Seamless Switching

Caroline Ang '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia is a fascinating account of the author's travels through South America and the stories that he finds there. His flair for storytelling creates a colorful amalgamation of travel and adventure, local folklore, legends and myths, individual stories and personal histories.

Although he does write his book in the first person, Chatwin as a character sometimes fades to the background of the action. The spotlight switches off among himself, the inhabitants of Patagonia and the legends that he retells.

Usually Chatwin segues between stories and characters in a conventional manner, using dialogue (among other things) to introduce new topics and subjects. However, once in a while he takes a different approach and turns the attention to himself seamlessly, as in the following passages:

Wilson had taken the trigger off and feathered the mechanism. He reached for a miniature revolver strung round his neck and shot ApIwan through the heart. The outlaws rode off south to their camp at Rio Pico. Following the scent of the story, I followed and cut back to the main road. [54]


Wilson's hand was septic and swollen. He had been repacking a cartridge and it had exploded. Dona Guillermina Hahn dressed the wound and they rode back into the cover of the mountains... Cantering back to Las Pampas and dodging the low branches across the track, my saddle-girth snapped and the horse pitched me in among sharp rocks below... My hand was cut to the bone and we rode down to Rio Pico to have it dressed. [59]

Reading Questions:

1. What effect does this smooth transition from story to author have on the reader?

2. How does this technique affect/influence our sense of timing and reality?

3. What parallels do we draw as readers about the author? Do these parallels improve his credibility or cause us to question it?

United Kingdom In Patagonia Reading and Discussion Questions

Last modified 11 April 2002