The English Patient

Bodies of Land and Flesh: Human and Environmental Geography in The English Patient and Jazz

Textual, mnemonic, and physical gaps leave room in which identity is found through body and environment in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Toni Morrison's Jazz. Ondaatje's characters retrieve their absent personas by mutually colonizing lovers' bodies, thus developing a metaphor for the body as topography. Morrison spins this in reverse, personifying and merging the City's infrastructure with human structure as the characters synergistically carve out their selves through the City's spaces. Though geographical boundaries do impede characters' ability to connect, both novelists optimistically argue that the bonds of human affection can span the physical borders of the world, for between these no chasm exists.

In The English Patient, empty spaces are represented by Almasy's and other characters' porous memories of history, their bodies, and geography. Ondaatje draws a parallel between human memory and written texts: "So the books for the Englishman, as he listened intently or not, had gaps of plot like sections of a road washed out by storms" (7). The use of a geographical simile also foreshadows the connections between humans and environment Ondaatje will explore....

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