Study Guide

The English Patient Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ordinary World

The world felt like a more ordinary place before World War II. Or at least a much safer place. And pre-World War II Egypt is a paradise of sorts for Almásy, a man who likes to be by himself and enjoys the isolation of the desert. All that is about to change.

Call To Adventure

In The English Patient, this is less a call to adventure and more a call to another a-word. No, not arson. Or Almond Joy. It's adultery.

Almásy's life as he knows it changes when Katharine Clifton tells an entrancing story over the fire, and lights a fire in Almásy's… um… heart.

Refusal Of The Call

Adultery isn't Almásy's thing, so he initially resists the temptation to succumb to Katharine. Her husband is goofy, but good-natured. And Almásy likes to stay out of trouble. To have an affair with Katharine would be to start a whole bunch of drama that Almásy doesn't want, and he doesn't even understand the Pandora's Box of a disaster that will be unleashed when they finally get into bed together.

Meeting The Mentor

Katharine Clifton is both mentor and lover to Almásy, because she teaches him how to love. He is notoriously private and guarded, to the point of seeming rude. When Katharine comes along, she convinces him to open up and give himself to her completely. Their lives will never be the same.

Crossing The Threshold

Almásy doesn't actually cross the threshold. After spending the night in a sandstorm with Katharine, he retreats to his hotel room, and firmly closes the door. It's Katharine who opens the door and crosses the threshold into his room. Not that he resists.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Almásy is still in Egypt, but far outside his normal comfort zone of being an isolated weirdo. Having an affair with Katharine forces the two of them to sneak around, and for Almásy to confront his greatest enemy: his emotions. Almásy becomes increasingly more volatile the more the two of them try to hide their affair, and he drives Katharine away.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

The English Patient has a literal cave: the Cave of Swimmers. It should be a lovely, magical place. It's decorated with cave paintings of swimmers, people who are light and free. But inside, Katharine is dying. She has been hurt because of her affair with Almásy, and he must face the fact that their affair has killed her, and has changed his life forever. He is punished for his actions.


Almásy's attempt to rescue Katharine from the cave is a major ordeal. He must trek alone across the desert in brutal conditions. He encounters English soldiers who mistake him for a German and arrest him. Then he must escape from an English prisoner of war train, and trade his maps to Germans for a plane to rescue Katharine. It's physically and emotionally draining.

The rotten cherry on this sundae is yet to come. Katharine is dead when Almásy gets there, and Almásy himself almost dies when his plane is shot down. He is badly burned, and his entire identity is erased. He is reborn as "the English patient," a man without a name or a face.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Almásy doesn't get a reward. His skin is burned off, and he lives the rest of his days in excruciating pain. His love died, and he must live every day with the knowledge that she died because of him. For many men in war, surviving is a reward. But for Almásy, it is a punishment.

The Road Back

Almásy takes a figurative road back into the past, forcing him to relive all the actions that led him to this point, and to come to terms with him. He is nudged along by Hana, who wants to learn about her patient, and Caravaggio, who believes that his own pain was caused by Almásy. To Hana and Caravaggio, Almásy is a stranger, and the road into his memories takes them to unexpected places.


Resurrection occurs when Hana reads Katharine's final words to Almásy. When he listens, he feels like he and Katharine are together again. It's a bittersweet memory, but he hangs onto the positive image of her and the happiness he felt when they were together. In his memory of the past, they are alive, together, and whole. With that on his mind, he wants to die happy, and he asks Hana to administer morphine and end his life.

Return With The Elixir

The elixir in this case is... morphine. Hana euthanizes Almásy, which is what he wants. By telling his story, Almásy changes the lives of those around him in the present. Caravaggio learns the truth, and no longer has a grudge against Almásy. And Hana learns to accept love and loss as it comes. Almásy may be gone, but those who still live will be forever changed because they knew him.

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