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The English Patient
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Dec 18th, 2019

The English Patient

The author of the novel has used personification, metaphors, ambiguous pronouns and imagery to represent the disorientation of the English Patient. ‘Where was he? What civilization was this that understood the predictions of weather and light? El Ahmar or El Abyadd. ’ The English Patient does not know where he is, after ‘being caught out of the sky’ he is taken care of by desert tribes. He has found him self in a state of confusion. Disorder. Ondaatje uses several techniques of writing in order to make us feel bewildered ourselves.

An example would be when we are exposed to the sounds that trouble the English Patient, ‘’One night he heard what seemed to be wind chimes high in the air, and after a whole it stopped and he fell asleep with a hunger for it, that noise like the slowed-down sound from the throat of a bird, perhaps flamingo or a desert fox, which one the men kept in a sewn-half-closed pocket in his burnoose.

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’’ Reading this makes us wonder why he would chose to use these particular animals after writing about the sound of a bird, why is he using a flamingo in the setting of a desert.

With the use of sensory imagery and ambiguity he is making us feel lost in order to understand what the English Patient is going through, physically and emotionally disoriented. Another technique that is used all through out the passage is ambiguous pronouns, this again is done so we feel a sense of uncertainty. IN reference to his encounter with the bottle man, the quote ‘’He stood over the supine burned body with his wings,’’ does not tell us anything else about the wings, ‘the man’ and ‘he’ is used countless times leaving questions that we may have unanswered.

This ambiguity that the English Patient may be feeling is supported by his uncertainty of time and continuous flashbacks. ‘’The figure resembled most of all those drawings of archangels he had tried to copy as a schoolboy,’’ an archangel is mentioned, and this could be due to that fact that many people turn to religion when they are feeling lost. Another flashback he experienced is the memory of a place he had once visited, ‘’His favourite garden in the world had been the grass garden at Kew. ’’ This recollection of time could have been an escape from the unfamiliarity he was surrounded by.

In relation to his doubt and alteration between the past and the present, using ambiguous pronouns and sentence structure the author begins to combine senses. A sense confusion is established through the use of sentence structure, personification, similes and imagery. ‘’ The colours so delicate and various, like levels of ash on a hill. ’’ Here, the author is comparing delicate colours to ash, something with no life in it. The English Patient could be going through this bewilderment due to the state he is in, where he has fallen from the sky and could possibly be near death.

Another quote with the mix up of senses is, ‘‘one night he heard what seemed to be wind chimes high in the air, and after a whole it stopped and he fell asleep with a hunger for it. ’’ In these few words, he is combining the auditory and gustatory senses, once again, done to convey the lack of familiarity that the English Patient is experiencing. Personification is used when the author describes the smell of the perfume diffusing into the air; this is done to connect the scenario to our own senses ‘‘with the unlocking of each bottle the perfumes fell out. ’ Finally, Ondaatje uses the following quote to create focus on the perfume bottles that are being opened next to the injured man, ‘’There was an odour of the sea. The smell of rust. Indigo. Ink. River-mud arrow-wood formaldehyde paraffin ether. ’’ Ondaatje first uses the smell of rust and then moves on to using words that relate to the visual sense such as indigo and ink. The English Patient is being portrayed as someone who is lost, someone who needs aid in order to get a grip of reality with the use of imagery, personification and similes.

Using imagery, metaphors, religious diction, personification and ambiguous pronouns, Michael Ondaatje has used light and darkness to symbolize the purification of the English Patient by the bottle man. ‘’At twilight the felt was unwrapped and he saw a man’s head on a table moving towards him, then realized the man wore a giant yoke from which hung hundreds of small bottles on different lengths of string and wire. ’’ This was the description used for the English Patient’s first glance at the bottle man.

The glowing sky is said to be at twilight, this means that it is only a soft light, but this being behind the bottle man already gives him the representation of someone important. ‘’Behind him was translated light – blues and other colours shivering in the haze and sand. ’’ With the imagery of, ‘’He walked through sandstorms with this coat of bottles, his ears plugged with two other small corks so he seemed a vessel to himself, this merchant, doctor, this king of oils and perfumes and panaceas, this Baptist,’’ our minds are once again forced to make a link to religion, to baptism which is the act of purifying and regeneration.

With imagery and religious diction, The English patient is portrayed to have guilt coming from his past and therefore, given the state of mind he is at, the curing of the bottle man could be seen as the opportunity of a new start to him. With the use of sensory imagery, narrative structure, metaphors and various forms of diction, we have come to understand what the English Patient was going through after his accident. The disorientation of being ‘caught out of the sky’ has brought him to a state of confusion, leaving us experiencing something similar through the use of ambiguous pronouns.

The man experiences his mind altering between the present and past with a reminiscence of drawing archangels as a young boy. With no grip of reality and the use of sentence structure, senses are played with as perfume diffuses in the air. A man, uncertain of where he is or who the people around him are, he is injured both mentally and physically. With guilt on his mind and a soft twilight in the sky, he is purified by the bottle man and his scented potion bottles.

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