Just a Bit Strange

Xiyun Yang, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia is a travel narrative extracted from a collection of character studies in the land of Patagonia. The title, In Patagonia is indicative of the nature of the book: the subject of the book is not so much theland of Patagonia, but rather, it is those individuals who inhabit Patagonia. Chatwin flutters by the individuals he encounters, briefly delineating their stories as he has come to know them; some stories are more intricate and intimate than others, but none are conclusive. These eccentric, disjointed, and socially marginalized individuals make up Chatwin'sPatagonia.

Father Palacios flooded me with information: statistics, radio-carbon dates migrations of men and animals, marine regressions, upheavals of theAndesor the appearance of new artifactsŠI took careful notes. The father, his soutane flapping, stood by the charred remains of the chair. "Que inteligencia!" he said. "Oh Padre! Quesabiduria!" Father Palacios smiled and continued . . . "O Patagonia!" he cried. "You do not yield your secrets to fools. Experts come from Buenos Aires, from North America even. What do they know? One can but marvel at their incompetence. Not one palaeontologist has yet unearthed the bones of the unicorn." . . . The lecture melted into a dream voyage. Marquesans beached their canoes in the fjords of Southern Chile, scaled the Andes, settled by Lake Musters and merged with the indigenous population. Father Palacios described his own discovery, in Tierra del Fuego, the sculpture of a headless woman, life size and smothered in red ochre.

Again and again, Chatwin encounters individuals that live in a strange, fantastic, and anachronistic reality. How are these individuals presented in the text? What tone does he use to describe them?

Is there any sense of judgment from Chatwin? If stories are told through what is omitted as well as what is included, how does Chatwin's lack of judgment contribute to the Patagonia that he wants to present to the reader? Why has he chosen to include these characters? In what ways are these characters similar to the ladies who believe in fables and myths in McPhee's Colonsay?

After reading Patagoniaas Chatwin experienced it, in flashes of incomplete personalities, the people of Patagonia become a becomes a blur of images and people. Is Chatwin's lack of overall coherence effective?

United Kingdom In Patagonia Reading and Discussion Questions

Last modified 16 November 2003