Study Guide to

Jorge Luis Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths"

Do not read further until you have completed your first reading of the story.

Your first reading is the occasion for carrying out the standard initial repertoire of questions.


Do not read further until you have completed your first reading of the story.

In your second reading, take notes (in the margins of your text or otherwise [e.g., on a print-out of this Study Guide) that either constitute or point to answers to the following questions.  (Did your first reading reveal these as important to this story?)

Question 1.  What is the motivation of the narrator for going to Stephen Albert's house?  What precipitates this action?  Does he succeed in his aims?

Question 2. What exactly is the solution that Stephen Albert has discovered to the mystery concerning the project of the narrator's ancestor?

Question 3.  What is a labyrinth?  What precisely is the analogy that connects a labyrinth in space with a labyrinth in time? 

Question 4.  What are the different pieces of evidence that indicate that the narrator himself is negotiating a labyrinth, in passing through the series of events that constitute his story?  (Try to come up with at least three distinct different sorts of evidence.  Of course, even more would be better.) 


Do not read further until you have completed your second reading of the story.

In your third reading of the story, try to notice

In her biographical sketch of Borges, Ann Charters observes that "[f]rom Ralph Waldo Emerson [Borges] got the idea that all literary works are one work and that all writers are one impersonal writer."  How might the motif in "The Garden of Forking Paths" of the stranger appearing at someone's door be interpreted as an expression of this belief?

Consider again Question 1 taken up in your second reading.  Assume that time (hence history) is constituted in the way we have learned to take for granted, the way we assume is reflected in the fictional works the culture we share is used to producing and consuming, where "each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others."  Assume this can be generalized to collective (including institutional) decisions, and to forces of impersonal circumstance:  each time a number of factors (individual, collective, impersonal) come together, a single outcome results from their combined effects, eliminating all other alternatives that might have been possible if any given factor had been different. 

Under this assumption about the nature of time, then:  If Captain Liddell Hart is right, did the spy succeed in his mission?  If the protagonist is right about what he read in his paper, is Captain Liddell Hart correct in his account of what happened in the British assault against German positions on the Serre-Mountauban line in July of 1916?

What "unsuspected light" does Dr. Yu Tsun's confession cast on the incident that the editor/commentator cites from Captain Liddell Hart's account of what happened in the Great War?

How might things be today if the war had had this or that different outcome?  (For example:  would you exist in this or that world?  In all of them?  In some but not others?)

Has it had a different outcome -- if Ts'ui PÍn's theory of time is correct?

Could both accounts be true, under Ts'ui PÍn's theory of time?

But how can it be that the sequence of events down one temporal path should "cross paths" with the sequence of events down a different temporal path?  That is:  how could Dr. Yu's Tsun's confession have ended up in the hands of an editor/commentator (and us, his readers) who is an heir of Captain Liddell Hart's record of events?

[Can you see how some of these specific questions for the second and third reading of "A Garden of Forking Paths" correlate with the generic follow-up questions laid out in the General Study Guide?]


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   Contents copyright © 1998 by Lyman A. Baker

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  This page last updated 28 March 1999.