The Library of Babel
by Jorge Luis Borges
The Library of Babel Theme of Death
"The Library of Babel" takes us to the brink of death – not only of the main character, but of the entire human race. The narrator, an elderly librarian whose sight is failing him, writes in order to distract himself from the mass suicides and violent murders taking place throughout the Library. What brought on this apocalypse? Well, everybody's feeling really angry and angsty about not being able to find any meaning in the universe. The apocalyptic scenario forces us to consider what the Library will be like without human life – will its eternal series of books have any significance without people to interpret it?
Questions About Death
- Why is suicide so common in the Library?
- What happens to people's bodies after they die in the Library?
- What are some of the signs of the narrator's approaching death? How does his body start to fail? How might these disabilities be particularly troublesome to a librarian?
- If the human population of the Library is wiped out, will the Library change at all? Will its significance change? Does the question of human impermanence tell us anything about meaning within the Library?
Chew on This
The leading cause of death in the Library isn't famine or disease – it's philosophy. People kill each other and themselves over ideas that they formulate about the nature of the Library.
Death in the Library forces us to consider what the Library will be like without human life. The apocalyptic setting, with the human race on the verge of extinction, reminds us that without interpreters, the Library itself is a meaningless abstraction.