Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Borges was a great admirer of the detective genre and of its leading writers, from Edgar Allan Poe to Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton to Graham Greene. For him, a detective story required certain characteristics: a complex plot, a small number of characters, a satisfying solution that proceeds from clues the reader has seen all along. For all these characteristics, a labyrinth is a satisfying metaphor; it is no coincidence that Yu Tsun reflects on a labyrinth, or that the idea of a maze appears in so many of Borges’s works. In few of them, however, does the labyrinth figure so prominently as in “The Garden of Forking Paths.”

The labyrinth—a maze of hedges, for example, in a formal garden—is a physical puzzle. Although it appears to contain many pathways, there is only one right solution. In the same way, the detective story is the literary counterpart of the labyrinth.

There are many mazes in the story, yet the conclusion provides a path through all of them: Yu Tsun’s great-grandfather was killed by an unknown assassin; to many people who read about the murder of Albert, Yu Tsun is a virtually unknown assassin. Only those with the key to the mystery—the German espionage service in Berlin, waiting for a message—know why Albert has been killed. Captain Madden is tracking Yu Tsun through the labyrinth of England; Yu Tsun is entangling the unsuspecting Albert in the labyrinth of espionage; Borges is leading the reader through the labyrinth of the story. Not until the very end do readers realize why Yu Tsun, fleeing just minutes ahead of Captain Madden, should go to Albert’s house and spend an hour discussing Chinese culture with him. Not until the very end do readers find their own way through the labyrinth.

Historical Context

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Argentina and Europe
In 1816 Argentina gained independence from Spanish colonial rule. Argentina was becoming a wealthy country,...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Literary Style

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Narrator and Narration
One of the most interesting tricks Borges plays in "The Garden of Forking Paths" is his narrative...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

One of the most interesting tricks Borges plays in "The Garden of Forking Paths" is his narrative technique. As the story opens, an unknown...

(The entire section is 716 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In addition to being engrossing as a piece of detective fiction, Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths" is a complex and sophisticated work of...

(The entire section is 187 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

First published in 1941, "The Garden of Forking Paths," published in Spanish as "El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan," marked a turning...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

1940s: World War II rages all over Europe as England, France and the Allied Powers fight Hitler's Nazi regime. When Japan bombs Pearl...

(The entire section is 358 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Investigate the political situation in Argentina during the years 1940-1960. Who was in power during that time? How did government policies...

(The entire section is 147 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Many critics have attempted to trace the influences on Borges' work, citing H. G. Wells, Poe, and C. K. Chesterton as important influences....

(The entire section is 159 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Detective Fiction (1996), edited by James Robert Smith, offers a collection of classic detective stories, including Edgar Allan Poe's...

(The entire section is 121 words.)

Adaptations

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"The Garden of Forking Paths" was recorded on an audiocassette collection of Borges' stories titled Selected Fictions. The recording,...

(The entire section is 40 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

"The Garden of Forking Paths" was recorded on an audiocassette collection of Borges' stories titled Selected Fictions. The recording...

(The entire section is 42 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Detective Fiction, (1996) edited by James Robert Smith, offers a collection of classic detective stories, including Edgar Allan Poe's...

(The entire section is 165 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Sources
Barth, John. ‘‘The Literature of Exhaustion,’’ in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 220, No. 2, August, 1967, pp....

(The entire section is 452 words.)