The Garden of Forking Paths

by Jorge Luis Borges

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Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

Stephen Albert
Dr. Stephen Albert is 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. Indeed, he has solved the mystery of the missing labyrinth, revealing that the novel of Ts'ui Pen is the labyrinth itself.

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Through Albert, Borges offers a philosophical discussion of the nature of time. Albert's role in the story is to explain Ts'ui Pen to his great grandson—and to be murdered, simply by the coincidence that his name is identical to the name of a town in Belgium.

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.

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Narrator
The narrator's words open the story, directing the reader to a particular page in a history of World War I. The narrator then introduces the statement made by a Dr. Yu Tsun.

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.

Characters Developed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594

The story opens with a brief passage from a history of World War I, presented by an unnamed narrator. The narrator refers to a statement by a character, Dr. Yu Tsun, made during World War I. The narrator suggests the first passage is connected to Yu Tsun's statement.

Yu Tsun, a Chinese national and a former professor of English, reveals in his statement that he is a German spy. 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. He recounts the events leading to his arrest, beginning with his discovery that his contact has been killed by Captain Richard Madden, an Irishman in service to the English and characterized by Yu Tsun as "a man accused of laxity and perhaps of treason." Yu Tsun knows he must devise a way to get an important message to the Germans. He looks in a telephone book and finds the name of a man, Stephen Albert. Yu Tsun thinks Albert will be able to help, although he does not reveal how he knows this.

Yu Tsun then recounts how he travels to Dr. Albert's house, pursued by Madden. When Yu Tsun arrives, Albert mistakes him for a Chinese consul he knows; Albert assumes that the Chinese man is there to view his garden. Yu Tsun discovers that Albert is a Sinologist, a scholar who studies Chinese culture.

By a strange coincidence, Dr. Albert has created a garden identical to one created by Yu Tsun's ancestor, Ts'ui Pen, a writer who worked for thirteen years on a novel called The Garden of Forking Paths. He also was working on a labyrinth before being murdered by a stranger. In addition to recreating Ts'ui Pen's garden, Dr. Albert further reveals that he has been studying the novel. Albert tells Yu Tsun that he has solved the riddle of the lost labyrinth, arguing that the novel itself is the labyrinth.

Furthermore, Albert tells Yu Tsun that The Garden of Forking Paths is "an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time." He explains that the novel reveals that time is not singular, but rather a "dizzying net of divergent, convergent, and parallel times." Like the labyrinth, each turn leads to different possible futures. Albert shows Yu Tsun a letter written by his ancestor that says, "I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths." This letter has provided the key Albert needs to make sense of both the novel and the missing labyrinth, that the "forking" referred to by Ts'ui Pen is not a forking of space, but a forking of time.

Yu Tsun experiences for a moment a sense of himself and Albert in many other times. Suddenly, he sees Madden approaching. Yu Tsun asks Albert to let him see once again the letter written by his ancestor. When Albert's back is turned, Yu Tsun shoots and kills him.

In the last paragraph of his statement (and the story), Yu Tsun is awaiting his death on the gallows as punishment for his crime. He reveals that he has shot Albert in order to send a message to the Germans. The name of the town the Germans needed to bomb was Albert. By shooting a man of the same name without apparent motive, Yu Tsun was sure the information would appear in newspapers the Germans would read. Because the city was bombed the day before Yu Tsun makes his statement, he knows that his message had been received.

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