The Kindness of Strangers: Epiphany and Social Communion in Paul Theroux’s Travel Writing
This paper examines a central vacillation between epiphanies in natural landscapes and meaningful social encounters in the travel writing of Paul Theroux. The poetics of travel writing in general will be explored while focusing on the philosophic issues of consciousness and of self and others. Theroux’s travel writing serves well to exhibit the implications behind these issues. This paper will concentrate on four of his works: The Old Patagonian Express (1979); The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992); Dark Star Safari (2003); and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (2008). The last work repeats a travel journey taken three decades before through Eastern Europe, Central Asia, India, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Russia. The dialectic of solitary epiphany and heightened friendship is complicated by the unavoidable natural and social failures he finds in the contemporary world. Yet the complaint by a Japanese man that the seasons are no longer orderly is balanced by the account of a man living a traditional Jain life of devotional wandering.