The English Patient: Chapter 2 Continued

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Summary – Chapter Two continued

Hana used to read in her youth and in her childhood ‘her classroom’ had been Caravaggio. He used to teach her how to perform somersaults. In 1943, and on being trained at the Women’s College Hospital, she was sent abroad during the Sicilian invasion. She cut her hair during this time after being surrounded day and night by the wounded. After this, she did not look at herself in mirrors again and grew harsher with herself and her patients.
 
When one of the patients died, she broke the rules and took his tennis shoes (and is still wearing them now). She became thin and was always hungry. At the villa, and as the war moved north, she decided ‘her war was over’ and she would not go anywhere else. She would stay here with the English patient who should not be moved because of ‘the fragility of his limbs’.
 
She now wears a brown frock rather than her uniform and has stepped away from the war. It is repeated how she will stay here with the Englishman and this will be until the nuns reclaim this convent. When she made this decision, a celebration was underway in the area. At this time, she also looked at her reflection and tried to recognize herself.
 
In the present, Caravaggio talks to Hana about when she sang for the first time at someone’s birthday party (on Danforth Avenue, Toronto). After the song, he remembers she ‘walked off the table’ into her father’s arms.
 
Hana unravels the bandages from Caravaggio’s hands and asks about his injury. He says he was caught jumping from that woman’s window and it was not her fault. He then shows her that both of his thumbs have been cut away.
 
She says how when she was a child she thought of him as the Scarlet Pimpernel. She then asks who did it to him and he explains that a nurse was brought in to do it and his wrists were handcuffed to the table legs: ‘When they cut off my thumbs my hands slipped out of them without any power.’ He says that the nurse was innocent and that the man in charge was Ranuccio Tommasoni.
 
When they go back inside the villa, they hear the Englishman shouting and they see a dog has appeared in his room.
 
The narrative switches to the Englishman alone with Hana and he says he thinks this room must have belonged to Polizano and explains this would have been in about 1483. As he talks about this period, she is pleased for him to take her ‘somewhere’. She also listens as he reads from his book about great maps that were lost in the bonfire of the vanities.
 
Meanwhile, Caravaggio gives the dog some water and remembers what happened to him. The nurse cut off one thumb and he tried to escape, and Tommasoni picked up a razor. The ‘event’ had ‘produced age’. When they let him go he realized they might follow him to his contact so instead he sat on the balustrade of the Santa Trinità Bridge. However, this was mined and was blown up shortly after, and he was thrown into the Arno. When he tells Hana, she explains that they let him go because the Germans were leaving.
 
The narrative shifts to Hana writing in the blank pages at the back of The Last of the Mohicans about Caravaggio and how she has always loved him, and how she is cared for by him. She closes the book and hides it on a shelf.
 
While the Englishman sleeps, she goes into the library and plays the piano. She is looking down as two men enter. She plays the song her mother taught her and although she has been there for three months this is the first time she has played the piano. In a lightning flash she sees one of the men is a Sikh. Their guns are on the end of the piano and she thinks how she is surrounded by foreign men. When Caravaggio returns, he finds Hana and the two soldiers (from a sapper unit) in the kitchen.
 
Analysis – Chapter Two continued
The depiction of the trauma left by war continues here as Hana’s retreat to the villa is described more fully and Caravaggio’s wounds are explained. They are both seen to be victims of the Second World War and are still in the process of recovering. Hana has also tried to step away from what has happened by stepping out of her uniform, but it is made evident that it is not so easy to have distance on the effects of war.
 
It is in reading that she finds some form of escape from what has happened, and it is in keeping that she writes her more secret thoughts inside the books she has read. Just as she locks away her grief for her father, which is apparent in the way she does not and cannot discuss him throughout the novel, she hides away her thoughts in a book that she puts back on the library shelf.
 
In terms of the novel’s structure, this chapter is also significant for the appearance of the sappers as Hana plays the piano. This is the first introduction of Kip, the Sikh soldier, and he comes to play a main role in the rest of the novel.
 
 

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