Study Guide

The Garden of Forking Paths Fate and Free Will

By Jorge Luis Borges

Fate and Free Will

It seemed incredible that this day, a day without warnings or omens, might be that of my implacable death. (3)

Yu Tsun's language often seems to betray a belief in fate or destiny. If he's going to die, he expects to get some sort of warning from the universe.

In spite of my dead father, in spite of having been a child in one of the symmetrical gardens of Hai Feng, was I to die now? (3)

This is one of the fleeting allusions Yu Tsun makes to his childhood, which seems to have been a privileged one. He contrasts his childhood privilege with the misfortune of his present circumstances, feeling that it's unfair. Shouldn't an auspicious past lead to an equally fortunate future?

I told myself that the duel had already started and that I had won the first encounter by besting my adversary in his first attack... by an accident of fate. I argued that so small a victory prefigured a total victory. (13)

Once again Yu Tsun commits the fallacy of assuming that one event prefigures a trend. One bit of good fortune, by this reasoning, would mean total victory – but the fact that Yu Tsun is narrating this story from prison tells us that he was wrong.

To them I offer this advice: <em>Whosoever would undertake some atrocious enterprise should act as if it were already accomplished, should impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.</em> (14)

Yu Tsun's belief in fate isn't just a superstition – it's his M.O. By acting as though his unpleasant tasks have already been accomplished, he can absolve himself of guilt, chalking it all up to fate.

Thus I proceeded, while with the eyes of a man already dead, I contemplated the fluctuations of the day which would probably be my last, and watched the diffuse coming of night. (15)

Kind of a gloomy fellow, this Yu Tsun. The pairing of his fatalistic thoughts with the onset of nightfall turns dusk into an omen of his death.

Lost in these imaginary illusions I forgot my destiny – that of the hunted. (20)

Yu Tsun feels like it's his destiny to be hunted down all the time. We think this is a sign of some serious job dissatisfaction.

"A strange destiny," said Stephen Albert, "that of Ts'ui Pen"... (36)

Yu Tsun seems to have met a kindred spirit in Dr. Albert – a man who discusses history as though it were the workings of destiny.

"In Ts'ui Pen's work, all the possible solutions occur, each one being the point of departure for other bifurcations. Sometimes the pathways of this labyrinth converge. For example, you come to this house; but in other possible pasts you are my enemy; in others my friend." (48)

This theory of bifurcating universes puts a new spin on the idea of destiny. Now it seems as though particular events happen because <em>all </em>events must happen in some time. These events happen because they're not happening in any other time.

... he read two versions of the same epic chapter. In the first, an army marches into battle over a desolate mountain pass. The bleak and somber aspect of the rocky landscape made the soldiers feel that life itself was of little value, and so they won the battle easily. In the second, the same army passes through a palace where a banquet is in progress. The splendor of the feast remained a memory throughout the glorious battle, and so victory followed. (50)

Okay, this passage throws us for a loop. In Ts'ui Pen's example, the army experiences two different sets of circumstances and yet wind up in the same position. Could this be evidence in favor of the existence of fate? Are the characters fated to certain destinies, no matter what paths they take to get there? Doesn't this seem to contradict Ts'ui Pen's idea of infinite possible futures?

In the black and yellow garden there was only a single man, but this man was as strong as a statue and this man was walking up the path and he was Captain Richard Madden.
"The future exists now," I replied. (60-61)

Captain Madden's arrival is described in such a way as to make him seem like the manifestation of a looming destiny. Notice the repetition of the words "this man"– his presence is as undeniable and immutable as a statue.