The Songlines Summary & Study Guide

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The Songlines Summary & Study Guide Description

The Songlines Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin.

THE SONGLINES records the visit Bruce Chatwin makes to Australia as a student of cultures, languages and the evolutions of humanity in all its forms. He has come to study the Aboriginal Songlines out of a fascination that began in his childhood with Aboriginal culture and an adult fascination with their similarity to other transient people groups, having studied Bedouins, gypsies, and the writings of several thinkers who believe walking the earth is the way men are best suited to experience it.

His guide as he travels the Outback in search of anyone who will teach him is Arkady Volchok, an Australian-born man of Russian descent. Arkady has befriended Aboriginals since his youth and committed himself to preserving their sacred places and making sure those protections are reflected in the laws that govern all Australia. Arkady takes Chatwin from one Aboriginal settlement to the next, helping him find people, native or otherwise, who can answer his questions and help him better understand the history and experience of this group of people. Chatwin comes in to each conversation purely to learn the most untainted and historic version of the experiences and traditions of the Aboriginal people. He has an honest enough understanding of their spirituality that he is a student worthy of the respect of the Aboriginals with the most intimate perspectives on the culture.

Chatwin learns about the Aboriginal idea of Songlines, the tracks of music the Aboriginal Ancestors left as they walked from place to place singing creation into existence, naming things and attaching stories to their sacred places. Chatwin is intrigued with the idea that Australian Aboriginals have much in common with other cultures that evolved in far reaches of the globe, as there are common ingredients to the human experience. Each Aboriginal is associated with an animal, or totemic family, who sang his Songline, and considers that association as even more sacred than the one he has with his blood family. Some Aboriginals have transferred Songlines to canvases as maps that become art pieces white people buy, as a way of providing a living to the Aboriginals. Other white people make little effort to get to know or celebrate the Aboriginal culture, and Chatwin encounters both kinds of people.

As the story progresses deeper into Aboriginal culture and land, Arkady is asked to settle a dispute between two Aboriginal groups. The trip to settle the dispute provides Chatwin the opportunity to spend time with Rolf and Wendy, two more intellectuals there to learn from the Aboriginals about their culture and to record his reflections on Aboriginal culture as a human phenomenon. Chapters 30-36 contain those musings, including the literary and academic resources he uses to inform his hypotheses. He concludes that men are born to be peaceful wanderers with language based in song, and settling into civilizations and sedentary lifestyles have made us violently territorial and disconnected us from the earth, its rhythms and the songs of our souls.

The story culminates with the return of an Aboriginal man to his totemic conception place and the origin of his Dreaming. The man sings the songs that named that place and sees the landscape as if he has seen it throughout his whole life, having learned its names since birth. The man also meets three of his totemic brothers who are dying in that place.

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This section contains 561 words
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