What is the relationship between storytelling and history in The English Patient?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The English Patient presents a post-modern viewpoint on the process of telling and interpreting stories and history. The book's setting is extremely historical, providing many details for an infamous period of world history marred by war and upheaval. However, it by no means subscribes to a linear storytelling process as one would expect from a historical tale. Historical facts, personal narratives, and immediate sensations exist all at once and together in the consciousnesses of the characters and the books to which they so urgently cling.

The English patient's own past is not revealed to us in a neat chronological telling, but through a series of flashbacks interwoven with the present, from the grounding point of the present in the Italian villa with Hana and the others. The characters rely on history and storytelling to make sense of their selves and the world at large, though it is frequently a messy and imperfect process. As the main character says, "We are communal histories, communal books."

Perhaps the most potent symbol of this point of view on history and storytelling is the English patient's most cherished book, Histories by Herodotus. It is of personal significance because a woman he once loved read passages from it aloud in a sensual, memorable way. The book is of extreme historical significance and is physically covered in personal notes and annotations, making the book uniquely the English patient's. It is a physical embodiment of the melding of the historical and the personal. It represents that history and personal storytelling are inexplicably connected, and are in fact strengthened by one another.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial