Bombs are a constant and threatening presence in The English Patient, and they represent the violence and destruction of World War II within Ondaatje’s novel. When Hana refuses to leave the Italian villa due to the English patient’s fragile condition, she is warned that there are numerous unexploded bombs and mines hidden in the building and on the surrounding land. The villa itself is nearly destroyed by the countless bombs dropped on Italy during the war, and later, after the city of Florence fell as a stronghold, the Germans laid numerous mines in their retreat. Kip, the Indian sapper, is a bomb specialist, and he sweeps the villa and grounds for unexploded bombs, finding several, including a “trick” bomb in the orchard and one behind the library valance, both places frequented by the villa’s residents. This constant threat of bombs at the villa is a small-scale representation of the relentless violence and danger of the war, and it’s significant that the villa itself use to be a nunnery. Even a site of religious faith, holiness, and hope has been ravaged and corrupted by World War II.
Bombs are continually evolving throughout the novel, becoming more complicated and posing new and deadly threats to civilians and the military alike. For example, the bombs dropped in Erith, England, have a “second, hidden gaine,” or explosive booster, set to explode an hour after the first gaine is diffused. The bombs in Erith kill Lord Suffolk, Kip’s mentor, and the rest of the “Holy Trinity” before Kip discovers the trick. The violence and destruction of the bombs during World War II is not limited within the novel to those dropped on Europe. At the novel’s climax, the United States drops two atomic bombs on Japan—one on Nagasaki and one on Hiroshima—an act that holds great symbolic weight, as it lets Kip and the others at the Italian villa, as well as the entire world, know that there is no end to the destruction and inhumanity of war.
Bombs Quotes in The English Patient
She worked in the garden and orchard. She carried the six-foot crucifix from the bombed chapel and used it to build a scarecrow above her seedbed, hanging empty sardine cans from it which clattered and clanked whenever the wind lifted.
If he were a hero in a painting, he could claim just sleep. But as even she had said, he was the brownness of a rock, the brownness of a muddy storm-fed river. And something in him made him step back from even the naive innocence of such a remark. The successful defusing of a bomb ended novels. Wise white fatherly men shook hands, were acknowledged, and limped away, having been coaxed out of solitude for this special occasion. But he was a professional. And he remained the foreigner, the Sikh.
He was accustomed to his invisibility. In England he was ignored in the various barracks, and he came to prefer that. The self-sufficiency and privacy Hana saw in him later were caused not just by his being a sapper in the Italian campaign. It was as much a result of being the anonymous member of another race, a part of the invisible world. He had built up defences of character against all that, trusting only those who befriended him.
My brother told me. Never turn your back on Europe. The deal makers. The contract makers. The map drawers. Never trust Europeans, he said. Never shake hands with them. But we, oh, we were easily impressed— by speeches and medals and your ceremonies. What have I been doing these last few years? Cutting away, defusing, limbs of evil. For what? For this to happen?