Found Objects and Competing Stories in Chatwin's In Patagonia

Julia Hyun '90 (English 137, 1990)

One way the travel writer brings back his experience is through stories--both his own and those that he has collected during his travels. All stories become artifacts that he examines for clues to both the familiar and the strange. He tests out known stories, myths, and legends while looking at new or alternative ones at the same time. The stories, in many respects, function like the multi-voiced dialogues of McPhee, for they allow different perspectives or mini-narratives to exist within a single, larger narrative.

For example, Bruce Chatwin's discussion of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in his book, In Patagonia , is a confused, apparently chaotic, but patterned linking of both the familiar and unfamiliar in this other world of South America. The two legendary figures, eventually self-exiled to Patagonia, are the subjects of numerous truths, half truths, and complete untruths which Chatwin must navigate. Chatwin thus carefully begins by introducing the reader to a nameless log cabin in a section preceding the actual discussion of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The log cabin is like a found object which initiates him, and eventually the audience, into the series of Cassidy and Kid legends. By the time we learn that the original builder of the log cabin was Butch Cassidy, we are already in tbe midst of interwoven narratives concerning the famous outlaws. Chatwin ultimately weaves all of these competing narratives together to create a composite picture grounded in South America, the North American West, and his own England where he must have first heard these stories. In the end, making the audience understand these links creates the sense that it actually has a stake in the land Chatwin travels.

United Kingdom In Patagonia