The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Contributed by Pearl Vahle
Character Analysis
Almasy / The English Patient

Almasy is the burned English patient who stays at the village with Hana. He was burned when his helicopter crashed - a crash engineered by the man with whose wife he was having an affair. Almasy is a slippery, cryptic character, and is not particularly adept at self-examination. The characters seem to live through him, using him to heal their own wounds, as Hana does when she chains herself to him to repair the emotional trauma at the hands of her father. Almasy seems at once regretful of the circumstances that led to his lover’s death and his own wounds and mystified by the passion that engulfed him, quite literally, in flames. Having lived a full life, he is still amazed by the consumptive power of love, and advises those around him to seek it out, even though it can be as destructive as it is beautiful.

Hana / The Nurse

Hana is a twenty-year-old nurse for the Allies during World War II. She has spent much of her life treating patients and watching them die, and she seems to have a particular affinity for death. Initially we’re not sure why Hana chains herself to the English patient in this lonely villa - we sense that she is emotionally wounded, and that she is withdrawing deeper inside herself. She is ultimately brought out by a sequence of events - all of which bring people to the villa, including Kip and Caravaggio, with whom she becomes involved in a love triangle. Hana falls in love with Kip, but he seems emotionally distanced. Almasy urges her to find that fire within and to kindle it. Ultimately it is revealed that Hana lost her father to an accident where he was burned beyond recognition, but she was too far away to save him. She never forgave herself, and chains herself to this English patient for atonement.

Kip / Kirpal Singh

Kirpal Singh is a "sapper" (soldier) for the British, and works in demining and bomb defusion. He found a mentor in Lord Suffolk, but when Lord Suffolk died in a bomb explosion, he, like Hana, turned inwards. At the villa, Kip falls in love with Hana, but we see that deep down he is uncomfortable with his own race, and has never been comfortable being part of a culture that was subservient to the British.


Caravaggio is a thief who had his hands amputated when he was caught during the war. He comes to the villa to try to get Hana to leave, since the place is littered with mines. Eventually, however, he falls in love with her (somewhat surprisingly, since he’s quite a bit older than her). Ultimately, Caravaggio is her practical guide, where Almasy is her ethereal guide.

Katharine Clifton

Katharine Clifton was the wife of Geoffrey Clifton, and came on one of his expeditions just after they were married. The English patient quickly fell in love with this Oxford-educated firebrand and began an adulterous affair with her that led to both of their demises, when Geoffrey tried to kill them both in a plane crash. Katharine is stubborn and feisty, and is frustrated by Almasy’s coldness. She leaves him because he can’t bear to be owned by her, but ultimately dies because of the time they spent together. When she dies, Almasy leaves her in a cave, promising to come back, but he is never able to.

Geoffrey Clifton

Geoffrey Clifton is Katharine’s seemingly gregarious husband who is part of Almasy’s expedition to chart the Terzura Oasis. As a part of the aristocracy, he is fiercely protective of his wife. When he finds out that she is having an affair with Almasy, he initiates a murder-suicide plane crash that kills him and his wife and burns Almasy beyond recognition. Later, Almasy learns that Geoffrey wasn’t just on the expedition for an adventure - he was part of British intelligence.

Lord Suffolk

Lord Suffolk is Kirpal Singh’s mentor when he is a sapper in the bomb-defusing unit of the British Army. Kip thinks of him as the best English gentleman he has ever met - and one of the best people he has ever known, almost a surrogate father. When Lord Suffolk is blown up by a 250-kg bomb, Kip is expected to take over for him - to be the new leader of the troop - but Kip finds the shoes too big to fill and escapes.


Madox is the English patient’s best friend in the desert. He ultimately commits suicide because he believes the Church is promoting war instead of withdrawing from it. He seems constantly at odds with his practical and philosophical beliefs.

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