English Patient Term Paper

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English Patient

Michael Ondaatje's novel the English Patient ranks with other major novels about the first and second world wars, including Ernest Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Pat Barker's Regeneration, and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. These five novels share much in common in terms of their treatment of the world wars. All depict war's general and blind brutality; the hypocrisy of commanding officers; the emotional numbness and detachment one develops in order to stay sane; the all-consuming, life-transforming nature of war; the proximity of death; loyalty and friendship. These novels address these central themes differently, according to their different plots and characters. However, the English Patient treats war and world war in particular, in unique ways, focusing on particular themes that the other four novels do not address in any real depth. Three aspects that Michael Ondaatje deals with that Hemingway, Heller, Barker, and Remarque do not include espionage, internationalism, identity, and incidental involvement.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on English Patient Assignment

Unlike characters in a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, and All Quiet on the Western Front, the characters in the English Patient were incidentally involved in World War Two: Hana was a Canadian nurse willing to help wounded Allied soldiers; Almasy was a cartographer whose connection with the Germans was as tenuous as his connections with the English; Katherine and Geoffrey were explorers; Caravaggio was a thief whose talents became legitimized and professionalized during the war; and Kip is an Indian sapper working for the British military, but not as a soldier. Therefore, none of the main characters were soldiers in the war even though war is central to the story and to their lives. On the other hand, most of the main characters in a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, and All Quiet on the Western Front were directly involved in the war as soldiers or otherwise. The only notable exception is W.H.R. Rivers, the protagonist in Regeneration. However, main characters in Barker's book like Siegfried Sassoon and Billy Prior were soldiers and indeed their stories must be told through the lens of Rivers' psychiatry. The psychological effects of combat are therefore of the utmost importance in Regeneration, as in the other three novels. Regeneration opens with Sassoon's letter; moreover, his opinions about the war pepper the novel. Sassoon's insights as a soldier add depth and dimension to the story, as do the insights of Billy Prior. Direct experience of combat is only ancillary in the English Patient, on the other hand, as none of the main characters let alone the protagonist is a soldier.

Direct involvement in combat and its psychic and physical immediacy are as important in Catch-22, All Quiet on the Western Front, and a Farewell to Arms as they are in Regeneration. Yossarian, the protagonist of Heller's Catch-22, offers particularly grim and chilling stories of direct combat: notably, his memories of his comrade Snowden dying in his arms. Although war-related death permeates the English Patient, neither Katherine nor Almasy die in combat; in fact, none of the main characters experience the immediate brutality of war in the English Patient.

In Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms, Lieutenant Frederic Henry is no soldier but he is injured in the line of fire. Also, his job brings him back to the battlefield where he witnesses the grim realities of war and becomes desensitized enough to shoot the engineer. In fact, his cold killing of the engineer marks a significant psychological development in Henry's character, a development that arose only out of the context of the war he was involved in personally. Like Hana in the English Patient, Lieutenant Henry was involved with the war through a profession in health care; however, Hana's relatively peaceful life in the Italian villa contrasts sharply with the battle-weary body and mind of Lieutenant Henry. Henry can only escape the war at the end of a Farewell to Arms, and even then his escape is only tenuous.

Paul B. umer, the protagonist in Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, is a young German soldier fighting in World War One. Like Yossarian in Catch-22, Siegfried Sassoon in Regeneration, and Lieutenant Henry in a Farewell to Arms, B umer is completely disillusioned by the war. His involvement in combat is direct and visceral. His character and personality are transformed by what he has experienced and witnessed in the war, including the deaths of his friends in combat. When Paul visits his family when home on leave, the psychic imprint of the war is especially noticeable. In fact, Paul dies at the end of All Quiet on the Western Front, emphasizing the character's direct and intense involvement. In the English Patient, war provides a thematic, symbolic, and historical backdrop for the story, but none of the main characters were involved directly in war as they were in a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, or All Quiet on the Western Front. Rather, Hana, Almasy, Katherine, Kip, and Caravaggio are incidentally involved, through their respective careers or by circumstance.

A second key way that Ondaatje's the English Patient treats the war differently from the other four novels is through the aspect of espionage. The English Patient feels no loyalty to any one nation. He is a true traveler, a Hungarian man who sounds British and who sells his talents for navigation to whoever needs them. Main characters in a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, and All Quiet on the Western Front do not become involved, willingly or not, with espionage or intelligence. This aspect of the war is not dealt with in any depth in those novels, whereas in the English Patient, intelligence and espionage play a minor yet significant role. The British intelligence services had kept tabs on Almasy since they and Geoffrey had discovered the affair with Katherine. Therefore, intelligence and espionage work against the English Patient and indirectly cause Katherine's death and the English Patient's burns. Moreover, because his name sounded foreign, Almasy was accused by the British of being a German spy. Almasy did work for the Germans by helping their spies infiltrate Cairo. Almasy remained independent. His indirect involvement with the Germans as a collaborator and Geoffrey's direct involvement with British Intelligence are examples of how Ondaatje weaves espionage into the English Patient; Heller, Hemingway, Barker, and Remarque do not.

The English Patient also imparts an international viewpoint that none of the other war novels have. Through Kip and Almasy, author Ondaatje offers his readers a more global perspective on war in general and World War Two in particular. Ondaatje's novel therefore captures the historical shift in international affairs that occurred as a result of the Second World War. A Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, and All Quiet on the Western Front deal more directly with the senselessness of war and the disillusionment it can bring to individual participants than with an international perspective. Settings in those four novels are concentrated in Europe, whereas Ondaatje includes dramatic and significant scenes of the Saharan desert, Cairo, and even far-off India.

The characters in the English Patient are also more international: Hana and Caravaggio are Canadian, the "English" Patient is really Hungarian, Katherine and Geoffrey are English, and Kip is Sikh Indian. All these characters have traveled far from their homelands and all consequentially possess an international attitude and perspective on the war. Characters in the other four novels do not possess such a worldly perspective. While Lieutenant Henry is an American serving in Italy in a Farewell to Arms, only the English Patient provides a fully global perspective on the Second World War.

Much of Ondaatje's story consists of the English Patient's memories of his time spent in Northern Africa. The Northern African setting is one of the main elements that separates Ondaatje's book from those of Heller, Hemingway, Barker, and Remarque. The film version of the English Patient particularly brings out the stunning sensory array of that region of the world. Moreover, the political implications of European presence in Northern Africa are addressed by Ondaatje, while it is not by any of the other authors. Ondaatje also brings up the British rule in India through the character of Kip, linking issues like colonialism with the Second World War. The portrayal of North Africa plus the character of Kip create a subtle critique of colonialism that none of the other four novels imparts.

Kip's story in the English Patient provides a particularly poignant international perspective on the Second World War. As an Indian national, a man from a nation then ruled by the imperialistic, colonial British, Kip's feelings are singular and unique. No character from the English Patient, let alone from a Farewell to Arms, Catch-22, Regeneration, or All Quiet on the Western Front, can relate to Kip's feelings as a foreigner. His skin color sets him apart visually from the Europeans he meets and although he falls deeply in love with Hana, Kip can never quite feel safe, secure, or comfortable living in the West. When Kip returns to India… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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