Who is Dr.
Yu Tsun? Where is he when the story begins? What is about to
happen to him? What has happened to his colleague Viktor Runeberg?
What does Yu Tsun want to do? What does he determine to do and
how does he propose to accomplish it?
the references to the historical text of Liddell Hart significant
to the rest of the story? How does the story problematize the
seeming authority and truth of a history book? What is history
according to this story? What is the relationship between history
and fiction? How are they similar? How do they differ? Is it
significant that the story replaces an act of nature (the rain)
with a human act (Yu Tsun's actions) as the real reason for
the unfolding of historical events? Why is that important to
the concerns of the story? Is human life fixed, tied to, or
determined by natural forces? How is this story an expression
of constructionism? What is Borges's notion of the role of human
beings in the determination and directing of their own history
and evolution? According to Borges, what can the human creative
powers, will and imagination, accomplish?
shift in narrators from the third person to the first? What
do the two missing pages at the beginning of Yu Tsun's "dictated,
reread, and signed" document imply? What is the significance
of the protagonist telling his own story? What does that accomplish
or suggest? What does it have to do with his realizations? Does
he change, learn something, or is he transformed by the events
recounted? Who is the intended audience of his statement? Is
it significant that his ancestor, Ts'ui Pên, decided to
become a writer? Is Yu Tsun, in some sense, also a writer and
storyteller? What does that imply? How is that connected to
his discoveries or realizations? How does that inform his last
words, "he does not know (no one can know) my innumerable
contrition and weariness"? How does Yu Tsun judge his own
the significance of the objects in Yu Tsun's pockets? What about
the letter which he decided to destroy but didn't? Where did
it come from? What does it contain? Is this in any way related
to Stephen Albert's mention of "a fragment of a letter
I discovered"? What did Ts'ui Pên mean when he wrote,
in his letter, "I leave to the various futures (not to
all) my garden of forking paths"? Why is his "garden"
absent from some "futures"? Which ones? What role
do such letters play in the story, literally and symbolically?
Are these letters in any way related to Yu Tsun's statement,
"the future already exists
but I am your friend.
Could I see the letter again"?
Who is the
Chief? What issues are brought up by the situation of a Chinese
man working for the Germans? What is the nature of the historical
experience between China and Germany and of German attitudes
toward the Chinese? What does he want to prove? Why? How about
Richard Madden as an Irishman working for the British? How do
Yu Tsun and Madden's situations compare? What do they have in
common? How does that make their enmity ironic? What is the
point Borges seems to be making regarding their servitude to
Germany and England as well as their antagonism toward each
other? Is Madden's name suggestive in this respect?
Why is the
woman on the train dressed in mourning? What is the significance
of the book, the Annals of Tacitus, the young boy is
reading? Why is the wounded soldier happy?
the meaning of the idea expressed by Yu Tsun that "everything
happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries
of centuries and only in the present do things happen"?
What is the significance of the emphasis on the present moment,
the here and now? Is this related to the carpe diem ("seize
the day") idea? How? How is the present effectively connected
to the past and the future? How is the present associated simultaneously
to choices, actions, and consequences? How is the present moment
relevant to the idea of the "forking paths"? What
is the symbolic meaning of forking paths when understood as
a crossroads? What is a person confronted with when standing
at a crossroads? What are the implications of a choice of road?
May this be connected to the myth of Oedipus and its concerns
with human choices and supposed predestination? What is suggested
by the idea that "in all fictional works, each time a man
is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and
eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pên, he
chooses-simultaneously-all of them. He creates, in this way,
diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate
and fork"? What does it mean to make all choices at once?
What view of life do such beliefs embody?
the philosophy of infinite forking paths contrast with the view
that "the author of an atrocious undertaking ought to imagine
that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself
a future as irrevocable as the past"? What does Yu Tsun
mean when he says "I forsee that man will resign himself
each day to more atrocious undertakings; soon there will be
no one but warriors and brigands"? How about the statement,
"thus fought the heroes, tranquil their admirable hearts,
violent their swords, resigned to kill and to die"? Who
are those "heroes"? To what characters in the story
do they correspond? How has Yu Tsun defeated himself by stating
that "the future already exists"? How does such a
philosophy of life differ from the theory of multiple realities
and infinitely forking paths? What two opposing philosophies
are presented in the story and embodied in such statements?
