In travel writing, an author tells the reader about a place he or she has gone to and seen in a unique way. In In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin, a sage writing from the physical periphery of the earth, describes southern Argentina. The connection between author and reader in a situation like this has the potential to be very impersonal — it is easy for a writer, when discussing a subject only he is familiar with, to become pedantic and boring — but Chatwin avoids this.
One of the ways he forges a more intimate relationship with the reader is through the use of journal entries and the second person.
My notebook conveys something of the mood:
Walked all day and the next day. The road straight, grey, dusty, and trafficless. The wind relentless, heading you off. Sometimes you heard a truck, you knew for certain it was a truck, but it was the wind . . . Even if a truck had come up behind you wouldn't have heard it. And even if you'd been downwind, the wind would have drowned the engine. The one noise you did hear was a guanaco…Guanacos are shy animals, you were told, but this one was mad for you. And when you could walk no more and laid out your sleeping bag, he was there gurgling and sniveling and keeping the same distance. In the morning he was right up close, but the shock of you getting out of your skin was too much for him. That was the end of the friendship and you watched him bounding away over a thorn bush like a galleon in a following sea. [pp. 75-76]
The distinguishing feature of this notebook passage is its use of the second person. The rest of In Patagonia is almost entirely written in the first person.
What effect does the use of the second person have on the reader's reaction to Chatwin's story? Does it, in fact, "convey something of the mood" that a first-person account cannot (p. 75)?
Why do you think he chooses to use the second person here in his journal entry and very rarely throughout the rest of the book?
What does the inclusion of a passage from Chatwin's notebook do to his connection with the reader? How does it affect his role as a travel writer? As a sage writer?
In Praeterita, Ruskin includes handwritten notes to display his development of literacy. In The White Album, Didion reprints a packing list to show her life as a traveling reporter. How might Chatwin's inclusion of a journal entry be compared to these examples?
Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
Last modified 18 April 2005