Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Shape of the Sword” is an elegantly constructed, self-reflexive story that asks profound questions about the nature of human identity. Borges was fascinated with the doubling of human consciousness, and with the complementary roles that can be played by a single man—themes that he also explores in his witty essay, “Borges and I,” and in other stories, such as “Theme of the Traitor and Hero,” “Death and the Compass,” and “Three Versions of Judas.”

“The Shape of the Sword,” in particular, uses the literary device of the double to illustrate the multiplicity of human consciousness. A double is a literary character with an uncanny likeness to the protagonist; typically, the double represents a single aspect of the protagonist’s character, such as the conscience or the unconscious. Stories featuring this device usually end, as “The Shape of the Sword” does, with a struggle between the protagonist and the double, and with the death of one of them. In “The Shape of the Sword,” however, Borges elaborates on the psychological implications of this literary device. John Vincent Moon and the martyred Irish patriot are actually separate characters, but in telling his tale, the Englishman switches their identities. After his act of treachery, the Englishman apparently began to identify himself with the man whose death he caused.

Borges also emphasizes the theme of the double in the story’s imagery and wordplay,...

(The entire section is 504 words.)