Chatwin's Representative Characters

Abigail Metcalf (English 137, 1990)

As Chatwin travels through Patagonia, he encounters many representative characters like the old woman in D. H. Lawrence¹s Twilight in Italy whose eyes "remained candid and open and unconscious as the skies" (25). For Lawrence, she embodies certain characteristics of all Italians and the South. Chatwin similarly uses individual people as representatives of a nation¹s mind and soul. In Puntas Arenas, Leftist patriots celebrate to the sound of Sousa marches while a bit of Edwardian England serves scones and tea and justifies the massacres of Indians with the comment that they had "no civilization or anything" (p.143). An Indian scholar attempts to convince Chatwin that Man originated in Patagonia instead of Africa and the last of these South American ancestors was seen in 1928. The sheer numbers of characteristic people and events which Chatwin describes give his narrative an episodic quality which becomes emphasized as we realize that every new incident, every new outrageous personality illustrates yet another false story that a Patagonian tells himself.

The harsh environment and circumstances which the Patagonians suffer seems to necessitate extremes, and Chatwin's outrageous finds demonstrate the clarity of vision possible in Patagonia, for here it seems we can plainly see the fictions that enable us to live. In one of the most memorable series of episodes, Chatwin narrates the career of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in order to demonstrate the utter necessity of his trip to true vision. In the northern hemisphere, we believe the outcome of a movie to be an accurate representation of the criminals' demise, but the evidence in Patagonia proves the falsity of this ending. Though the actual cause and year of his death remain debatable, Butch Cassidy clearly survived the shoot-out in 1909 for he appears as Evans at least as late as 1911. Chatwin persuades us that in no place but Patagonia could this truth and many others be found.

United Kingdom In Patagonia