Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient" -- The characters of Katherine and Hana, and how they offer two opposing portrayals of womanhood.

Essay by AetheriusUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, March 2004

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The English Patient is a book that revolves around much more than the identity and story of its title character. A diverse group of people collect around the idyllic paradise of the villa, and boundaries of race and culture blur and fade. However, Ondaatje's obsession with identity and coming to terms with it reach into another, smaller comparison: the two female characters of the novel. Hana and Katherine, both very different characters, are juxtaposed with one another to show a surprising contrast. Katherine is expressed as a woman frustrated by relationships she finds inescapable yet incomplete, unwittingly manipulated by those she loves, while Hana is a newly-confident woman who has made peace with her duties in life and is resolved to work her way up to being a true adult.

Katherine Clifton married her husband while still quite young; traveling with him to Northern Africa, she is a voracious reader and seeks to learn as much as she can about the desert and Cairo.

Though her husband is kind, his small mannerisms irritate her and she assertively initiates an affair with the English Patient. He is called Almásy, and the two of them maintain a torrid and often violent sexual relationship. Despite her seemingly strong and aggressive tendencies, however, Katherine's primary role in the novel is that of a possession. One man's wife and another man's lover, we learn the most about Katherine through other characters' descriptions of her. Almásy views her as something to own defined only by its parts, and this role as a feminine, sexual object becomes her only form of expression in the world of the novel. In no time we find Katherine being represented by her relations and relationships with men, rather than speaking with a voice and personality of her own.

Katherine's victimization...