Which one does Borges promote? Which one does he criticize?
How do the
boys know that Yu Tsun is going to Stephen Albert's house? What
sense does that create regarding Yu Tsun's journey? Is it predetermined
in some sense? How exactly? In what sense? Why do they boys
tell him "take this road to the left and at every crossroads
turn again to your left?" What is the symbolic meaning
of a left turn, given a right and left choice? What does it
mean to always choose left? How is this related to the idea
that the traditional solution to finding the center of certain
labyrinths involves making continued left turns? How are such
choices and methods connected to the nature and direction of
human history? How are they related to the idea of a fixed fate?
Yu Tsun see and hear as he approaches Albert's house? Why does
Yu Tsun consider Stephen Albert, "no less great than Goethe"?
What is meant when Yu Tsun notices that Stephen Albert's face
is somehow "unalterable
even immortal"? Why does
he admire him so much? What is Albert's profession? What does
that suggest about him? Is it significant that Albert takes
an interest in and has a deep love for Chinese culture? How
does he differ from men like Yu Tsun and Madden? Are Yu Tsun
and Madden also knowledgeable of other cultures? To what purpose
or effect do they put that knowledge? How does that differ from
what Albert or Goethe do with their knowledge of the cultural
significant about the fact that Ts'ui Pên "renounced
worldly power" to construct a labyrinth "in which
all men would become lost"? What happens to Yu Tsun as
he approaches Albert's house and ponders the significance of
his grandfather's labyrinth? What happens to his sense of place/geography?
His sense of time? What does he mean by acknowledging that "absorbed
in these illusory images, I forgot my destiny of one pursued"?
How are his perceptions altered by those visions? What do they
allow him to overcome? What does Yu Tsun realize at Albert's
house and how does it affect his position in, and his view of,
the labyrinth of life?
What does Yu Tsun mean when he says,"I sensed that the
Chief somehow feared people of my race -- for the innumerable
ancestors who merge within me"? How about, "I felt
about me and within my dark body an invisible, intangible swarming"?
And "once again I felt the swarming sensation of which
I have spoken. It seemed to me that the humid garden that surrounded
the house was infinitely saturated with invisible persons"?
Who are those persons? What invisible presences are felt here?
What do they signify? How do they explain the mysterious coincidences
featured in the story? How do they account for the hidden links
between the characters? Are such presences at all related to
Yu Tsun's peculiar last words regarding his "innumerable
contrition and weariness"? What effectively dies with Stephen
Albert? What did Yu Tsun unwittingly destroy when he shot him?
the significance of the garden image? What does it allude to?
How is the idea of the garden connected to the visions and solutions
offered by the story? Where do we see garden images in the story?
What does Stephen Albert mean when he says to Yu Tsun, "you
no doubt wish to see the garden?" What is the garden which
Borges proposes to his readers? What does it look like? What
does it symbolize? Is this garden similar to those seen in stories
like Voltaire's Candide and Naguib Mahfouz's "Zaabalawi"?
Stephen Albert imply when he says, "to no one did it occur
that the book and the maze were one and the same thing"?
What does this imply about Ts'ui Pên's book? What is the
relationship between Ts'ui Pên's garden of forking paths,
his labyrinth, his book, and the rest of literature? How are
fiction and the acts of creative writing and storytelling characterized
in this story? What special powers and abilities does fiction
As a child,
Borges' father used to entertain him by giving him riddles and
logical paradoxes to solve. If this story is a riddle, what
is its solution? Stephen Albert asks Yu Tsun, "in a riddle
whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?"
To which Yu Tsun replies "The word is chess"?
In Ts'ui Pên's story, the answer appears to be related
to the idea of "Time." Is that also true of Borges's
story? In Borges's story of infinitely forking paths, what is
the prohibited word which is also the solution to its riddle?