The English Patient


Michael Ondaatje

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Kip’s Turban Symbol Analysis

Kip’s Turban  Symbol Icon

As the only character of color in the novel, attention is repeatedly drawn to Kip’s differences, often through his turban, which is an ongoing symbol of his Indian identity. When Kip first arrives at the Italian villa while Hana plays the piano during a thunderstorm, Hana catches a quick glimpse of Kip’s turban as lightning streaks the room and immediately knows he is a Sikh. When Hana sees Kip’s turban, she is “somewhat amazed.” This reaction is contrast to when Morden (the secretary of Kip’s military mentor) first encounters Kip—she is obviously suspicious of the Indian man, following him with her eyes around the room. “She [has] probably never seen a turban before,” Kip thinks, feeling Miss Morden’s eyes upon him. He knows that his turban is not only an obvious emblem of his native culture, but a representation of the stark cultural divide between himself as an Indian man and the West at large.

Kip does willingly conform to Western culture as a sapper in the British military, but he is never without his turban for the entirety of the novel. Each day when he emerges from his tent near the orchard of the villa, Kip’s military uniform is “immaculate,” and his turban is “symmetrically layered.” At one point, Kip is caught in a sudden rainstorm, and he immediately removes the wet turban and winds a dry one around his head. Kip’s turban remains the one undeniably Indian part of him in the whitewashed British military, but after atomic bombs are dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he removes his turban. The tragedy of the bombings convince Kip that the East will never be fully accepted by the West; however, he doesn’t remove his turban to deny his native identity. On the contrary, Kip feels a certain kinship with the Japanese, so he removes his turban and places his long, dark hair in a topknot, a traditional hairstyle popular in Asia, especially in Japan. When Kip removes his turban and dons a topknot, he does so in solidarity as a fellow Asian and promptly leaves Europe, returning to India and his native culture.

Kip’s Turban Quotes in The English Patient

The The English Patient quotes below all refer to the symbol of Kip’s Turban . 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 VII Quotes

He looked back at the others, peered around the room and caught the gaze of the middle-aged secretary. She watched him sternly. An Indian boy. He smiled and walked towards the bookshelves. Again he touched nothing. At one point he put his nose close to a volume called Raymond, or Life and Death by Sir Oliver Hodge. He found another, similar title. Pierre, or the Ambiguities. He turned and caught the woman’s eyes on him again. He felt as guilty as if he had put the book in his pocket. She had probably never seen a turban before. The English! They expect you to fight for them but won’t talk to you. Singh. And the ambiguities.

Related Characters: Kip/Kirpal Singh, Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden
Related Symbols: Books , Kip’s Turban
Page Number: 187-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter X Quotes

Before light failed he stripped the tent of all military objects, all bomb disposal equipment, stripped all insignia off his uniform. Before lying down he undid the turban and combed his hair out and then tied it up into a topknot and lay back, saw the light on the skin of the tent slowly disperse, his eyes holding onto the last blue of light, hearing the drop of wind into windlessness and then hearing the swerve of the hawks as their wings thudded. And all the delicate noises of the air.

Related Characters: Kip/Kirpal Singh
Related Symbols: Kip’s Turban
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:
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Kip’s Turban Symbol Timeline in The English Patient

The timeline below shows where the symbol Kip’s Turban appears in The English Patient. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter II. In Near Ruins
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...that two soldiers have entered the villa. Hana can see that one man wears a turban, and she nods at them, continuing the song. Later, Caravaggio returns to the villa and... (full context)
Chapter III. Sometime a Fire
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon the skin on his arms compared to his hands or the skin beneath his turban. She especially loves watching the water drip down his neck as he bathes.  (full context)
Chapter VII. In Situ
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...The Ambiguities, and felt the woman’s eyes on him. She had probably never seen a turban, Kip thought. Putting the book back, Kip couldn’t believe the English. They expected him to... (full context)
Chapter VIII. The Holy Forest
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...about England or Lord Suffolk. Kip does not carry a mirror, and he wraps his turban each day without one, facing the garden outside.  (full context)
Chapter X. August
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
...bomb disposal equipment, and removed the insignia from his uniform. He had taken off his turban and tied his hair into a topknot. (full context)