Textual Palimpsests in In Patagonia

Rachel Aviv '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

In Patagonia destabilizes the notion that the West is the center of civilization. Western cultural heritage -- supposedly an original product of Europe and the U.S. -- is presented instead as the product of passed-on stories, many of which come from South America. In Chapter 49, for example, Chatwin suggests that Shakespeare based parts of The Tempest on, of all sources, a South American travel narrative:

Into the mouth of Caliban, Shakespeare packed all the bitterness of the New World. ("This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou tak'st from me.") He saw how the white man's language was a weapon of war ("The red plague rid you for learning me your language."); how the Indians would grovel to any jackass who promised freedom ("I'll kiss thy foot . . . " "I'll lick thy shoe . . . "Ban 'Ban Cacaliban has a new master -- get a new man").

Chatwin goes on to quote Shakespeare directly. What is the effect of this overlaying of texts -- Chatwin's with Pigafetta's with Shakespeare's? Does the fusion of the texts serve at all to erase their boundaries?

In the opening of the chapter, Chatwin writes that "history aspires to the symmetry of myth" and throughout the book he seems preoccupied with the foggy interactions between history, science, fiction and myth. How does this passage of multiple quotes illuminate such an interaction?

At the very beginning of the book Chatwin tells the story of Dr Ameghino, who believed that all hot-blooded animals originated in South America. How does this story connect to the claim about Shakespeare? What do these two claims reveal about Patagonian culture?

United Kingdom In Patagonia Reading and Discussion Questions

Last modified 16 November 2003