full version An Analysis Of Jorge Luis Borges' Essay

An Analysis Of Jorge Luis Borges'

Category: English

Autor: denver_d 11 January 2010

Words: 1639 | Pages: 7

"The Garden of Forking Paths" as a Detective Story.
In comparing Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” to that of the modern day detective story, I will discuss Borges’ use of characters, theme, and also his unique use of narration. The combination of these three things puts Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” into a totally different class than the detective stories we have grown up reading and the ones we still read today.
The genre of detective stories was invented by an American author by the name of Edgar Allen Poe in the 1840’s. In detective stories, details are very important. A writer of a detective story is obligated to follow certain rules and conventions, including the inclusion of clues and details that will allow the reader to solve the mystery at just the same moment the detective does. Sometimes, the resolution of a detective story requires some small bit of information that the writer withholds from the reader until the very last moment. (Bell)
Most often “The Garden of Forking Paths” is referred to as a detective story. Borges follows the conventional ways of writing a detective story. His protagonist, Yu Tsun, is a spy. He has a secret he must transmit. He has limited time. He offers clues to the reader without revealing the final secret. All staples in a typical detective story. Borges even goes one step further by placing another mystery within the framework of Yu Tsun's mystery. That is, he offers readers the mystery of Yu Tsun's ancestor and his labyrinth, a mystery that Dr. Albert solves.


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Although “The Garden of Forking Paths” fills the conventions of the detective story, it only resembles a detective story in structure. In reality, by Borges playing games with the readers, the story comes off to be more of a philosophical piece that is disguised as a detective story.
Borges’ unique and unusual use of narration in “The Garden of Forking Paths” is just that unique and unusual. As the story opens, an unknown narrator speaks directly to the reader: "On page 22 of Liddell Hart's History of World War I you will read...." The narrator then proceeds to summarize Captain Liddell Hart’s position that torrential rain was the cause of the delay of a British attack. (Borges)
In the second paragraph, the narrator suggests that rain may not have been the reason for the delay. He offers as evidence a statement from a Dr. Yu Tsun, but the first two pages of the document are missing. As a result, the narrator throws the reader into the statement mid-sentence. Thus confusing the readers momentarily as they try to piece together the missing portion of the text. It is at this moment that Borges takes this opportunity to introduce a new narrator. Interestingly, although it appears that the original narrator drops completely out of the story after introducing the statement, there is one further disturbance by the original narrator in the form of a footnote.
By Borges putting in this footnote it makes one think that he is trying to place this story into the genre of nonfiction. For generally footnotes are found only in scholarly works, not the typical short story. Although Yu Tsun says that Viktor Runeberg has been murdered by Richard Madden, the narrator in the footnote calls this "a hypothesis both hateful and odd." (Borges) The narrator offers another point of view: Richard Madden acted in self-defense. This defense of Madden causes readers to wonder if the narrator and Madden might not be one and the same. At the very least, it casts serious doubt in the minds of readers over the
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missing two pages of the document. This leaves the readers wondering what else the narrator chose to hide from them.
One major theme of “The Garden of Forking Paths” is the use of time as well as the meaning and symbolism of it. Dr. Stephen Albert tells Yu Tsun, "The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time...." Likewise, Borges seems to be implying that the major theme of the short story "The Garden of Forking Paths'' is also time. Yu Tsun reflects early in the story, "everything happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen....” (Borges) With this, Yu Tsun describes time in a linear manner. Meaning, humans experience time as a series of present moments, one following the other. As soon as the moment is experienced, however, it no longer exists.
When Yu Tsun arrives at the home of Albert, however, the notion of time as linear is challenged. Albert argues Yu Tsun's ancestor “did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent, and parallel times.” (Borges)
In addition to the consideration of time in "The Garden of Forking Paths," Borges also seems to be exploring the concepts of order and disorder. Within the short story there exists a novel by Yu Tsun's ancestor. The novel is described variously as "incoherent," "chaotic," "an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts," and "confused." In short, the novel appears to represent the very essence of disorder. (Borges)
However, Albert believes that he has solved the mystery of the lost labyrinth and the chaotic novel. He argues that if one assumes that the novel itself is the labyrinth, and is the author's attempt to represent the webbing nature of time, the novel is not an example of chaos, but of order. Furthermore, Albert works to create order out of the disorder of the novel. He
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says, "I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors that the negligence of the copyists has introduced, I have guessed the plan of this chaos, I have re-established...the primordial organization." (Borges)
Borges seems to be implying that while the universe may appear to be chaotic and disordered, the chaos itself may represent an order-as-yet-not-understood. Certainly, the tension between Yu Tsun's reading of his ancestor's text as incoherent and Albert's reading of the same text as ordered parallels the human experience of trying to render meaningful the apparently random events of life.
In “The Garden of Forking Paths” the role of the protagonist falls upon the character of Dr. Yu Tsun. Dr. Yu Tsun is a Chinese professor living in England during World War I. He is also a German spy. Yu Tsun takes on the role of narrator of the story as the original narrator provides Yu Tsun's statement to the reader.
The document is a statement made by Yu Tsun after his murder of Dr. Stephen Albert. Yu Tsun, in order to get vital information to the Germans after his contact is killed, describes how he devises a plan to relay the site of the British artillery park in Belgium.
Yu Tsun is a contradictory character; although he is Chinese, he teaches English. Although he does not like the Germans, he works for them as a spy. Yu Tsun is also the great-grandson of a Chinese writer, Ts'ui Pen, whose goal it was to write a huge novel and a build a great labyrinth. Yu Tsun visits Dr. Stephen Albert for the sole purpose of murdering him so that his name will appear in the newspaper and reveal to the Germans the name of the city Albert. He discovers that Dr. Albert has studied the work of Ts'ui Pen and understands it. Nevertheless, he carries through with his plan to murder Dr. Albert, thus revealing to the Germans the information they need to bomb the English artillery.

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The role of the antagonist belongs to Richard Madden. Captain Richard Madden is an Irishman who works for English intelligence. After he kills Yu Tsun's contact, Viktor Runeberg, he stalks Yu Tsun to prevent him from passing along the information. Yu Tsun characterizes Madden as "a man accused of laxity and perhaps of treason.’’ Madden tracks Yu Tsun to Albert's house, and arrests him for the murder. (Borges)
The third and final major character is Dr. Stephen Albert, a noted sinologist, or student of Chinese language and culture. A former missionary in China, he is a student of the works of Yu Tsun's ancestor, Ts’ui Pen. Indeed, he has solved the mystery of the missing labyrinth, revealing that the novel of Ts'ui Pen is the labyrinth itself.
Jorge Luis Borges’ unique use of narration, time, and character placement sets this short spy thriller aside form all the other modern detective spy thrillers. “The Garden of Forking Paths” has inspired much critical attention as well as having an influence on a whole generation of South and North American writers.