The Garden of Forking Paths
In any spy story, you can bet that the topic of betrayal is going to come up. Here we're not just dealing with the frivolous matters of double agents and two-faced femme fatales. Passions run much, much deeper in this story – we're talking about devotion to race and country that cause good men to commit "abominations," work for the bad guys, and murder their friends. In the end such betrayals mean this is hardly the "feel-good story of the year." Our protagonist, loyal to his race but a traitor to his friend and his own principles, is left with nothing but "infinite penitence and sickness of the heart" (63).
Questions About Betrayal
- To whom does Yu Tsun feel loyalty in this story? How do those loyalties rank in importance to him? Can Yu Tsun's acts of betrayal be attributed to conflicts between those loyalties?
- How much of a factor is nationalism in this story? Which characters display nationalistic loyalty, and which characters serve to break down the idea of nationalism?
- Why does Yu Tsun feel sick of heart at the end of the story? Whom has he betrayed?
Chew on This
Yu Tsun's final words indicate that, though he has succeeded in his mission, the cost has been too great. It is more important to be loyal to one's own principles and friends than to a race or a nation.
Yu Tsun's willingness to work for the Germans, along with Dr. Stephen Albert's devotion to the study of Chinese culture, indicate that nationalism is an archaic institution that has no importance in this story.