The Garden of Forking Paths
"The Garden of Forking Paths" (original Spanish title: "El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan") is a 1941 short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It is the title story in the collection El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941), which was republished in its entirety in Ficciones (Fictions) in 1944. It was the first of Borges's works to be translated into English by Anthony Boucher when it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in August 1948. (From Wikipedia)
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The Garden of Forking Paths, Jorge Luis Borges
Twentieth century Argentine writer Jose Luis Borges is well-known for his intricate, complex stories. On the surface, this is a fairly simple World War I tale about spies and secrets, but there is actually much more depth to it in terms of its themes. Take a look at the Google Doodle below, which was created in honor of Borges. According to the Doodle, what sort of themes or ideas are likely to be present in this short story? As you read, look for evidence of the complexities for which this author is remembered. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is true about the structure of this short story?
How does the narrator's characterization of Madden as "implacable" enhance the reader's understanding?
Watch the video below to learn about the technique of foreshadowing, which an author uses to create a sense of tension within a story. How does this passage contain foreshadowing? As you read, continue to look for other clues from the author. (This annotation contains a video)
Through the use of first person point of view, an author allows a reader to see exactly what a narrator is thinking. However, first person point of view also has limitations: here, the reader may be unsure of whether or not to trust the narrator fully because of his occupation as a spy within the German military. For more information about how authors use multiple techniques to develop complex characters, including narrators, see the link below. As you read, continue to look for clues that help you better understand the complex character development of Yu Tsun. (This annotation contains a video)
According to the text, why is Yu Tsun a spy for Germany?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Try it now with the word "perilous." What does the use of this word tell you about the narrator?
As the narrator rushes through his unspecified plan, he narrowly misses being captured by Captain Madden. Notice how the author uses this near-miss as a way to increase the tension in the plot. To learn more about how an author's pacing affects plot development, watch the video below. As you continue to read, look for other ways in which the narrator manipulates time to create a specific effect. (This annotation contains a video)
How does the near-miss with Madden at the train station affect the narrator?
How does the author's word choice affect the mood in this passage?
The video below shows an example of ancient Chinese bell music, which Yu Tsun hears as he approaches Albert's house. The music, the poplar grove, and the pavilion all strike the narrator as "almost unbelievable" because it seems so out of place for the setting - yet so right to him. Remember that although the narrator is in England, secretly working for the German military, he is of Asian descent. As you continue to read, look for details related to the topic of identity. In what ways do characters in this story have complicated and even overlapping identities? (This annotation contains a video)
The complexity of the narrator and of this story's themes deepen through this discussion of Yu Tsun's ancestor's labyrinth. As illustrated below, Borges often uses this image as a symbol in his work. As you continue reading, consider how this labyrinth could be considered symbolic: something more than a literal maze. (This annotation contains an image)
Even if he hadn't classified himself as a Sinologist, what other specific details from the text would lead you to believe that Stephen Albert has spent a great deal of time studying Asian cultures? Why do you think the author includes this detail about the character?
Ts'ui Pen's descendants regard his labyrinth as something of an embarrassment to the family. Use the link below to explore different types of labyrinths. In fact, you can click on the "locator" feature to look at specific labyrinths within China. What did Ts'ui Pen's family expect for his labyrinth to look like? (This annotation contains a link)
Albert is illustrating an example of a paradox, or a contradiction in ideas that still contains a truth, to Yu Tsun. Ts'ui Pe's novel and labyrinth, while seeming to be two different endeavors, are actually the same. How does this explanation support the idea that the labyrinth is used as a symbolic image? For more information about how to recognize symbols in literature, watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
The term "metafiction" is used to describe a structure in which the author draws attention to the fact that he or she is writing a story, as illustrated in the children's book below. Authors often use this technique to blur the line between fiction and reality in order to illustrate themes about both. Here, Borges plays with this structure by not only having Yu Tsun's deposition serve as a sort of story within the story, but also by including the seemingly divergent tale of Ts'ui Pen's intricate novel. As you continue reading, consider how the author's structure has an impact on the theme of a work. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Albert's purpose for reading "two versions of the same epic chapter"?
How does the walk-through in the video game relate to Ts'ui Pen's ideas about time? Use evidence from the text to explain your answer.
The video game Proteus contains an allusion to this short story as one of its achievements. Watch a walk-through of the game below in which the player earns "The Garden of Forking Paths" achievement. Then, answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)
Albert tells Yu Tsun that his ancestor's novel is mainly devoted to themes about time. As seen in the very first annotation for this story, the concept of time is often explored by Borges as well. When have you seen time already mentioned in this short story? As you continue to read, pay attention to how ideas about time continue to develop.
How does Albert's analysis of Ts'ui Pen's novel affect the narrator?
Quiz, The Garden of Forking Paths
Even though the reader returns to the story at hand (Yu Tsun's deposition), the discussion in Albert's pavilion shouldn't be forgotten. Use the theory of time, as it is discussed in this short story, to pursue possible alternate endings. What other "forking paths" could be taken by Yu Tsun, Albert, or even Madden?