Hana refuses to leave the Italian bombed-out villa she inhabits with the English patient, a structure which symbolizes the damaged physical and emotional state of Ondaatje’s characters after the violence of World War II. The villa, a former German stronghold, was nearly destroyed by bombs during the war, and as the German’s retreated, they mined the villa with numerous explosives. Many of the villa’s rooms are boarded up and impassable, and others are missing walls and ceilings, allowing the elements to contaminate the space. The excessive destruction of the villa mirrors that of its residents, who are each suffering from trauma connected to the war, both physically and psychologically.
While the villa represents the characters’ trauma, it also represents their collective healing. Through the villa’s history as a nunnery before the war, there is an undeniable religious connection that connotes hope, and Hana’s garden in the villa’s orchard and the painted garden on the walls of the English patient’s room hearken to rebirth and renewal. Similarly, the villa’s ad hoc “family” converges there to heal and renew as well. The characters’ emotional healing is reflected in the meaningful relationships they foster while living at the villa, and it is seen in their shared celebrations, both when Caravaggio finds the gramophone and they have a makeshift party, and when Kip surprises Hana for her birthday. Perhaps the most profound evidence of the healing of Ondaatje’s characters is the playful joking of Hana, Caravaggio, and Kip in the villa’s library. Like the Italian villa, Ondaatje’s characters are severely damaged by the violence of war, but they are still standing and slowly rebuilding.
The Villa Quotes in The English Patient
The Villa San Girolamo, built to protect inhabitants from the flesh of the devil, had the look of a besieged fortress, the limbs of most of the statues blown off during the first days of shelling. There seemed little demarcation between house and landscape, between damaged building and the burned and shelled remnants of the earth. To Hana the wild gardens were like further rooms. She worked along the edges of them aware always of unexploded mines. In one soil-rich area beside the house she began to garden with a furious passion that could come only to someone who had grown up in a city. In spite of the burned earth, in spite of the lack of water. Someday there would be a bower of limes, rooms of green light.