Stories and the Complexity of Truth In Patagonia

Frederica Miller '91 (English 137, 1990)

The plot of In Patagonia is based upon Chatwin's search for different sources of information on subjects including the Indians, Charlie Milward, and Butch Cassidy. No one version is correct. In Patagoniaalso implies that history is only a collection of stories; printed data is no more and no less true than oral, and he therefore investigates both. People, who may not even know when their stories are false, assume knowledge that they do not have. In Rio Gallegos, one manıs story is another manıs history. For example, asking some men about a sect of male witches, he receives different responses. ³ŒThe Brujeria,ı they smiled. ŒThatıs only a story.ı But one old man went cold and silent at the mention of the word² (p.107). He follows this passage with three and one-half pages about the Brujero, who seem to have no relation to the rest of the book, but, all stories, Chatwin implies, are connected in some ways. The three stories that he tells are all interconnected by some means. He finds, for example, that Antonio Soto worked in the iron foundry of his Aunt, Mrs. Charles Amherst Milward.

The strongest statement about stories, however, comes from his unwillingness to incorporate large sections of other works into his own. This incorporation, which suggests that even the authorıs version is not paramount, contrasts with someone like Jonathan Raban who must prove his work more valid than those he quotes. The difference, however, is that Chatwin is telling the audience that there is no truth. With no truth, Chatwin has no need to compete; his value lies in his knowledge and ability to gather multiple relevant sources of information for us. In Songlines , quotations represent a part of his character. Often eloquent and often taken from famous authors, they serve to give validity by association and to impress us with his literary knowledge. In Songlines , his success depends on his drawing a connection between the aborigines, his favorite quotations, and ultimately himself.

United Kingdom In Patagonia

Last Modified: 20 March, 2002