International Journal of
English and Literature

  • Abbreviation: Int. J. English Lit.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2626
  • DOI: 10.5897/IJEL
  • Start Year: 2010
  • Published Articles: 278

Full Length Research Paper

Telling Stories in a World That Doesn’t Fit Them: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

Lee Wan-lun
  • Lee Wan-lun
  • Fu Jen Catholic University Taiwan, Taiwan.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 04 July 2014
  •  Accepted: 21 August 2014
  •  Published: 30 November 2014


This paper explores the tension between the human need for the form of story and the lack of structure in reality, and how such tension is presented and dealt with in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Proceeding in a fragmented, discontinuous, and cyclical narrative pattern, this late-twentieth-century postmodern novel shows no intention to tell a coherent, structured, meaningful story but confronts its readers with the ways in which human beings make sense of the world and construct their knowledge of reality. However, instead of turning his novel into an unreadable chaos, Ondaatje endeavors to establish a new model of storytelling, or of fiction-making, that can not only satisfy the human desire for a “comfortable” story but also be true to the non-narrative, unstructured essence of reality as it is experienced in real life. Thus, although readers of The English Patient are likely to get lost in the non-sequential and strange orders of reading, they can still rely on the unique connection and coherence skillfully imposed on the seemingly fragmentary and repetitive narrative discourse of the novel to piece all the fragments together themselves and get a more and more understandable picture of what has actually happened in a world that does not conform to the straightforward progression of a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Key words: Storytelling, reality, postmodern, narrative techniques.