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Destruction through Imagery and Theme in The English Patient

Destruction through Imagery and Theme in The English Patient

The imagery in Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient serves to illustrate the theme of destruction in this novel. The setting of the novel as well as the characters themselves present to the reader a vivid picture of demolition. Critics also find that Ondaatje’s imagery is a vital element in the presentation of this theme.

The English Patient is set at the end of World War II in a war-ravaged Italian village. Ondaatje gives vivid descriptions of the damage the village sustained due to the war:

As the hill town began to be torn apart like a battle ship at sea, by fire shells, the troops moved from the barrack tents in the orchard into the now crowded bedrooms of the old nunnery. Sections of the chapel were blown up. Parts of the top storey of the villa crumbled under the explosions. (12)

Ondaatje’s detailed and memorable description completes his picture of the county side. “Dead cattle. Horses shot dead, half eaten. People hanging upside down from bridges” (Ondaatje 19). This elaborate a…

Verisimilitude in The English Patient

Verisimilitude in The English Patient

One critic has written, “Ondaatje has always been fascinated by history – seen as a series of arcane stories about the past. In his hands, even the documents of history slide away from factual representation toward a haunting apprehension of indeterminacy.” (Barbour 207). In The English Patient Ondaatje blends fiction and history into a socially conscious story. Verisimiliude is the aspect of belivability present in a novel. Ondaatje’s use of the element of verisimilitude accentuates important undercurrents and events which are vital to understanding the novel.

The English Patient is set in the Villa San Girolamo at the close of World War II. The war has damaged the lives of the four main characters. The setting of a war torn villa reflects the damage in their lives. All around the people are unexploded bombs. Ondaatje researched Kip’s job of diffusing bombs carefuly. He gives bit by bit narration of the process of diffusing a live bomb. This careful detail and verisimilitude creates an air of tension and apprehension.

Bombs were attached to taps, to the spines of books, they were drilled into fruit trees so an apple falling onto a lower branch would detonate the tree, lust as a hand gripping that branch would. He was unable to look at a room without seeing the possibilities of weapons there. (Ondaatje 75).

The characters themselves are like walking bombs. They were all innocent before the war began but it devaststed them. They all must endure secret torments from their pasts. The emotional climax of the book is provided by another bomb – Hiroshima – which invokes one of our time’s most terrifying images of the slaughter of innocents. It is the final explosion that drives the fo…

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…expedition in search of Zerzura. Michael Ondaatje did considerable amount of research for this book, which took him five years to complete. He shuffled through the archives of London’s Royal Geographical Society and read the journals of 1930s explorers. The results of this painstaking research is a novel with vivid and realistic detail. The description of the desert is the most potent detail. These vivid discriptions are the greatest contributers to the verisimilitude of the novel. He gives detailed descriptions of the many types of desert winds such as the africo, aajej, khamsin, and datooand the changing landscape of the dunes. Places such as Gilf Kebir, Zerzura, the Sudan, and Gebel Kissu are brought to life.

The historical accuracy and events in The English Patient leads the reader to believe that even though this story never happened – it might have.

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