Jorge Luis Borges Poetry
The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges: Literary Analysis
Various commendable authors have contributed to the world’s collection of classic literature. There are so many ways in which a piece of literature can be considered a classic; there is no particular or specific formula. A classic can be a combination of memorable characters, an author’s distinct style, an original theme, and many others. There is only one thing that is common among all classics—the fact that they all have succeeded many generations and thus, have transcended time. Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian author, gave to the world one of the most original classics of all time, “The Garden of Forking Paths.” The combination of its engrossing style of magical realism, its complicated narrative structure, and its constantly relevant theme of time makes “The Garden of Forking Paths” one of the most significant pieces of literature.
The style of “The Garden of Forking Paths” is magical realism. Magical realism, as defined by Rogers, is a style in literature that “is trying to convey the reality of one or several worldviews that actually exist, or have existed. Magical realism is a kind of realism, but one different from the realism that most of our culture now experiences” (Rogers). Borges produces an engrossing style of magical realism through the maze of clues and circumstances that he weaves into the tale; he forms a connection between the seemingly unrelated clues and circumstances through a different concept of time. He creates the world of magical realism in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by combining the ordinary and the mysterious: Borges provides clues of the connection between Yu Tsun’s present circumstances and the mysterious labyrinth of his ancestor, Ts’ui Pen. For example, Yu Tsun finds Dr. Stephen Albert’s house by always turning to the left—a common technique in finding the way through a labyrinth. He exposes a new kind of reality through Stephen Albert’s revelation of the meaning of Ts’ui Pen’s labyrinth. Davis expresses that through the style of magical realism, Borges “tantalizes us with the possibility (…) that reality—for the artist at least—is an act of the imagination” (648). In the case of Ts’ui Pen’s labyrinth, the reality is the collection of different futures which is created by man’s imagination of the many possible outcomes that can occur as a result of choosing each of the several alternatives—the meaning of Ts’ui Pen’s Garden of Forking Paths.
The magical realist style of the tale develops into a complex narrative structure. The complexity of the plot is mainly rooted from Yu Tsun’s belief in the direct and immediate connection between the past and the future; his reflections on the decisions that he make in the present is meant to foreshadow the future. The narrative takes place in the mind of Yu Tsun; the foreshadowed future evolves and shifts along with each decision that Yu Tsun makes. When at first he does not have a plan, he imagines that the future holds only his inevitable death; but as he formulate a plan, he becomes convinced of the possible success of his mission to send a message to Germany. For every decision that he makes and every action that he takes, Yu Tsun evaluates and recognizes its significance in the success of his mission; he imagines that each is a factor to the final outcome: the “slightest of victories foreshadowed a total victory” (Borges 654). In his article, Weed suggests that part of what makes the story’s narrative structure labyrinthine is its inconsistent valuation of time:
The main character is in mortal danger, must flee, and has daring plan. And yet he constantly digresses into philosophical speculation. After a hurried escape by train, the tone of the narration abruptly changes: after seven pages of frantic activity, suddenly Yu Tsun, who previously had no time whatsoever, suddenly has time to daydream about fantastic labyrinths, and to discuss theories of time with a certain sinologist. In fact, Yu Tsun tells us, his train ride has only gained him forty minutes, but the change in the tone of the narration, or in the spy’s state of mind, makes those forty minutes extend, as if time itself had slowed down, until the abrupt reappearance of the spy-catcher, Richard Madden, breaks the spell. (“A labyrinth of symbols exploring ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’”).
The reality of the urgency is only created by Yu Tsun when he believes in it; it is when he stops to think that the urgency dissipates and the available time seems to increase. This agrees with what Davis noted about Borges’ style: Borges suggests to the reader that reality is only a product of one’s mind, of one’s imagination—just as the speed of time in the narrative is evidently a product of Yu Tsun’s mind.
Borges’ central theme of time is relevant throughout all generations; it is a theme that does not easily become obsolete and inapplicable—a theme which contributes significantly into making a classic. “The Garden of the Forking Path” emphasizes the significance of time. Ironically, the story opens with Captain Lidell’s remark about the insignificance of time—an opinion proven wrong by the significant role of time throughout the rest of the story. In the story, Yu Tsun recognizes the significance of time. Yu Tsun is convinced of the importance of even forty minutes as he thought: “The duel had already begun and that I had won the first encounter by frustrating, even if for forty minutes, even if by a stroke of fate, the attack of my adversary” (Borges 654). He reflects that “everything happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen”; in this passage, Yu Tsun recognizes the importance of time in the present and the decisions that are made during this time (Borges 653). Although, he firmly believes that a man “ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past,” through the decisions that one makes, he also knows that actions in the present, now, are what really matter and which ultimately determines the fate of a man—just as his previously made decision to shoot Stephen Albert mattered less than his actual act of shooting him.
The distinct style of magical realism, the complex narrative structure, and the theme of time all contribute to making “The Garden of Forking Paths” into a significant piece of literature. It is the fact that Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” continues to hold a significant place in the constantly changing world of literature is what now makes it a classic—a tale that transcends time.
Reality and Truth Concepts in Ficciones, Diary of a Madman, and the Yellow Wallpaper
Truth and Reality: One in the Same?
Truth is defined as “the real facts about something” and “the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” Reality is defined as “the true situation that exists: the real situation.” It is assumed that because truth and reality coincide rather perfectly with one another, that they are basically the same thing. Realities can occur on many levels. People experience different realities. If two people in the same scenario experience two separate realities, are they both true? Or is one reality truer than the other? How can one tell? It might be possible that both are true. If a person experiences a different reality than someone else, that does not make his or her reality false. Because they experienced it, that reality is real to them, or in equal terms, it is true to them. So in actuality, truth and reality are not that similar at all. Truth cannot actually be determined. To each person their reality is their truth, but not necessarily someone else’s. Jorge Luis Borges and Lu Hsun explore the concept of reality in their short stories. There are endless texts that suggest different ideas of reality. One of these texts is The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
In Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, the concept of reality and truth is questioned through the interpretation of different types of reality. Are dreams a reality? Does time determine reality? In “Diary of a Madman” Lu Hsun brings forth the consideration of reality through the mind of a mentally ill person. If someone suffers from hallucinations because of a mental illness, those hallucinations are very much real to them, true to their senses. But isn’t it possible that just because we don’t see these hallucinations that they are still real? Similarly, in The Yellow Wallpaper, the main character is mentally insane, causing her to perceive reality differently than those around her. But because her perception is different does not mean it isn’t real. What is true is different for everyone. That doesn’t make it any less true.
In the story “Diary of a Madman,” the reader starts to question this man’s concept of reality and if what he sees and perceives as his truth is actually reality or not. He talks about people eating flesh and is constantly thinking that people want to eat him. There are also many instances where it appears he is imaging things there that are not. This can be related to Borges’ story about the man who dreamed of a boy who then became real but in the end the man realizes he was the one who dreamed up after all.
In “The Real Story of Ah-Q,” one starts to ask what the truth is. It seems that who people thought Ah-Q was is actually very different from what he really was. It is also hard to trust the facts of the story itself. In the beginning the narrator confesses that a lot of the details were hard to find or could not be found at all. This is similar to Borges’ story “The Secret Miracle,” where a man is granted the miracle of getting a year to finish his book before he dies. The catch is that this year takes place in the split moment before he is shot down by Nazi firing squad. Only he experienced the year in that moment; that was his reality. But the reality of everyone around him was just a split moment, not a year. Is that even possible? Because everyone else didn’t experience the year in that split moment does that mean it didn’t happen? Can we say that it wasn’t real even though to the man it was very much real to him? Can time occur differently for people? And if so, then can there really be a true time? Disregarding religion’s relation to reality, Jaromir Hladík asked God to grant him one year to finish his novel and in a dream Hladík heard “the time for your work has been granted.” Hladík “remembered that the dreams of men belong to God, and to Maimonides wrote that the words of a dream are divine,” (Borges 148). If God creates all things that are one’s reality and God appeared through a dream, can the dream be considered a part of reality? If so, then can all dreams be considered part of reality? What if dreams were their own reality? Borges explores this idea more in his story “The Circular Ruins.”
