Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia is, according to the author, both a journey to Patagonia in 1975 and a "symbolic voyage which is a meditation on restlessness and exile." Chatwin was a journalist who wrote for The Sunday Times Magazine. The book In Patagonia was inspired by an interview that Chatwin had with a 93-year-old architect, on whose wall he saw a map of Patagonia—a place where the architect had always wanted to go.

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The major themes of the novel are the quest, the nomadic life, and the hostility of landscape The author's alleged inspiration for the story is a piece of animal skin, which his grandparents referred to as "a piece of brontosaurus" (it was actually from a giant sloth). Chatwin's quest for this animal lends a mystique to the work and frames his search as a fantastical quest.

In Patagonia is structured as ninety-seven chapters, which feature conversations with inhabitants of Patagonia about their nomadic life. The content primarily recounts interviews with people who have settled there. Chatwin's characters are diverse, but their commonality is their having come from other lands.

Finally, the hostility of this extreme landscape is important for Chatwin's work. Patagonia is "a vast, vague territory." The region is defined by its soil and its high winds, "stripping men to the raw." As such, the novel explores how people react to extreme landscapes. It is suggested that such isolation makes men exaggerated versions of themselves. Chatwin remarks on how encounters with "eccentric personalities" pervaded his trip. This exaggerated and remote landscape, for Chatwin and his readers, is a locus for fantastical thoughts and experiences—an effect of the land's simultaneous vastness and remoteness.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1228

Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia is a notable addition to the genre of travel literature. Within this boundary the episodic book ranges freely, partaking of a number of other forms—adventure tales, dream histories, character sketches, short stories by Charley Milward, commentaries on literature inspired by the idea or the actuality of Patagonia, and imaginatively re-created historical accounts. These elements reflect Chatwin’s focus on the Patagonian people, but he is a skilled depicter of the Patagonian landscape as well. His presence on Annie Dillard’s “Natural History: An Annotated Checklist” confirms this ability.

The author’s absorption in the subject of Patagonia begins in childhood, with his longing for a reddish scrap of mylodon hair given to his grandmother by her cousin, Charley Milward the sailor. In Patagonia claims genesis in a quest for that lost piece of mylodon hide. Chatwin’s journey is roughly southward, a rambling voyage through Patagonia, a desert region divided between Chile and Argentina.

Approaching the Rio Negro, the traveler notes heat, drinking, dust, and small discords of the border region. The mixture of peoples—British, Scots, “Its,” Araucanian Indians—prefigures the complex microcosm he will encounter in the desert. Rio Negro astonishes with other contrasts, the bitter-leaved thorns of the desert juxtaposed to the settlement fruits and flowers. The narrator muses on Charles Darwin’s puzzlement over the desert’s magic spell, contrasting him with W.H. Hudson, so sure of its quiet source. This early episode conveys a whole series of the author’s interests—Patagonian unrest, microcosms, startling oppositions, literary antecedents.

A plethora of incidents and eccentric characters, too many to itemize, reinforce these and other concerns. From a wealth of colorful scenes, three sets of characters stand out. These figures grip Chatwin’s imagination most strongly: Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch; Patagonian...

(The entire section contains 1568 words.)

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