The English Patient Questions and Answers
by Michael Ondaatje

Start Your Free Trial

Can you identify three major characters who represent specific themes in the novel?

Expert Answers info

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

I think that in nearly any analysis of Ondaatje's work discussion of the English Patient is of vital importance.  Count Almasy is essential to most of the themes in the novel.  I would say that the theme of identity and what constitutes it is critical to the work.  The Count is an important figure in this theme.  He never really considered himself to be of any "nation" or side.  The fact that he is of Hungarian descent, and thus considered to be part of the Axis forces, is ironic because he is willing to do anything to save the woman he loves, someone of the Allied side.  The notion of his name denying him the chance to save his beloved is something that haunts him, as national borders precluded him from his true love, something that transcended borders.  His unintentional betrayal of Madox is something else that speaks to the idea of how nations and national status "deforms people."  Kip would be another example of this, as he is an Indian who is working for the British in the war.  While he works for the West, he holds contempt for its savage ways.  The collision of national identity with professional responsibility is seen fairly powerfully in Kip.  Madox might be one other character to discuss with the notion of identity and implications nation- status has on it.  From a nationless existence in the Royal Geographic Society, Madox seems to be unable to deal with life in a war where national identity defines all aspects of identity.  Painted with the brush of nationalism, Almasy is depicted as a traitor to Madox, causing himi to kill himself.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial