Borges' Short Stories


The effects of the times on a writer, can be seen in his
works. Be it politics, customs, or economics, the writer
may choose to illustrate his country's condition in his
writings. Writers often have a reason for writing a book or
story. In the book " Dr. Brodie's Report", written by Jorge
Luis Borges, one can see both the effects of his times on
his writings, and the reason why he wrote the book. This
essay will first summarize six of the short stories in his
book, then discuss why he wrote the book and finally show
the effects of time in his stories.
 The first short story ii the book is "The Gospel According
to Mark". The story takes place on a ranch. Baltasar
Espinosa, a kindly, young man is spending his summer
vacation there. While the owner of the ranch is away, a
severe rainstorm floods the area trapping Baltasar, and the
forman Gutre and his family. The Gutres are uneducated and
are illiterate. Espinosa finds a Bible in the house, and
begins reading to them the Gospel according to Mark every
night after dinner. One night Espinosa dreams of the great
flood and imagines hearing the hammering of carpenters
building the Ark. When he wakes up, the Gutres tell him
that that the rains had damaged the roof of the tool shed.
One night the Gutre's daughter comes to Espinosa's door and
then sleeps with him. The following day Gutre asked
Espinosa if Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for the
sake of man's sins. Espinosa, a non-believer, answered in
the affirmative. After a long nap that day, the Gutres wake
up Espinosa. He is then asked for a blessing, spat on, and
pushed to the back part of the house. Through the door to
the tool shed Espinosa sees that the Gutres had taken down
the beams and made a cross.
 In "The Duel", another story in the book, two Argentine
society ladies, Clara Glencairn de Figueroa and Marta
Pizzaro, paint out of boredom. Although they are fond of
each other's paintings, they become secret rivals. This
relationship comes to dominate their lives. When Clara
dies, Marta realizes that her life has no meaning. She then
hangs a somber painting of Clara in the National Gallery,
and never paints again. The narrator concludes that in this
"delicate duel, only suspected by a few friends, there were
neither defeats nor victories nor even an open encounter"
(Borges 41).
 In "The End of the Duel" there is a feud between two
nineteenth century Uruguayans. Manuel Cardosa and Carmen
Silveira have always hated each other for unknown reasons.
After the country drafts them to the army, they fight side
by side, but still despise each other. Soon, the enemy
captures them, and they are condemned to death. When the
captain of the enemy, Juan Patricio
Nolan, hears of their feud and proposes a final duel
between the two. They will have their throats cut
simultaneously and then run as far as they can. They both
agree to this proposition. Large sums of money are placed
on the duel. The race ends as follows: "Spurts of blood
gushed from the men's throats. They dashed forward a number
of steps before tumbling face down. Cardoso, as he fell,
stretched out his arms. Perhaps never aware of it, he had
won." (Borges 50).
"The Intruder" is a story about a triangle love, with two
brothers in love with one woman. The two brothers are
Cristian and Eduardo Nilsen. They are teamsters, and among
other things like to spend times in brothels. The Nilsens'
have close ties and are feared by all. One day Cristian
brings home a pretty and sweet girl named Juliana Burgos,
and with his consent Eduardo shares her favors. This
situation does not last because they both fall in love with
her and become jealous of one another. Fearing the break up
of their friendship, they return her to a whorehouse. Both
brothers begin to secretly visit her, until one day when
they accidentally meet each other. They decide to take her
back, but after a short time their jealousies are revived.
One day Eduardo joins Cristian on a ride to a lonely spot
in a forest. At this spot Cristian informs Eduardo that he
killed Juliana so she could no longer separate the two
brothers. They quickly bury her together. We see that their
friendship was strengthened by the whole situation when it
says "One more link bound them now-the woman that they
cruelly sacrificed and their common need to forget her."
(Borges 68).
"The Meeting" recalls an incident that occurred in 1910 in
Buenos Aires. The narrator of the story was taken by his
cousin to a country estate for a fiesta. The rest of the
guests were a sophisticated and well versed. After the
meal, in the game room, where Duncan and Uriarte are
involved in a poker game, angry voices are overheard.
Uriarte accuses Duncan of cheating and challenges him to a
duel. They both go to a display case and choose their
weapons. Uriarte takes a long dagger with a U-shaped
crosspiece in the hilt. Duncan takes a shorter wooden
handled dagger stamped with a tree on the blade. At first
they fight clumsily, but before long they fence like
experts. Suddenly Uriarte wounds Duncan fatally in the
chest. Many years later the narrator tells this story to a
retired police captain. The captain reveals that the
daggers could have belonged to Juan Almanza and Juan
Almada. Because people were always confusing them, the two
searched for each other to have a duel. However, they never
found each other. The narrator concludes that perhaps the
duel, in 1910, was the end of the quarrel between Almada
and Almanza, whose weapons used unsuspecting tools: Duncan
and Uriarte.
