Chatwin as Outsider

Seth Kalvert '91 (English 137, 1990)

In contrast to John McPhee's Crofter and the Laird, Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia clearly acknowledges the fact that the author is an outsider in the emphasis it places upon outside sources and texts. No less than twenty-five sources are listed at the back of the book as having informed Chatwin's account of Argentina, and references to Butch Cassidy, Charley Milward, and other transplanted foreigners are plentiful. This approach to Patagonia is entirely appropriate because of the mosaic-like quality of the community itself. For Patagonia has meant many different things to many different people, among them the multitude of foreign-born expatriate ex-patriots who settle here in search of a specifically perceived South American lifestyle.

Chatwin aims to show that everyone in Patagonia is an outsider: Americans, British, Welsh, Italian, German, none are endemic to the population, and the Indians themselves have lost their native claim. "In the British Club at Ro Gallegos there was chipped cream paint and not a word of English spoken" (p. 98). Chatwin also depicts the somewhat comical attempts of outsiders to fashion their own glorified histories in a land with no strong common heritage:

"And what part of the old country d'you come from?" he asked.

"Gloucestershire."

"Gloucestershire, eh! Gloucestershire! In the North, what?"

"In the West."

"Damn me, so it is. The West. Yes. Our place was in Chippenham. Probably never heard of it. That's in Wiltshire."

"About fifteen miles from me."

"Probably a different Chippenham" (p. 32).

In this land built by colonization, Chatwin shows that identities are also fair game.


United Kingdom In Patagonia