeditions into the desert, Caravaggio says. The English knew that the desert would eventually become a theater of the war,... (full context)
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The English patient asks Caravaggio if he came to the villa to finally apprehend him. No, Caravaggio says. He came... (full context)
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Caravaggio tells the English patient that he is just a thief who was “legitimized” during the... (full context)
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Caravaggio tells the English patient that British Intelligence knew about Eppler long before he got to... (full context)
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The English patient had to return to the Gilf Kebir, he tells Caravaggio, and Geoffrey was to pick him up in his plane. When Geoffrey arrived, he circled... (full context)
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...Cave of Swimmers. “It is important to die in holy places,” the English patient tells Caravaggio, and that is why Madox killed himself in the church in Somerset. Madox thought the... (full context)
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The English patient tells Caravaggio that everyone dies “containing a richness of lovers and tribes.” People are “communal histories, communal... (full context)
Chapter X. August
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Caravaggio enters the kitchen of the villa, where Hana sits quietly. She asks him how the... (full context)
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Caravaggio tells Hana that he would like to tell her a story for her birthday, but... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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As Hana, Caravaggio, and Kip eat and drink, they toast each other and the English patient. Kip joins... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Caravaggio tries to tell Kip that the English patient isn’t really an Englishman, but Kip says... (full context)
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Caravaggio sits in a chair and looks away from Kip. He knows that Kip is right;... (full context)
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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... (full context)