"Guayaquil" takes place some time after World War II,
between two professors of Latin American history. A
historian in Sulaco has discovered some of Simon Bolivar's
unpublished letters. The Argentine government has appointed
the narrator to travel to Sulaco to transcribe and publish
the letters upon his return to Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, the
University of Cordoba has proposed to send its Professor
Zimmerman to carry out the same mission. The narrator
receives Zimmerman into his home to inform him of the
country's decision. Zimmerman, a Jew, and a devotee of
Schophenhauer, whose belief in will as the essence of life,
is controlled by his thinking. When the narrator says he is
on a mission to Saluco to obtain the truth, Zimmerman
exclaims that the letter only shows Bolivar's point of view
and may be self-serving. He goes on to say that the
narrator's well-established reputation could be tarnished
if his name were linked with an unpopular interpretation of
the letters. Zimmerman alludes to Schopenhauer and says
that the words between the generals were far less
meaningful, to the course of history, than the stronger
will of one of them. By the end of the story the narrator
resigns himself to defeat as Zimmerman extracts from his
briefcase a letter to the Minister stating the narrators'
motives for not making the trip to Saluco. Upon signing the
letter with Zimmerman's pen, the narrator sees tickets to
Saluco in Zimmerman's briefcase.
 Borges's reason for writing the book can be found in his
prologue along with some of his life's story. Borges was a
writer for many years. He wrote poems essays and stories.
His works were very confusing and provoked much thought
(Borges, Jorge Luis 384). A proof of this is that he
introduced Ultraism to South America. Ultraism is a form of
poetry that is free versed, and untraditional. It uses much
imagery and symbolism, and is very hard to understand
(Ultraismo 118). Because in his entire career he had
written in mazes and labyrinths, here he wanted to write
something straightforward (Stabb 85). In Borges's prologue
to the book he says that late in Kipling's career his
stories were no less maze-like than that of Khafka or Henry
James. But, at the beginning of his career he wrote
straightforward stories that became "laconic masterpieces"
(Borges 9). He goes on to say "I have done my best-I don't
know with what success-to write straightforward stories. I
do not dare state they are simple; there isn't anywhere on
earth a single page or a single word that is, since each
thing implies the universe, whose most obvious trait is
complexity." (Borges 9). Borges late in his career grew
blind and had to dictate his stories to friends and family
to be written. Because of this he could only write short
stories (Borges, Jorge Luis 384). Thus Dr. Brodie's Report
forms a collection of short straightforward stories.
 The setting of "The Apostles According to Mark" perfectly
illustrates the pampa. The pampa are the northeast plains
of Argentina. It has a humid sub-tropical climate and is
used for farming (Argentina 542). The story takes place in
a ranch that is surrounded by floods from severe rain.
 In the early nineteen hundreds Argentina was modernizing.
New science and technology were being brought into the
country. But some neighborhoods remained old-fashioned.
Borges loved these neighborhoods and remembered them from
his childhood. This comes up in many of his stories (Stabb
4). A good example of this comes up in "The Intruder". The
two brothers in the story terrorize everyone with "horses,
silver-trimmed riding gear, the short bladed dagger..."
They also "blew money freely and got themselves into boozy
brawls." (Borges 64). Try to picture these two riding side
by side through adventure after adventure. These are the
types of people who lived in the times Borges loved.
"The Duel" satirizes upper middle-class Argentine. In this
story he ridicules the artistic circles. At a conference
that both Clara and Marta would like to be named delegate
the themes are "of burning interest: Can the artist
disregard the indigenous? Can he omit or slight the flora
and fauna? Can he be insensitive to problems of a social
nature? Should he not join his voice of those suffering
under the yoke of Saxon imperialism? Et cetra, et cetra."
(McMurray 190).
 In every story except "The gospel According to Mark" there
is a quarrel in one form or another. The arguments end in
different ways depending on the social status of those
involved. This reflects how the different social classes
react in Argentina. In "The Duel", two upper middle-class
women are involved. They have a secret and more passive
argument, and no violence is needed. Women often have
prolonged arguments, and this one is not settled until
after one of them dies. In direct contrast to this is "The
end of the duel". The confrontation here is between two
lower-class men. It is believed that they are arguing about
trivial matters. They end their disagreement in a macho,
dumb-headed manner. They do not care that they will both
die because of the race they will have, they just want to
prove to everyone else that one of them is the better man.
In "The Intruder" two dirty, no good, scoundrels are
involved in a dispute. They resort to violence to end their
disagreement. They do not kill one another, but instead
kill the innocent person who is causing the dispute. "The
meeting" occurs between two upper-class gentlemen. However,
they were drunk so the episode cannot truly describe how
upper-class men would react. In "Guayaquil" the argument
takes place between two professors. They fight with the
mind and not the body. Their dispute is settled by talking
it out and not by resorting to violence.
Doctor Brodie's Report is a fascinating collection of
straight forward short stories. Borges felt he had to write
stories like this, at this point in his career. His
settings reflect the time and location he grew up and lived
in. His stories reflect the minds of his countrymen.


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