Patagoni Critical Context - Essay

Paul Metcalf

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Paul Metcalf is the great grandson of Herman Melville. Like his grandparent, Metcalf’s scope as a writer is broad in geographical and cultural subjects. Melville’s placing a tattoo-covered savage, Queequeg, in bed with Ishmael, the white American narrator of Moby Dick (1851), is comparable to Metcalf’s union of South American Indians and Henry Ford. The connection of pagan and civilized poses the problem many contemporary writers have addressed: Western civilized man is adrift and alienated because he lacks meaningful symbols to order his spirit and behavior.

English writers in the twentieth century have offered various opinions on this problem. T. S. Eliot was pessimistic, sensing in The Waste Land (1922) that cultural cohesion was impossible. Ezra Pound was more optimistic, arguing that America could be saved if Confucian principles were adopted by its rulers. D. H. Lawrence searched past civilizations and advocated abandoning civilized mores and replacing them with the sensibilities of Etruscans or Mexican Indians. Other writers have offered Eastern religion as a means of rescue. The message of Patagoni seems closest to Lawrence’s point of view. The white American needs to return to the symbology of Incans and Mayans and recognize that a place supersedes its inhabitants and must be listened to and, ultimately, worshiped. The Indian’s art had significant dialogue with his place. He was not alienated from but embraced...

(The entire section is 532 words.)