The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Contributed by Pearl Vahle
Symbols
Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.
The Desert

The desert is an inextricable aspect of Ondaatje’s novel in that it provides so many dualities for imagery, theme, metaphor - the heat of the day, the cold of the night; the seeming serenity and then the suddenness of storms; the quiet pierced by the racket of war. Remembering his experiences in the desert, it seems like Almasy cannot bring up his memories chronologically. Instead, the desert seems to refract memory. And everywhere is the image of fire - the Bedouin boy dancing in the moonlight, the plane falling out of the sky, the man on fire before he becomes the English patient. It seems almost tamable, but his experiences there suggest the reverse: the volatile desert, able to consume and ravage at will, is always in control.

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