The English Patient: Chapters 4-5
Summary – Chapter Four, ‘South Cairo 1930-1938’, and Chapter Five, ‘Katharine’
Chapter Four begins with the information that after Herodotus little interest was shown by the West in the desert for centuries. Lectures at the Geographical Society in the 1920s gave ‘a sweet postscript history on this pocket of earth’. In 1939, the decade of Libyan Desert expeditions ended and it became one of the ‘theatres of war’.
From his room, and with Hana beside him like his squire, the burned patient travels great distances. He describes how in 1930 he was part of an expedition that was looking for the lost oasis Zerzura, located in the Gilf Kebr, a plateau in the Libyan desert. He also tells of a sandstorm and how they had to keep moving or they would be locked in. Through the early 1930s they would crisscross the Forty Days Road and he ‘came to hate nations’, saying ‘we are deformed by nation-states’. He also says the desert could not be ‘claimed or owned’ and that by the time war arrived it was easy for him to slip across borders. He adds that ‘when we are young we do not look into mirrors’ and it is when we are older that we are concerned with ‘our name, our legend, what our lives will mean to the future’.
In 1936, a young man called Geoffrey Clifton contacted him and joined the expedition with his new wife, Katharine. The group consisted of four explorers - Prince Kernai. Bell, Almasy and Madox. Clifton flew his own plane, making their search much easier.
Katharine had ‘classical blood in her face’ and her parents were famous in the world of legal history. The patient fell in love with her voice and danced with her a few months later in Cairo. He thinks the face that most revealed her was when they were half drunk and not lovers. He said nothing when Katharine asked, ‘If I gave you my life, you would drop it. Wouldn’t you?’
In Chapter Five, it is explained how Katharine used to dream of him (the patient) and he explained this as ‘propinquity’: ‘For him all relationships fell into patterns. You fell into propinquity or distance.’
A list of wounds is given from when she hit him, threw a plate at him and stuck a fork in him. She insisted they stop seeing each other, saying she thinks ‘he’ (her husband) will go mad. The patient felt ‘disassembled’ by her after falling in love with her. She whispered to him that from this point they will either find or lose their souls.
Analysis – Chapters Four and Five
As the patient reveals his background, his passionate relationship with Katharine is exposed and the narrative takes up the thread of romance. The claim that he felt ‘disassembled’ by her emphasizes this as love is used to add to his characterization and to enhance the narrative.
The patient’s professed hatred of nations is also made explicit here and this tallies with the novel’s overriding questioning of war and the destruction that remains once war is supposedly over.
The English Patient Study GuideChoose to Continue
- The English Patient
- Novel Summary
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 1 Continued
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 2 Continued
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 3 Continued
- Chapters 4-5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 9 Continued
- Chapter 10
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Michael Ondaatje
- Essay Q&A