Ficciones | Study Guide

Jorge Luis Borges

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Ficciones | Character Analysis

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Dr. Stephen Albert

Dr. Stephen Albert is a tall man "with gray eyes and a gray beard." Dr. Yu Tsun thinks there is "something of the priest, and something of the sailor" about him. In fact Dr. Albert had been a missionary in Tientsin, China. He later decided to become a sinologist. He is the only man who understands the secret of the labyrinth created by Ts'ui Pên, Dr. Yu Tsun's grandfather.

Ireneo Funes

Ireneo Funes is a poor man and was born out of wedlock. He bears his mother's name, Funes, not his father's. It is rumored his father is an Englishman named O'Connor. He is born and dies in the city of Fray Bentos in Uruguay. To the Buenos Aries narrator of "Funes, the Memorious" Fray Bentos is in the remote hinterlands. As Funes becomes afflicted with acute perception and tremendous memory, even Fray Bentos becomes too much for him. He prefers to lie in the dark back room of his mother's shack. His great memory enables him to quickly learn languages. He develops a quixotic number system in which every number has its own unique, non-systematic name. But he cannot form general ideas. All his impressions are so precise, he cannot bear to lump them together in general concepts. Funes represents one of the quandaries 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant outlined in The Critique of Pure Reason when he said, "Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions [perceptions] without concepts are blind." Sequestered in darkness and unable to piece his multifarious perceptions together into concepts, Funes is metaphorically "blind." He is brilliant, but his brilliance is incommunicable and ultimately powerless.

Jaromir Hladík

Hladík is a writer and translator who lives in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He is arrested during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia at the start of World War II. As the narrator dryly says, he is accused of being Jewish, which he is. He is also accused of "Judaizing," as the Nazis say, the works of a German. This is also true, in a narrow sense, since Hladík wrote about mystical Jewish influence on the German mystic Jakob Böhme. Hladík is not a very renowned writer. In a twist of fate, a friend intercedes for Hladík, trying to convince the Nazis Hladík is an important scholarly translator. The Nazis are convinced, but this makes them even more eager to execute Hladík. Hladík passes the time in prison in an agony of anticipation.

Erik Lönnrot

Lönnrot is modeled after Edgar Allan Poe's 19th-century fictional detective Auguste Dupin and the 20th-century fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Like them Lönnrot is a gentleman of leisure who takes on criminal cases for his own intellectual interest. He rejects simple explanations in favor of "interesting" ones. However, Lönnrot is wrong about everything in "Death and the Compass." When confronted with his errors, he displays a gentlemanly fatalism. Not only does he submit to his death at the hands of the arch-criminal Red Scharlach, he also proposes they will have this fatal encounter again and again, as time repeats itself.

Pierre Menard

Apart from his two chapters of Don Quixote, Pierre Menard's literary works largely consist of commentary, along with some sonnets and translations. He has written scholarly monographs on a Borgesian range of topics, at once broad and obscure: the 17th-century German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz; the 13th-century Catalan mystic and poet Ramón Llull; and the metric laws of French prose, among others. His ambition to write Don Quixote is simultaneously large and small. To perfectly recreate the 17th-century Spanish novel is a huge ambition. But if Menard succeeds, he should disappear as an author, since his work would be exactly the same as Cervantes's.

John Vincent Moon

At first the narrator thinks Moon is "the Englishman of La Colorada." Moon explains he is Irish but otherwise carries on with the pretense he is not John Vincent Moon. He relates his infamies, his arrogance, and his self-dealing in pitiless detail. Moon encourages his listener to judge Moon harshly, by portraying him as perfectly blameworthy. The Moon who lives in South America seems a changed man. Moon in Ireland was lazy and gave the impression "of being an invertebrate." Moon in South America works the land alongside his peones. He is no longer as aloof from the world as the fiery but cowardly Marxist of his Irish republican days. But he invites the narrator to participate in his self-loathing, enjoining him, "Despise me." He has not gotten over his acts of cowardice.

Commissioner Treviranus

Treviranus is the police commissioner in a "Buenos Aires of dreams," as Borges says in the prologue to Part 2. Treviranus plays the bumbling, narrow-minded Lestrade figure to Lönnrot's brilliant Sherlock Holmes–style detective in "Death and the Compass." Where Lönnrot sees a complicated plot entangled with Jewish mysticism, Treviranus sees a simple case of a robbery gone wrong. He has no patience with Lönnrot's speculations. When Treviranus receives a long letter from someone calling himself "Spinoza" (a 17th-century Dutch Jewish philosopher), Treviranus immediately passes this "piece of insanity" on to Lönnrot, who "deserves" it. However, unlike the policeman Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes's stories, Treviranus has the right theory of the crimes in "Death and the Compass."

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