Style and Technique

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

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

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Literary Style

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

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Literary Techniques

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

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Ideas for Group Discussions

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

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Social Concerns

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

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Compare and Contrast

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

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Topics for Further Study

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

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Literary Precedents

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

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Related Titles

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

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Adaptations

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

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Media Adaptations

"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.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

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

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What Do I Read Next?

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.)