The English Patient

by

Michael Ondaatje

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Bombs  Symbol Icon

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

The The English Patient quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bombs . 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 I Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hana
Related Symbols: Bombs
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter III Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hana, Kip/Kirpal Singh
Related Symbols: Books , Bombs
Page Number: 104-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter VII Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hana, Kip/Kirpal Singh
Related Symbols: Bombs
Page Number: 196-7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter X Quotes

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?

Related Symbols: Bombs
Page Number: 284-5
Explanation and Analysis:
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Bombs Symbol Timeline in The English Patient

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bombs appears in The English Patient. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter I. The Villa
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...shell of what it once was. Large sections of the building have been destroyed by bombs and many rooms cannot even be entered. Much of the roof is missing, allowing rain... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
...and the chapel. Although there have been holes blown into the walls and roof by bombs, the library seems safe enough to Hana. A piano sits in the middle of the... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...electricity, and the winter has been cold. Much of the villa was blown up by bombs, including the lower stairs of the large staircase, which Hana rebuilt by nailing books together. (full context)
Chapter II. In Near Ruins
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...How could it be desertion if she wasn’t going anywhere? They warned her of unexploded bombs and left. Hana immediately began her garden in the rich soil next to the wrecked... (full context)
Chapter III. Sometime a Fire
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...up his tent near the villa’s garden. Beginning outside, he immediately takes to dismantling the bombs left behind by the retreating Germans. He is always polite, and Hana watches as he... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...motions for him to the leave the room, as he cuts the fuse to a bomb hidden behind a window valence. (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...he enjoyed Hana’s piano playing, but because he feared that there may have been a bomb in the piano. There wasn’t, but musical instruments and grandfather clocks are favorite hiding spots... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...been given the nickname Kip by an army officer when he handed in his first bomb disposal report with butter all over it. “What’s this?” the officer asked. “Kipper grease?” The... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
In the field just north of the villa, Kip finds a large bomb hidden beneath a slab of concrete. The grass has grown over the wires, and Kip... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...He yells at her to stop and walk to the left. There are wires and bombs everywhere, he says. Hana slows and takes the directed path, thinking of all the times... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...refuses. She doesn’t think the wires will reach, so she will just hold them. The bomb is a “trick,” Kip says, and he doesn’t know how to disarm it. He puts... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...Hana where she was all day, and she tells him that Kip defused a huge bomb. She looks to Kip to fill Caravaggio in, and he simply shrugs, not wanting to... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...him a glass. Suddenly, they hear an explosion in the distance. Kip doesn’t think a bomb was tripped, he says, as the explosion seemed to come from a safe area that... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
...road beyond. He wonders if it was a sapper or a civilian who tripped the bomb. Was it a terrible “accident” or a “wrong choice?” The sappers in Kip’s unit are... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...is angry with Hana for treating her life so casually earlier that day with the bomb. Looking at Hana across the room, Kip thinks that if he could just reach out... (full context)
Chapter VI. A Buried Plane
War and Nationality Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
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,... (full context)
Chapter VII. In Situ
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...all that. Kip joined a Sikh regiment and went to England, where he joined a bomb unit. At the time, there were 25 bomb units total, and they had little technical... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
While Kip was training, he learned that the most dangerous bombs did not explode until after they landed. Unexploded bombs littered the European countryside, waiting to... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
When Kip had first applied to Lord Suffolk’s bomb unit, he was led into a library for testing with 15 other men, none of... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
When Lord Suffolk finally arrived at the library, the testing for the bomb unit began. Kip breezed through each round and began to believe that he would be... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...were killed in the explosion in Erith. Kip had been in London diffusing a different bomb when he learned of their deaths. Two bomb disposal officer had come to inform Kip,... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
Holding back his emotions, Kip went to Erith with Hardy but insisted on diffusing the bomb alone. The bomb was a “trick,” Kip tells Hana. He was lucky to have figured... (full context)
Chapter VIII. The Holy Forest
Love Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter X. August
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
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.... (full context)
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
Kip knows nothing about the bombs that have been dropped on Japan. He does not know if they were quick and... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)