Literature Study GuidesFiccionesPart 2 The End Summary

Ficciones | Study Guide

Jorge Luis Borges

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Ficciones | Part 2, The End : Artifices | Summary

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Summary

In the afternoon Recabarren, a paralyzed shop owner, lies in bed in a room next to his shop. In the shop a guitarist plays the guitar. Recabarren recalls the guitarist's arrival some time before. He engaged in a song contest with another man and lost. Just after the contest Recabarren was adjusting a load on a mule when "his right side had suddenly died and he lost his power of speech." Now Recabarren uses a cowbell to communicate his needs.

The guitarist has continued to hang around the shop since his defeat, playing the guitar but not singing. Recabarren sees a horseman approaching on the plain. The horseman enters the shop and speaks to the guitarist. It is clear they have been waiting for one another since they last met seven years ago. The horseman recalls advice he gave his children at that time: "One man should not shed another man's blood." Then they get down to business, which is about the guitarist's revenge. "Destiny ... has put a knife in my hand," says the horseman, and he makes other veiled threats. As the two leave the shop, the guitarist says, "Perhaps this time it will go as hard on me as the first time."

Outside on the plain the moon is shining. The guitarist reveals the horseman killed his brother seven years before. He asks the horseman "to put all your guts into this" encounter. The narrator reveals the horseman's name: Martín Fierro. (He is the hero of the epic poem The Gaucho Martín Fierro, well known in Argentina.)

Fierro and the guitarist fight with knives, and "from his cot Recabarren watch[es] the end." The guitarist loses his footing but rallies and stabs Fierro in the chest. He stabs again, though Recabarren cannot see this blow. Fierro falls and does not get up. The guitarist seems "to watch over his death agony," then wipes his blade on the grass and walks away "without looking back." The narrator says the guitarist has become "the stranger: he had no further mission on earth, but he had killed a man."

Analysis

In the prologue to Part 2 Borges says he invented only the character of Recabarren. Not only do the characters of the guitarist and Martín Fierro come from the epic poem The Return of Martín Fierro, by José Hernández, the events of the story are also, as Borges says, implicit in the poem. At the end of The Return of Martín Fierro, Fierro has a songs-and-riddles duel with a singer. Fierro wins the contest. The singer says he will no longer sing, angrily revealing he is the brother of a man Fierro killed (earlier in the poem). The singer and Fierro are about to fight to the death when onlookers separate them and talk them down. Fierro gives his children, who are present, some fatherly advice and then leaves. His departure is the end of Hernández's poem.

Borges's story is set seven years after the end of The Return of Martín Fierro. Many events of the poem's ending are alluded to. The singer/guitarist has engaged in another contest and has once again renounced singing. Fierro refers to seeing his children the last time he and the guitarist met: "I gave them good advice." The guitarist speaks to Fierro with "the sound of hate" in his voice, his hatred clearly stemming from the death of his brother at Fierro's hands. Still it is bold of Borges to say Fierro's death in a duel was "implicit" in the epic poem of his heroism. By having Fierro die, Borges symbolically kills off gaucho literature, the literature of Argentina's cowboys. At the same time he brings gaucho literature new life. At the end of The Return of Martín Fierro, Fierro is no longer a lone gaucho on the plain. He is a family man and member of the society he left behind to ride the plain. Thus with "The End" Borges also revives the Fierro myth, returning him to duels with strangers and a harsh, lonely death. Implicitly that same fate now awaits the guitarist. This could mean "The End" is a parable about vengeance. The vengeful act that puts an end to the injustice or punishes the wrong only begins a new round of vengeance. The guitarist's ability to assume the place of the dead Fierro also connects to Borges's theme that "any man is all men." Whether this story is read as a parable about vengeance or as a local variant on Borges's recurrent interest in how any man is all men, the ending connects this story to a number of others in Ficciones.

The story offers more than a mere reworking of Hernández's poems. Readers unfamiliar with The Return of Martín Fierro can also be intrigued by "The End." Borges's Recabarren adds an element of doubt to the events. At the beginning the paralyzed Recabarren asks a young boy to tell him who is in the shop. From his vantage point lying in bed Recabarren cannot see inside the shop. And yet the rest of the story—the events in the shop and outside on the plain—is seen mainly through Recabarren's eyes. In several stories in Ficciones illness brings with it strange mental states. Ireneo Funes acquires a prodigious memory. Juan Dahlmann, in "The South," perhaps imagines a duel on the plain after a bout with septicemia. In "The End" Recabarren, too, may be imagining the events.
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