In “The Circular Ruins” the main character dreams lucidly, he dreams of a heart. He observes it meticulously for many nights. Finally, “ he perceived it and lived it from all angles and distances. On the fourteenth night he lightly touched the pulmonary artery with his index finger,” (Borges 60). Eventually, he dreams about an entire man. Every night he dreams of something, and it becomes real. His dreams become another reality for him. As real to him as his wake life. By the end of the story, the man realizes that “he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him,” (Borges 63). This begs the question: can one’s dreams actually become someone else’s reality and is one’s reality only the result of someone else’s dreams? Realities are endless. There is an infinite number of realities occurring at the same time. All realities should be treated the same. Whether they make sense or not, it all depends on the experience of each and every individual. There’s no way to test every instance and situation for the real truth and facts because it is different for each person who experienced that instance or situation.
It’s important to keep in mind not only dreams as a form of reality, but the realities of people with mental illnesses that create parallel realities for these individuals. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is a woman who is mentally insane. She is kept in this home with a horrid yellow wallpaper.
Blindness in the Poetry of John Milton and Jorge Luis Borges
The poems “When I consider how my light is spent” by John Milton and “A Blind Man” by Jorge Luis Borges express two different points of view and approaches to the concept of becoming blind. In both poems, the narrators express their thoughts and approaches to dealing with the fact of their blindness. John Milton overall takes a more spiritual approach, while Jorge Luis Borges focuses more in on the materialistic consequences of blindness.
Both John Milton and Jorge Luis Borges struggled to find a path in their lives after becoming blind. Unable to seek consolation through the gift of sight, they sought to find light and meaning to their dark lives. Their common struggle led to a loss of identity and a mental journey reflecting upon self-identity. Milton ponders the role he is meant to play in life after the loss of his sight and wonders as to how he can serve God. He asks “Doth God exact day-labor,light denied?” (Line 7), wondering if God requires the blind to work for him. This encompasses Milton’s devotion to God and his desire to stay devout despite the loss of his sight. He endeavors to preserve his identity as a pious Christian, as stated by “though my soul more bent/To serve therewith my Maker”(lines 4-5), voicing his desire to work for God, but also realizing he cannot serve God as he had previously. Yet, when the personification of patience answers “God doth not need/Either man’s work or His own gifts” (lines 9-10), Milton is essentially stating that he has not lost his identity; he is aware he can remain a follower of God even while blind. Borges goes through a similar struggle to find his own identity after losing his sight. The first line, “I don’t know what face is looking back/Whenever I look at the face in the mirror” (lines 1-2), blatantly expresses his loss of identity. Furthermore, “I have made out your hair,/Color of ash and at the same time,gold” (lines 7-8) shows a further loss of identity. By saying “your hair” instead of “my hair” and using the juxtaposition of the 2 colors, Borges emphasizes that he doesn’t know who he is any longer. He acknowledges Milton’s wise and Noble words through “I say again that I have lost no more/Than the inconsequential skin of things.” (Lines 9-10), realizing that his loss of sight is only superficial. However, “But then I think of letters and of roses,/I think, too, that if I could see my features,/I would know who I am, thus precious afternoon.”(lines 12-14) serves to emphasize that an essential part of his life is tied to the visible world, and he cannot help but lament his loss of sight. Overall, both Milton and Borges lose their identity along with their vision and struggle to find themselves in the dark.
At age 55, Jorge Luis Borges went blind. He knew he would because it ran in his family but still, refused to learn braille. In his poem “A Blind Man”, Borges reveals a deeper understanding to what he thinks of his blindness. Readers come to realize that Borges doesn’t take his blindness well. He starts off with “I don’t know what face is looking back” (line 1), expressing a tone of uncertainty in the first three words alone. He detaches himself with his choice of diction, choosing to say “the face in the mirror” (line 2) instead of referring to the face as his own, almost as if his face was something foreign; something he no longer recognizes and thus, cannot claim that it’s his. This struggle within himself has gone on for a good period of time, as proven when he labels his face as “old” and “already weary” (line 3-4). He feels rage towards his blindness and has rejected the reality of it for a long time, to the point where he is tired and “weary”, yet he still fights it. To really show readers what he means, Borges uses a lot of imagery. The “flash of light” (line 6) he mentions later is an example of sensual imagery that conveys that he can’t “see” so he can only rely on “feel”. At the same time, this is ironic because he can’t see, but feel light. Then, he further separates himself by depicting himself as two distinct entities. This is shown when he suddenly changes from first person to second person, saying “your hair” (line 7) instead of “my hair”. Recalling a change in point of view from earlier in the poem, he alludes to himself in third person, “the face” (line 2), but now relates it back to him in an indirect way. Borges feels as if he has two discrete identities because since he can’t see himself, how can he know that he is truly still himself? This forms the idea that seeing oneself is a way of confirming one’s own identity and existence.
