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The Garden of Forking Paths

The Garden of Forking Paths


by Jorge Luis Borges

Dr. Stephen Albert

Character Analysis

Doc Albert gets involved in this twisted spy plot for one reason only – his name. And yet, as in all Borgesian tales, this coincidence comes to seem like a twist of fate. After all, what are the chances that the man Yu Tsun looked up at random in a phone book would happen be a scholar of Chinese culture whose subject of study is the obscure work of Yu Tsun's great-grandfather? (Crazy, right?) As the narrative progresses, it becomes harder to believe in coincidence. We get the feeling that, at least in this universe, Yu Tsun is destined to meet Dr. Albert.

Dr. Stephen Albert embodies the figure of the scholar: patient, erudite, and solitary. In fact, his lifestyle sort of eerily resembles that of Ts'ui Pen himself, stirring in us a sense of foreboding that he might meet his end in the same way his idol did, assassinated by a stranger. And then he does. Coincidence? Nah – there's no such thing as coincidence in a Borges story.

There are a few clues that Albert's passion for Ts'ui Pen's work is more than purely academic. He is convinced that Ts'ui Pen was "more than a mere novelist" – he was a philosopher whose understanding of the universe contained an element of truth. It's obvious that Albert emulates Ts'ui Pen in his "leanings toward the metaphysical and the mystical," and that he's been completely convinced by the older scholar's philosophy (53). As Yu Tsun observes, there's something ancient, unyielding, even immortal about Dr. Albert – he has "something of the priest" about him (34). Albert's mystical fervor goes a long way toward establishing the magical realist qualities of this story. (Magical realism is a genre in which magical or supernatural elements appear in the text alongside perfectly ordinary ones.) He's the guy who bridges the gap between an obscure theory and the world of the characters, and under his instruction the universe starts to look and behave a lot like the one imagined by Ts'ui Pen.