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The Significance Of Symbolism In Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

1307 words - 6 pages

Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient is a novel containing much important symbolism. Ondaatje uses metaphors and symbols masterfully to convey meaning throughout the novel. Fire, the desert, books, and the Italian monastery are all signicant symbols in the story. The characters are effected by these symbols both positively and negatively. There are many hidden symbols and representations that are visible in both the novel and the movie versions of the story.Fire is a symbol used frequently during the story, and perhaps the most significant. It represents both devastation and retribution to almost every character. Count Almasy, the English patient, was burned horribly beyond recognition by ...view middle of the document...

When Hana first enters the Italian Monastery where she tends to the English patient, she cannot get upstairs because there are steps missing. She nails piles of books down in place of the steps to access the second floor. She can now use the bedroom in which she cares for the English patient. Hana frequently immerses herself in books, escaping the daunting task of tending to Almasy and her problems. The one possession kept on the English patient's burned body after he was recovered from the plane wreck was his copy of Herodatus. This book is referred to several time throughout the book, and contains maps and photographs of places he had been to in the desert prior to his plane crash. These articles teach Hana more about Almasy, and helps her understand his past.Another symbol used regularly in the novel is the map. Count Almasy hated boundaries and nations, but ironically enough, he was a cartographer. Maps display artificial boundaries and are often the cause of war, two countries debating over what land belongs to which country. The English patient is fond of the desert because it cannot be mapped. The landscape is evershifting, and everything looks similar. Almasy's hate for nations, titles, and surnames makes "mapping the desert" the perfect job him.The Italian monastery, the bombed out church in which the English patient rests and much of the novel takes place, is a location filled with symbolism. It is a place of healing. Every character present at the monastery has been somehow damaged by the war. Hana's husband was killed, and her friend blown up. Carvaggio's thumbs were severed by Nazis. Almasy's plane was shot down by Iraqis. Kip's life is in constant danger disarming mines around the area. The monastery serves as a garden of Eden to the inhabitants. It is their refuge from the war, and their escape from society.Another setting of great symbolic significance is the desert. The desert parallels with the English patient's identity. It is changing with the wind, unmappable and vast. Almasy develops his hate for nations in the desert. It becomes his favourite place, as it is inhabited by few, and is "nationless." The desert's boundaries are indefinable, as countries constantly war over their territories, pushing back and forth at each other. While most see the desert as a barren, horrible place where none would want to be, the English patient sees it as a borderless haven,...

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