1. The English patient "whispers again, dragging the listening
heart of the young nurse beside him to wherever his mind is, into
that well of memory he kept plunging into during those months
before he died" [p. 4]. Why does the patient consider himself to
have "died"? Does he undergo any kind of rebirth during the course
of the story?
2. What can you deduce from the novel about Hana''s relationship
with her father? Has her father''s death, and the manner of it,
caused her to retreat from the war and devote herself to the
English patient? What influence do her feelings for her father have
upon her relationship with Caravaggio?
3. Why did Hana decide to have an abortion during the war? How
has that decision affected her, and how much influence has it had
on her life at the villa?
4. How does the landscape of the novel-the Villa San Girolamo,
the country around it, and the boundary between the two-reflect the
inner lives of its inhabitants? Why do you think that Ondaatje has
chosen Tuscany as the setting for his story? What significance do
other landscapes, like the desert and the English countryside, hold
for the story and its characters?
5. The English patient says, "I believe in such cartography-to
be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the
names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal
histories, communal books" [p. 261]. How does Ondaatje use maps and
cartography as a metaphor for people and history? What does
geography mean to the English patient and to Ondaatje''s other
6. Why has Ondaatje made Caravaggio a thief by profession? What
is it in his character that makes such an occupation appropriate?
"All his life he has avoided permanent intimacy" [p. 116]. Does
Caravaggio change during the course of the novel? Does he ever come
to accept intimacy, and if so, what type of intimacy and intimacy
7. The imagery at the beginning of the novel likens the patient
to Christ. Later, Caravaggio says to Hana, "You don''t love him,
you adore him," to which she answers, "He is a saint" [p. 45]. Who
else is likened to a saint, and why? Where else in the novel can
you find religious imagery, and what is its purpose? The night
before the Hiroshima explosion Kip sleeps in a church. What is the
subject of the painting he sees there, and what is its thematic
relation to the imminent atomic explosion?
8. "I came to hate nations," says the English patient. "We are
deformed by nation-states" [p. 138]. How does the desert negate the
idea of nations? What sort of supra-national unity is experienced
by the Europeans drawn to the desert, and how does each of them
respond to the beginning of war? What alternate view of geography
and history does the desert offer?
9. After Hiroshima, Caravaggio finds himself agreeing with Kip
that "they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation"
[p. 286]. How does the subject of race and racism enter into this
novel? What conclusions, if any, are drawn at the end?
10. Why do you think that Hana removes all the mirrors in the
house and puts them in an empty room? Is her own physical presence
disturbing to her, or simply irrelevant?
11. What does this novel tell us about the British Empire at the
moment it was beginning to dissolve? What are its moral strengths
and its fatal weaknesses, as presented by the novel and its
characters? What aspect of the Empire do Kip and Lord Suffolk
represent, and what does Lord Suffolk''s death symbolize? Was Kip
completely misguided in attaching himself to the British? Is his
revulsion from them at the end a reasonable response, or is it too
12. "I think when I see him at the foot of my bed that Kip is my
David" [p. 116], says the English patient. How can you describe the
connection the patient feels between himself and Kip? Is it
emotional, political, or dependent upon some other tie? In what way
do the two men reflect one another?
13. "Madox was a man who died because of nations" [p. 242], says
the English patient. What is it about Madox that makes him
experience disillusionment as hopelessness, and commit suicide,
while Kip is able to create new life out of similar
14. Why does Katherine treat her lover with physical violence?
What does it say about the relationship between the two, and about
Almasy''s own character? What does the manner of Katherine''s death
tell us? Does it seem to you that Almasy links sex with death and
pain? Can you find other places in the novel where sex and death
are explicitly connected?
15. What needs and motivations originally drew Hana and Kip
together? Might their relationship have been a lasting one, had it
not been for the Hiroshima bombing? Why do they not keep in touch
in later life, though they continue to think so often of one
16. Why do you think that Hana, unlike Kip, has finally "not
found her own company, the ones she wanted" [p. 301]? Can Hana be
seen as a "victim" of the war, or have her experiences in Italy
simply made her more clearsighted and realistic? How do her two
renditions of "La Marseillaise" indicate the change that the war
has wrought in her?
17. Can the novel can be seen as a mystery, with the identity of
the English patient at its heart? Does Caravaggio''s identification
of the patient solve the mystery, or does there remain a question
at the end? How do other characters in The English
Patient. such as Hana, Kip, and Katherine, discover or come to
terms with their own identities?
18. How would you describe Ondaatje''s style: does the story
resemble a film perhaps, or a dream? Why has he chosen this mode in
which to write this particular tale? What is his purpose in making
the action move backward and forward in time?
19. The English Patient refers explicitly to Rudyard
Kipling''s Kim. If you know this novel, how does its presence
within the text contribute to Ondaatje''s theme? In what way, if
any, do the characters in The English Patient correspond to those
in Kim? Is it significant that Kip was born in Lahore?