"The Garden of Forking Paths", by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Questions  

Borges is perhaps the most extraordinary labyrinth-maker in contemporary literature. For him everything--the nature of time, of space, of knowledge, of the self, of literary form--is problematic. He looks at the world as a "puzzle" that compels examination even while it resists solution. Nothing can be proved, but nothing can be disproved. Borges combines his immense narrative skill with the qualities of a metaphysician, fantasist, scholar, detective writer, theologian, and ironist. He is very much like the metaphysicians in one of his own fictional places, Thin, who "seek neither truth nor likelihood; they seek astonishment." In all of his major stories, Borges is intent upon making a coherent fictional world almost entirely out of his intelligence and out of his imagination playing over other intelligences.

First published in 1941, "The Garden of Forking Paths" ("El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan") marked a turning point in the literary career of Jorge Luis Borges. As in his other stories, Borges uses fiction as a vehicle to explore philosophical and literary issues. Consequently, the characters in his stories seem less developed. In "The Garden of Forking Paths," he uses the genre of the detective story--a genre that requires clue-gathering and puzzle-solving--in order to explore the way time branches into an infinite number of futures.   

          A Simple Detective Story         Plot Summary                Characters        

The story, however, is full of coincidences, analogies between characters, and resonances and suggestions of ideas that are more important than the simple plot.

1) The central idea of the story is the labyrinth, which is both the story's subject and its structure

2) Coincidences-those chance relationships that might well have happened differently-introduce the idea of forking paths or alternate possible routes for history.

3) Some analogies between characters

"The Garden of Forking Paths" effectively blurs most of the categories we use to "know" the world-especially the distinction between reality and fiction.

1) The story begins with Borges blurring the traditional distinctions between author, narrator, and character.

2) The ramifications of Borges's story lead us back to the relation between historical events and historical narratives of those events, that is, between reality and fiction.

3) Borges uses some observable documentary facts in order to lend solidity to the idea of alternate worlds.