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The Garden of Forking Paths

The Garden of Forking Paths


by Jorge Luis Borges

Analysis: Writing Style

Dense, full of apparent digressions

One of the really cool things about "The Garden of Forking Paths" is the way the style of the writing mimics the diverging and converging paths of the labyrinth. That sounds more complicated than it is. What we mean is this: the story itself takes forking paths, splitting off into apparent digressions. Later these branches in the narrative come back together in such a neat way that it seems to have been planned all along.

For example, Yu Tsun puts an end to his "wandering thoughts" in order to get down to the serious business of figuring out how to escape from Richard Madden. Later we discover that those "wandering thoughts" – his musings on the nature of time – have a far more central role in the story than we first thought (4). In other words, the story merely appears to wander. As it turns out, every word is part of a larger plan. That "ta-da" moment at the end, where Borges ties up all the loose ends in a neat package, really hammers home the idea that every single detail in this story was premeditated. Call it fate if you will – or call it Borges' genius.

One way that Borges forces our minds to wander down labyrinthine paths is via a method called "intertextuality." He includes references to lots of different texts, both real and imaginary. (Check out the "Allusions" section for a list of the real ones.) He has different narrators chime in with their own voices – like the anonymous "manuscript editor," for example, who leaves us an outraged comment in the form of a footnote. (Kind of like a blog comment.)

And, perhaps to make his invented documents seem more realistic, Borges causes parts of them to be missing – like the first two pages of Yu Tsun's deposition. The intertextual story becomes a nexus of so much information that it's impossible to contemplate tracing all of the links that pop up in these thirteen pages. Like a prototype of Wikipedia, it's a hypertext – a maze in paper form.

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