Sane man in a land of "locos"

James Ollen-Smith '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Chatwin often describes humorous interactions between himself and strange, melodramatic Patagonian characters, painting himself as the sane straight-man in contrast with the wacky local. These scenes are certainly good for a laugh, but they also tend to set up Chatwin as the normal’ guy wandering through a land of "locos." Consider the following: (from pp. 33-34)

"How you like my friend?’" asked Ali.

"I like him. He's a nice friend."

"He is my friend."

"I'm sure."

"He is my very good friend." He pushed his face up to mine. "And this is our room." He opened a door. There was a double-bed with a stuffed doll perched on the pillow. On the wall, strung up on a leather thong, was a big steel machete, which Ali waved in my face.

"Ha! I kill the ungodly."

"Put that thing down."

"English is infidel."

"I said put that thing down."

"I only joke," he said and strung the machete back on its hook. "Is very dangerous here. Argentine is very dangerous people. I have revolver also."

"I don't want to see it."

Ali then showed me the garden and admired it. The Bahais had set their hand to sculpture and garden furniture, and the Bolivian had made a crazy-paving path.

"And now you must go," Ali said. "I am tired yet and we must sleep."

The Bolivian did not want me to go. It was a lovely day. He did want to go fishing. Going to bed that morning was the last thing he wanted to do.

Does this technique of opposing normal -- Chatwin with strange Patagonian -- cause the reader to identify more with Chatwin, the narrator? If so, does it lend more credibility or authority to Chatwin, the author?

United Kingdom In Patagonia Reading and Discussion Questions

Last modified 11 April 2002