The Garden of Forking Paths
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Yu Tsun is a secret agent whose cover has been blown.
We are introduced to our narrator, Yu Tsun, in the moment that he discovers that Captain Richard Madden has captured (and perhaps killed) his colleague, another spy for the German army.
Spy vs. spy – Yu Tsun must complete his mission with limited time and resources.
One thing is certain –Yu Tsun must flee. But he also has a mission to complete – he needs to get the name of a secret weapons cache to his boss in Berlin. He empties out his pockets, looks up a name in the phone book, and comes up with a plan within ten minutes. Significantly, he has a gun loaded with only one bullet. (For Richard Madden, we wonder?) The next few scenes involve a chase, a train ride, and an encounter with a mysterious stranger. All the time we're wondering... how is Yu Tsun going to pull this off?
Yu Tsun makes friends with Dr. Albert, who tells him about his ancestor. Will these revelations detract him from his mission?
Yu Tsun gets involved in a lengthy discussion with the man he set out to find – Dr. Stephen Albert – who turns out to be a well-known Sinologist who has studied the work of Yu Tsun's ancestor. Their conversation turns philosophical, and it's here that we get the real meat of this short story. Plot wise, however, we're a bit worried – though Yu Tsun keeps an eye on the clock, it seems like he's cutting it pretty close. Richard Madden is on his tail, and our spy still needs to send that message.
Yu Tsun shoots Dr. Albert in the back.
Richard Madden finally appears in the garden, and we know something big is about to go down. In a move that catches us completely off guard, Yu Tsun uses his only bullet to shoot not Richard Madden, but the friendly Dr. Albert.
We're so confused. SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL US WHAT'S GOING ON!
Hold the phone. You mean to tell us that that bullet wasn't meant for Richard Madden? How is Dr. Albert going to pass along the secret message to Germany now? Doesn't this mean that Yu Tsun is going to be captured? We have so many questions, and Borges only leaves ONE PARAGRAPH to answer them!
All is revealed.
Richard Madden arrests Yu Tsun and hauls his butt to prison, where he awaits execution. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, Yu Tsun informs us that his mission has been a success. Yeah, you read that right. Dead men, in this case, do actually tell tales. The Chief (Tsun's boss), reading the global papers from his office in Berlin, sees an article reporting that a Dr. Albert has been murdered by one of his spies, Yu Tsun. The name of the city with the secret weapons cache? Albert. The Germans bomb the city, so Yu Tsun knows that his message has been received.
Yu Tsun's infinite "sickness of heart" (63)
There you have it, kids. Is our protagonist satisfied at having completed his mission and proven the worth of a Chinese man to the despicably xenophobic Chief? Or is he fearful of his impending death by hanging? Actually, what Yu Tsun feels, more than either of these things, is "infinite penitence and sickness of heart" at having murdered an honorable man (63).