The English Patient

by Michael Ondaatje

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In The English Patient, why is the theme of healing powerful?

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The healing process for each of the four main characters in this novel is different, but as a result of their individual experiences they all need to receive some form of emotional healing. The English Patient, Hana, Kip and Caravaggio all gain some degree of this healing through the book.

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Each of the four main characters in this powerful novel show that they are in need of healing in different ways, and each of them, to a limited extent receive that healing through the events that transpire in the novel. This is of course set against the backdrop of the...

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war and Hana's tender ministrations as a nurse as she looks after the burned body of the stranger only known as "The English Patient." Note how this care is described at the opening of the book:

Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet. She wets a washcloth and holding it above his ankles squeezes the water onto him, looking up as he murmurs, seeing his smile. Above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone.

The actions of Hana therefore in nursing the English Patient act as a kind of symbol of the healing that each of the central characters gain. This "healing" is of course not just physical, but primarily it is emotional healing. The English Patient has to come to terms with the past and what he did, Hana must try to make sense of the war that has left her traumatised, Kip has to be healed from his experience of discrimination and the confusion he has about his identity, and lastly Caravaggio must receive healing from the very literal wounds he bears as a result of the English Patient's treason. The healing in this novel is therefore so powerful because of the massive need that each character has for healing and the emotional connection that the reader feels with their situation. 

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