”The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje Essay Sample

”The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje Pages
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Kirpal Singh is an Indian; this immediately puts him apart from others in the war. He comes to England and is exposed to the English culture. Instead of adopting his brother’s hostile attitude to it, he embraces it fully. Lord Suffolk who teaches him about and welcomes him into the culture quickens this acceptance. Suffolk is the height of the stereotypical eccentric English gentlemen and is therefore a very helpful representative of the country. Far from creating a gap between him and others he adopts the culture; and begins to cherish its ways, almost to the extent of neglecting his own. The ironic example of this is Caravaggio’s annoyance at Kip’s “continuous humming of Western songs”. The quote, however, is open to interpretation about Caravaggio and his willingness to accept foreigners. It is possible he is annoyed at Kip singing songs that aren’t from his culture.

It seems entirely illogical for Kip to experience racism from the English as he is fighting for them. The relationship between Lord Suffolk and Kip is friendly. Even though Lord Suffolk is the senior person, he doesn’t patronise Kip. He introduces to him his home comforts, such as cream teas. We see them bond and develop a “trust” in one another, as well as a mutual respect for the other’s abilities. Kip thrives because he is given personal attention as an individual character rather than a member of a race. This seems to contrast with the quote in the title statement.

I think he is a private and self sufficient person; but when he is in an intimate, secure atmosphere, such as the Villa and with Lord Suffolk, the best is brought out of him, for example the joke he plays on Caravaggio. Kip and Caravaggio find each other difficult to relate to. They are rivals in the affection of Hana, but also have very little in common. I don’t think Caravaggio understands Kip and is content in letting him continue with his job. He seems to ignore Hardy and forgets his name after his death. The fact he is of a different race could be important. It appears strange that in such a small group of people one could forget a name even moderately associated with it. This maybe due to an unconscious racism, seeing Hardy as from an inferior race.

Almasy seems the perfect example of race nullification. He wants to “erase” his name, “erase nations”, he feels he doesn’t “belong to anyone, to any nation”. This is what he wants. He creates an alternate identity, which brand nationality and race as completely irrelevant. He is able to do this through his isolation in the desert. This isolation is mirrored in the Villa, which provides the perfect environment for an identity to be ignored. With Hana, he is able to create an illusion, which leads her to think him English for most of the book. He isn’t defined by any race or identity. I think part of his mystique as a character is the inability to categorise him as a certain race. Hana shows she thinks race is important by imprinting on him the identity of an English war hero.

Hana involves herself in a relationship with Kip. He is a “private” figure; their intimacy is not based on sex. I think it is more a comfort zone. They are both in the same situation with little options both wanting to fulfil their duties. I think their love is an inartificial one because of this. They understand each other’s thoughts. This is important in a relationship and in this situation gives them the power to empathise with each other. Hana treats his customs with the up most respect, his choice to sleep in a tent outside is part of these. Hana begins to see this as a shelter where she can escape the demands of Almasy and experience the tranquillity of nature along with the security of human touch.

Relationships with Almasy are hardly relatable to the title of the essay as they deal with relationships between different races. Surely this is negligible if they don’t know his true race.

The Bedouin people show their nature by taking in the burned man and looking after him. Despite him being an invader and part of a war, which is “raping” their land they take good care of him. They teach him “to raise his arms”. They are training him up for the purpose of gun identification. They use the white man as a source of information over his own inventions. Their intentions are not purely altruistic, but are anyone’s? They treat him with respect and welcome him into their culture. He is indebted to them for their treatment and it is shown in the positive light his experience is displayed in.

In Things Fall Apart, we see a wider gap between races. It is set at a time when the white man is a race fairly unknown to the Africans. Before his appearance into the book, we hear of the white man only from the ancestors. His entry causes a nervous reaction from them. This is an understandable response, seeing as it is an unknown species. The white men bring in a new religion and try to impose it on the natives. There is a certain arrogance in their belief, which stems from their idea that they have obtained the truth. This means the relationship between the two races always contains tension because the Christians are disregarding every belief and tradition Okonkwo and his tribe hold. The second leader of the missionaries, Mr Smith, holds utter contempt for the African faith and all those who hold it. It is this attitude that causes the disastrous consequences of the book.

The Whites’ approach led by Smith is in contrast to Mr Brown’s efforts to maintain peace between the two races. Smith’s attitude is typical of a conquering empire’s. Convinced of their own righteousness and with no thought as to their methods and their consequences on the suffering nation. When Mr Brown was in power there was a mutual respect for each other’s beliefs despite each privately criticising the other.

The relationship between races is still a very relevant topic. It seems almost universally true that religion is a bad thing when it is imposed on others. Kip, a Sikh, seeks at no point to convert anyone to his religion. Christianity does and the consequences are seen. To many it seems race is of no issue. Almasy is against the idea of national identity and race; seeing it as an objective standpoint based on the country’s wishes rather than an individual’s decision. Despite his efforts to erase his race he finds it impossible. His real identity is fully known by the end of the book. In ‘The English Patient’ the scene is set by the world war, which itself is dictated by nations and races. It seems the characters who benefit most regard race as of little importance.

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