The Garden of Forking Paths

by Jorge Luis Borges

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How does Borges use labyrinths figuratively in "The Garden of Forking Paths"?

In "The Garden of Forking Paths," Borges uses labyrinths figuratively as metaphors and images of time, showing time to be more complex and multivariant than the straight-line metaphor we usually employ.

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In this 1941 story, Borges uses labyrinths figuratively as a metaphor for time. A labyrinth does not proceed in a straight line from point A to point B: instead it offers many forks and paths that head in different directions. Borges uses the labyrinth as a central metaphor to oppose...

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In this 1941 story, Borges uses labyrinths figuratively as a metaphor for time. A labyrinth does not proceed in a straight line from point A to point B: instead it offers many forks and paths that head in different directions. Borges uses the labyrinth as a central metaphor to oppose the usual metaphor of time as linear—we are normally, for example, given a "time line" of events leading up to a major historical situation, such as the Civil War, as if the war were an inevitable result of a straight path. Our normal concept of time is of a highway.

Borges wants the reader to see time as like a labyrinth, with many unpredictable or unlikely paths or forks leading to one of many simultaneously possible futures: more like the quantum view of time and space as a multiverse that has become part of modern physics.

Like most metaphors, this one of the labyrinth is an image. We can visualize and feel what it is like to be in a labyrinth, the paths twisting and turning and we ourselves constantly coming to forks where our decision to go one way or the other leads to different outcomes. Borges's story even shows us a "tiny" ivory labyrinth so that we can, mentally, look down on it and see all the many directions in which time can go. This supports the idea that time is not fixed but that different multiverses exist, in which history plays out in different ways.

The confusing, nonnarrative book by Ts'ui Pen also acts figuratively as a labyrinth, as Alfred explains, laying out the new, more complex concept of time in this way:

Fang, let us say, has a secret. A stranger knocks at his door. Fang makes up his mind to kill him. Naturally there are various possible outcomes. Fang can kill the intruder, the intruder can kill Fang, both can be saved, both can die and so on and so on. In Ts'ui Pen's work, all the possible solutions occur, each one being the point of departure for other bifurcations.

The central image of the labyrinth helps us understand Borges's concept of time.

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