Towards the end of In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin describes the suicide of a local barber. He paints a picture of a very lonely man. The barber, Jose Macias, is similar to many of the other Patagonians Chatwin characterizes. Macias is an émigré-- he came from the south of Chiloe, but left the island in his youth. He is a solitary figure, eking out his existence alone. Chatwin describes the episodes of fatherhood and marriage as mere interludes in Macias fairly isolated life. Chatwin sets up Macias' suicide as the logical conclusion to a rather remote life.
Using an old Winchester, the barber had put a bullet through his right temple. With reflexes still functioning he had fired a second shot which missed and hit a calendar of the local glacier. The chair swiveled to the left and the body slumped sideways to the floor. His fish-eyes gaped glassily at the ceiling. A pool of blood lay on the blue linoleum. Blood had clotted on his steely Indian-stiff hair.
Macias prepared for death with his habitual attention to detail. He shaved, and trimmed his moustache. He drank his mate and emptied the green sludge into the garbage pail. He polished his shoes and put on his best Buenos Aires suit of striped worsted . . . He shot himself on a Monday. The Sunday crowds had seen him out bicycling, for health they said, the old man in a beret and flapping raincoat, bent against the wind, zig-zagging street by street, then peddling out along the bay till he was swallowed up by the immensity of the landscape. [pp. 180-181]
1. How does Chatwin use the landscape of the Patagonia in this passage? Why does he emphasize the glaciers and the "immensity of the landscape" in a vignette about suicide?
2. This is one of the final chapters in the book. Why does Chatwin choose this image as one of the last things a reader will remember? What does it say about his feelings towards Patagonia?
3. The tone of this excerpt is matter-of-fact. When describing Macias' suicide, Chatwin uses short sentences and spare images, for example, "The chair swiveled to the left and the body slumped sideways to the floor. His fish-eyes gaped glassily at the ceiling. A pool of blood lay on the blue linoleum." Why does Chatwin use such a sterile tone to describe something as potentially passionate as a death? What does this say about the book, about Patagonia, about the narrator?
Last modified 19 November 2003