World War II was a traumatic and life-changing experience for all who lived through the
time period. Michael Ondaatje’s novel, The English Patient is set in the direct aftermath of this
turbulent and violent era. Each of his characters is effected by the death and violence that go
hand in hand with war; Hana in particular is profoundly changed by her experience as a nurse in
an Italian hospital. Hana is a woman in ruins, both physically and mentally; by looking at her
experiences with death and her relationships to the English Patient, Kip, and her surroundings,
she can be seen as a representative of the victims of war, a complex human face on the backdrop
of the battleground. By comparing these traits of hers with the psychological perspective on death
and war, Hana is shown to begin life as an innocent child, though subject to human fears and
mortalities, death and war permanently handicap her to the joys of life.
Hana is born in Canada, far removed from the war-torn Europe that will someday ruin
her. Throughout the text, Ondaatje mixes flashes of Hana’s past into the narrative through other
characters or by her own tale to illuminate her ultimate loss of innocence. One of the most
important insights of Hana comes from the character Caravaggio. When he is reminiscing about
the past with her, he talks of many things, including a birthday party where she sang on a
barstool, prompts him to observe that “you didn’t know the exact words but you knew what the
song was about” (Ondaatje 53). He remembers a carefree Hana, sweet and innocent, who
understood the melody of life, even if she did not understand all the details. This...
... middle of paper ...
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Hanscom, Karen L. “Treating Survivors of War Trauma and Torture”. American Psychologist.
Nov. 2001, Vol. 56, Issue 11, p1032, 7 pages.
Kastenbaum, Robert. Death, Society, and Human Experience. New York, NY: Merrill Publishing
Ondaatje, Michael. The English Patient. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1993.
Schulz, Richard. The Psychology of Death, Dying, and Bereavement. Reading, Mass.: Addison-
Wesley Publishing Co., c1978.
Yule, William. “Reactions to Traumatic Experiences: understanding and treatment”.
International Review of Psychiatry. Aug 2001, Vol. 13, Issue 3, p149, 1 page.
Zvizdic, Sibela. “War-Related Loss of One’s Father and Persistent Depressive Reactions”.
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