Theme of the Traitor and the Hero

by Jorge Luis Borges

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What are some literary devices used in "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero"?

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In the short story the Theme of the Traitor and the Hero, Jorge Luis Borges employs multiple literary devices, although some may be difficult to identify depending upon the translation used or understanding Borges’s style. The initial literary devices appear in the first several paragraphs when Borges begins in the first person but subsequently moves to an omniscient (all-seeing, all-knowing) third person narrator. For example, he writes, “ . . . I have imagined the following argument . . . ” and, “Kilpatrick was a conspirator, a secret and glorious captain of conspirators” (Borges para 1-2). In this way, Borges seamlessly transitions from the first person to third person.

Moving on, Borges uses allusion throughout the story, especially with regard to literary references. Examples abound in the following from Borges:

Julius Caesar, too, as he walked toward the place where the knives of his friends awaited him, was handed a message, which he never got to the point of reading, in which the treason was declared, and the names of the traitors given. In her dreams, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, saw a tower, which the Senate had dedicated to her husband, fallen to the ground. (para 3)

He ponders the decimal history imagined by Condorcet; the morphologies proposed by Hegel, Spengler, and Vico; the characters of Hesiod, who degenerate from gold to iron. He considers the transmigration of souls, a doctrine which horrifies Celtic belles-lettres and which the very same Caesar attributed to the Britannic Druids; he thinks that before the hero was Fergus Kilpatrick, Fergus Kilpatrick was Julius Caesar. (para 3)

While Borges’s use of punctuation may seem grammatically incorrect, when examining his prose closely, it becomes clear he deftly manipulates commas, semi-colons, colons, and periods to provide subtle parallelism and repetition. To illustrate this, pay attention to the use of semi-colons to shorten lengthy sentences into more manageable phrases in the section below:

Nolan carried out his orders: before the gathering as a whole, he announced that the traitor was Kilpatrick himself. He demonstrated the truth of his accusation with irrefutable proofs; the conspirators condemned their president to death. The latter signed his own death sentence; but he implored that his condemnation not be allowed to hurt the fatherland. (para 6)

Not only does this quote exhibit parallelism but also, especially when read aloud, there is a cadence and rhythm to Borges prose that is nearly poetic.

Additional repetition, and a smidgen of alliteration, exist within the story. In paragraph two Borges employs repetition and alliteration:

Has transpired, we should say, for although the narrator is contemporary, the narrative related by him occurred toward the middle or beginnings of the nineteenth century. Let us say, for purposes of narration, that it was in Ireland, in 1824. The narrator is named Ryan. (Borges)

Borges uses variations of "narrator" four separate times in this short passage.

Furthermore, within the allusions Borges employs similes, as in the following:

Kilpatrick was a conspirator, a secret and glorious captain of conspirators; he was like Moses in that, from the land of Moab, he descried the Promised Land but would not ever set foot there, for he perished on the eve of the victorious rebellion which he had premeditated and conjured. (para 3)

When reading Borges work, look for the following additional literary devices: metaphor, imagery, caesuras, and asyndeton.

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