Characters as Portrayed Through Themes and Images in The English Patient
While the four main characters of The English Patient are extremely powerful, and important to the reader's understanding of the story, they cannot stand alone without the patterns of imagery, symbolism and metaphor which underpin the text, and offer a complexity which extends beyond the literal level. These patterns reveal information about each character, and provide significant links between characters and ideas which lead to a greater understanding of the novel. Likewise, the plot would have little impact upon the reader were the novel not so densely coloured with these patterns of imagery, symbol and metaphor; amongst which skin, hands, mapping and the elements are particularly important.
A metaphorical idea which resonates throughout the novel, and is present in all of the characters (particularly the English patient and Caravaggio) is the concept of man as a sort of communal Book, whereby every aspect of his life, and his relationships with others are "mapped" onto him. This also operates literally, through the obvious markings of scars on the English patient, and in Caravaggio's case, the loss of both thumbs.
...his black body, beginning at his destroyed feet... ahove the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone.
This description of the English patient's body is gruesome and confronting; it addresses the theme of pain, the construction of identity, and of course the physical evidence of his tortured past, which the reader learns more about as this imagery develops. It is almost as if his body is a landscape; a war zone onto which all evidence of suffering is mapped.
Imagery of hands is used repeatedly in the novel to communicate the theme of the ambiguity of the past and experience, but also as being an important medium for reflection and observation.
Her father had taught her about hands. About a dog¹s pawsŠhe would smell the base of it¹s paw. This, he would say, is the greatest smell in the world! A bouquet!Ša hint of all the paths the animal had taken during the day.
Whilst hands are explored as a medium for recording history and experience, the idea of past experience as ambiguous and subjective is very important to the text. Whilst Hana's father recognises the reflexive nature of the body, and hands, he does not acknowledge the other side to the argument; the fact that experience and identity can be hidden through the physical nature of the body. This manifests itself in the scarred state of the English patient; a man (despite his 'label') without nation, name or a tangible, accessible past. The scars on his body allow him to live as a blank canvas, and any speculations as to his possible identities, are just that; speculations, despite how credible they may be.
To find "truths', is an impossible task, as the nature of history and ...