Ondaatje's The English Patient and Rewriting History

Stephanie M. Hilger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

This abstract from the CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture appears with the kind permission of Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek. Copyright remains of course with the author and CLCWeb

Stephanie M. Hilger situates the novel within the long-standing Western tradition of writing about the cultural "Other," from Herodotus to Michel de Montaigne to Rudyard Kipling. Michel de Certeau's notion of history serves as a reference point for the analysis of Ondaatje's presentation of the "English" patient's story as well as of twentieth-century history. Hilger argues that the protagonist's physical mutilation is a metonymic representation of post-World War II and postcolonial consciousness. In the same way that the characters in the novel attempt to understand the mystery that is the "English" patient, Ondaatje's readers are led on a search for the understanding of a brutal and fragmented reality. While the novel questions and undermines the opposition between the "civilized" and the "barbarian," Ondaatje also suggests that certain historical realities, such as the dropping of the atomic bomb, force characters into a binary that they have been trying to deconstruct throughout the narrative.

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Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Michael Ondaatje

Last modified: 12 August 2004