However, Borges can’t do that so he feels lost. Borges describes his hair as the “color of ash and at the same time, gold” (line 8), an example of juxtaposition that serves to illustrate the fact that the speaker can only imagine what he looks like and by saying two very different colors, he automatically contradicts himself, purposefully getting the color wrong. He can’t confirm his hair color and therefore, anything he says will be false, at least to him. His reference to Milton exhibits Borges’s desire to adopt Milton’s take on blindness, establishing that they are “wise” and “noble” (line 11). Borges cannot help but wrestle his own grief of losing his sight because if he could see his “features, [he] would know who [he] is” (line 13-14). This strongly opposes Milton’s view, someone accepts and copes well with his blindness, highlighting their perspectives as the biggest contrast in the two poems by the two famous poets. Borges associates sight with identity. Without his sight, he doesn’t know who he is and what to do with his life. The title makes it painfully clear that his blindness is one that berates him every moment of life and he is unable to find solace anywhere. He shows his grief through the poem, an internal battle that he hopes he can escape from by seeing the world as Milton does. One crucial difference between the two, however, is that Milton has found comfort in God, whereas Borges just drowns in his misery, desperately searching for his own safe space but finding none.
Milton demonstrates a different approach to his blindness, initially with both contempt and anger. However, throughout the poem, as Milton reflects on blindness and converses with God, he ultimately reaches the conclusion to accept his blindness. Particularly, as Milton begins the poem with the line “When I consider how my light is spent” , it demonstrates that the speaker is reflecting on the life prior to being blind (line 1). His reflection is further continued as he introduces his life in the present and calls his world “dark” (line 2). The words “dark” and “light” are juxtapositions of each other and Milton uses them in the first two lines in order to demonstrate that the ‘light’ in his world has gone out. The use of this juxtaposition is to highlight the speaker’s bitter tone about his blindness. His reaction to his blindness is further highlighted as he calls his one “talent” “useless” (lines 3-4). In this context, this talent can be referred to as the ability to see and his characterization of his blindness signifies a disappointed tone. This tone contributes to Milton’s initial feeling of contempt towards being blind. His contempt further makes him question God, asking whether or not God requires labor even if he is blind. The rest of the poem tries to address this question, and specifically “Patience” replies (line 8). Patience is able to address the question by mentioning that “who bear his mild yoke serve him (God) best” (lines 10-11). Through this response, “Patience” can be seen as an example of personification of someone who wants to address the reader’s questions.
In his discussion of Patience, Milton also demonstrates that those who accept fate or things that occur to them are able to serve God the best. Patience continues to give examples of people who accept their own faith, starting off with those who “post over land and ocean without rest”, who can also be referred to as people who put in laborious work to worship God (line 13). And Milton ultimately ends off with the fact that “They also serve who only stand and wait” (line 14). This final line alludes back to the topic of patience and how fate will prevail with time. The “They” in this sentence also refers to the followers of God, and this ultimately shows how the speaker has come in terms with his blindness. Particularly, he has learned to “wait” and that in waiting, he will be able to build his own reality and live with being blind. This poem ultimately demonstrates a change in tone of the speaker from feeling contempt about being blind to accepting it. This change in mood is not represented in Borges’ poem, and is also a potential reason why Borges’ referenced Milton in his poem. The change in mood contributes to show the theme that even though blindness can contribute to such a drastic change, it’s the way in which one deals with the blindness that contributed to his/her identity. Milton’s ultimate portrayal that he has learned to become satisfied with his blindness highlights a positive view on blindness, which is a direct contrast to Borge’s opinion.
The poems ultimately take two completely different stances on the author’s perception of blindness, yet share a lot in common regarding their struggles and experiences as shaped by their blindness. These common struggles contribute to the impactfulness of the poem, and each author’s response characterises not only them, but what blindness means to them on a personal level.