The English Patient


Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient Themes

Themes and Colors
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon
British Colonialism and Racism Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The English Patient, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient focuses on the love story between the unidentified English patient—later revealed to be László Almásy, a Hungarian desert explorer—and Katharine Clifton, the wife of Geoffrey Clifton, a British spy posing as an archaeologist in North Africa in the years just before World War II. Badly burned in a plane crash and suffering from amnesia, Almásy is brought to a makeshift hospital in an abandoned Italian villa near…

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War and Nationality

As Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient takes place during World War II, nationality is an exceedingly important theme throughout the novel. Hana is a Canadian nurse who diligently cares for the wounded soldiers of the Allied powers, and Caravaggio is an Italian immigrant to Canada who spent time in Canada before the war and fights on behalf of the Allies. Kip is an Indian sapper and bomb specialist who embraces Western culture, and the English

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British Colonialism and Racism

Kip is the only character of color in The English Patient, and Ondaatje constantly draws attention to Kip’s identity as a Punjabi Indian. According to tradition, the oldest son in an Indian family joins the army, and the second oldest, like Kip, becomes a doctor. However, when World War II begins, Kip joins the army, but his older brother adamantly refuses. Kip’s brother will not “agree to any situation where the English have power,”…

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History, Words, and Storytelling

Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is a fictional account of historic events, and several of his characters—such as the English patient, László Almásy, a Hungarian desert explorer who guided German spies across the North African desert during World War II—are based on actual historical figures. The novel unfolds in a series of stories told by the main characters, including Almásy, his Canadian nurse, Hana, an Italian-Canadian thief named Caravaggio, and Kip

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God and Religion

God and religion do not appear be an important part of the lives of the characters in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. As the characters converge at the abandoned Italian villa during the end of World War II, they each begin to heal from the traumas of war, but neither God nor organized religion seem to have a place within that recovery. None of the characters partake in formal religious practices, nor do they…

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