.. s witnessed to destroy any faith he had in God, country or the war effort. Caravaggio is a man who possesses tremendous courage. In his role as a spy for the Allies, he risks death and torture on a daily basis throughout the war. After being captured by the Germans and having his thumbs cut off by them, he finds his way to a villa in Florence where Hana, a Canadian nurse and daughter of an old friend is caring for a burned and dying patient.
There, he devotes his days to convincing Hana and Kip, the sapper whom Hana loves, to abandon their responsibilities. He urges Hana to leave her dying patient even though there is no one left to care for him. Referring to the Bedoin tribesmen who rescued the burning man, he says, “Those men in the desert were smarter than you. They assumed that he could be useful. So they saved him, but when he was no longer useful, they left him.”(Ondaatje pg.
45) Confiding to Kip, he blames the war on the rich who ” have to follow the rules of their..civilized world. They declare war, they have honour and they cant leave. But you two. We three. Were free.
How many sappers die? Why arent you dead yet? Be irresponsible. Luck runs out.” (Ondaatje p.123) Caravaggio is portrayed as warm, human and very likable. Yet, he is a man who has lost his faith, his loyalty and his confidence. The English Patient is portrayed as a man of great intellect. He is the wise man who sees the greater picture.
Yet, at critical times, he reacts in a manner that is narrow and self-serving. He has an affair with the wife of friend and colleague, a man whom he claims to love. This is portrayed as a natural response of one caught up in a tidal wave of emotion. He blames the war for destroying his research, his adopted homeland, and his friendships; yet he makes no credible attempt to come to terms with the terrible events that made war inevitable. He collaborates with the Germans, dooming thousands in the desert to torture and death.
He rationalizes his behaviour and abdicates responsibility for his actions by blaming the war on international financial and military interests rather than on Nazi aggression. Yet the English Patient is portrayed as a thoroughly likable victim. Never is it suggested that he is the product of the choices that he himself has made. Kipp, the Sikh sapper, is a man of tremendous discipline. Charged with the unenviable task of diffusing bombs, he survives against all odds through a combination of resourcefulness and a great ability to concentrate. He possesses many admirable qualities, traits that should have enabled him to withstand the assaults of war with integrity.
Yet, Kip never seems to reflect upon the issue of why he is at war until the end when he falls apart . Kips wartime relationships with the English are characterised by mutual respect, acceptance and, in several instances, love. Throughout the story, Kip is glued to his radio where he would, no doubt, have heard of the German and Japanese atrocities that were being revealed on a daily basis in 1945. Yet, suddenly, he is swept away with revulsion at the news of the dropping of The Bomb on Hiroshima. He literally blames the English for all of the evils of the world, including the dropping of the bomb. In response to an act that he sees as racist and imperialistic, he abandons his post and all loyalty to the war effort.
Hana, the heroine of the novel, is, in many respects, the noblest of Ondaajes characters. After months of sustained and intensive exposure to the pain and suffering of others, she refuses to move on with the Allied troops as they travel north in their occupation of Italy. Instead, she chooses to remain with one horribly burned patient who is too ill to move. Hanas psyche is deeply damaged by the pain that she has witnessed. She is totally caught up in what Lewis would term the stream of immediate sense experience. She is portrayed as half-mad, prone to mania and depression.
At times she is completely overwhelmed with her sorrow and sense of helplessness. At other times, she rejoices as the rain drenches her through the gutted roof of the villa that she calls home. She seems to be lacking in religious faith and feels nothing but scorn for the leaders of the Allied war effort. Still, she remains loyal to a cause that goes beyond her own wellbeing. She risks death on a daily basis as she fulfils her duties in a villa that the Germans left full of mines and booby traps. Her devotion to the English Patient and her stubborn refusal to abandon him redeem her.
They help compensate for her frailties, giving her something greater than her self to live for during the dreary spring of 1945. Faith, courage, discipline and loyalty preserve the soul, though not the body of Lewis anonymous hero. The absence of one or more of these traits weakens the spiritual immune system of each of Ondaatjes leading English Patient characters. Carvaggio faces post-war life lacking confidence and faith. Kip returns to India hating the system that he has given his heart and soul for. At best, he can see himself as a helpless pawn, a victim or a fool.
At worst, he can see himself as a willing agent of death and destruction. The English Patient, presumably, dies muddled as much by his own rationalisations as by his morphine. He clings to a love that he uses to excuse acts of personal and collective treachery. Hana finds herself in an extremely vulnerable position as she faces her post-war future. She has abandoned any faith that she ever had in God, her country and her civilisation.
She has placed all of her faith, trust and loyalty in the hands of her patient and her lover. This has given her something to live for as the war winds to an end. But when these two abandon her, she has no faith in anything but herself to fall back on. She returns to Canada, completely distrustful of human relationships. Many who have endured the horrors of war may relate to the disillusionment portrayed by Ondaatjes characters. Many who would never claim to possess the virtues promoted by C.S.
Lewis clearly reflect them in the way in which they live their lives. These are the wartime survivors who continue to inspire those who have never endured the horrors of war. These are the survivors who show what it means to live a good life, even under the most adverse conditions. Bibliography Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters.
Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1942 Ondaatje, Michael. The Engish Patient. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996.