Where is the Narrator?

In Galapagos, we have a first person narrator telling us this story from the outside looking in. However, where exactly he’s looking in from is complicated. He often refers to 1986 as “a million years ago,” in a literal rather than hyperbolic sense, so in one way he’s an unreal person reaching back into the far-off past. However, he also asserts that he was someone who had died working on the Bahia de Darwin:

“If I may interject a personal note: I myself had been working as a welder in Malmo for about a year, but the Bahia de Darwin had not yet materialized sufficiently so as to require my services. I would literally lose my head to that steel maiden only when springtime came.” (33)

Our narrator wasn’t even alive when the story he’s telling us takes place. Then further on, we get a hint as to what he might be:

“So…I got into the head of Captain Adolf von Kleist as he rode in a taxicab from Guayaquil International Airport to the Bahia de Darwin.” (132)

This introduces us to a section where our narrator shadows Captain von Kleist’s thoughts, following his footsteps and coincidentally becoming a witness to the fate of the Bahia de Darwin‘s passengers on Santa Rosalia. There are also many references to the “blue tunnel to the Afterlife,” which many of the characters at some point or another travel down. This implies that our narrator is actually a ghost of some sort, stuck watching the fate of the people left stranded on Santa Rosalia. It explains not only his dying in an incident related to the Bahia de Darwin and why he might follow that ship’s story, but also how he is able to continue watching how humanity has adapted to living on the Galapagos.

However, this also raises some questions. For one, what exactly is a ghost doing in a book focused on Darwin and the evolution of humankind? How does this ghost know about the events going on outside his purview, like the name of the man who dropped the atomic bomb which affected Hisako’s later birth or the lives of the Kanko-bono girls before they arrived at the Hotel El Dorado? It’s not very clear what the rules are about this ghost, or even who he’s telling his story to, since all of the humans in his time have evolved without English. His position in time, space, and motivation are all rather obscure and none of this is made clearer despite his prominent position in the text as narrator.

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