The Waiting, Jorge Luis Borges: Summary & Analysis

‘The Waiting’ is a compelling short story penned by the celebrated Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Also known as ‘The Wait’, this tale delves into the life of an unnamed protagonist who seeks refuge in Buenos Aires to evade an enemy, the gangster Alejandro Villari. The narrative revolves around the protagonist's experiences as he waits for Villari to catch up with him. Like many of Borges' works, ‘The Waiting’ demands closer examination to fully grasp its intricacies and enigmatic qualities. Before delving into the analysis, here's a summary of the story’s plot.

Plot Summary

The story follows an anonymous man who seeks refuge in Buenos Aires to escape Alejandro Villari, a mobster determined to end his life. The man endeavors to sever ties with his past and remain inconspicuous, going to great lengths to avoid detection. He feels vexed with himself when he inadvertently pays the cab fare with a Uruguayan coin, drawing attention to his situation.

Upon arriving at the house where he lodges, the landlady inquires about his name, and in a moment of panic, he gives the name 'Villari' as his alias, as he is unable to think of another. Initially, he remains indoors but eventually ventures out to a local cinema after several weeks. He diligently reads the newspaper daily, focusing solely on the obituary section to determine if Villari has passed away.

The man contemplates the possibility that Villari might already be deceased, questioning whether his current life is a mere illusion. However, he is uncertain whether such news would bring relief or misfortune. He strives to live in the present, acknowledging that all moments quickly transform into the past. Battling toothache one night, he visits a dentist to have the tooth extracted. On another occasion, he confronts a man who seemingly pushes into him, demonstrating his constant state of vigilance, anticipating Villari's imminent arrival.

As time passes, he withdraws further indoors, immersing himself in reading Dante's 'Divine Comedy.' At dawn, he experiences a recurring dream where Villari and two other men confront and attack him. In the dream, he retaliates by shooting the men with his revolver. However, one fateful morning, he awakens to find Villari and another man in his room. Turning away from them, seemingly desiring to go back to sleep, the men shoot him, bringing his story to a poignant and unexpected end.

In 'The Waiting,' Borges artfully weaves together themes of fear, anxiety, and the inescapable nature of one's past, enveloping readers in a captivating exploration of the human psyche.

Critical Analysis

‘The Waiting,’ a gangster story by Jorge Luis Borges, delves into the theme of the double and the blurred boundaries between reality and illusion. The unnamed protagonist adopts the name of his pursuer, Villari, creating a parallel between himself and his enemy. Borges blurs the lines between the two characters, as the narrator also refers to the protagonist as 'Villari,' emphasizing the merging of identities and roles.

The Merger of Dreams and Reality

In the protagonist's recurring dream, he vanquishes Villari, yet when Villari arrives in reality, it is he who opens fire. The story blurs the lines between dream and reality, merging them in a perplexing manner. The protagonist's musings about his life possibly being a dream if Villari is already dead add to the ambiguous and enigmatic nature of the narrative. The notion of dreams and reality intertwining aligns with the protagonist's fascination with Dante's Divine Comedy, reflecting his journey through different states of existence.

Waiting and Inevitability of Death

Borges uses the theme of waiting as a central motif in ‘The Waiting.’ The protagonist is waiting for his inevitable encounter with death, pursued by Villari. The story can be seen as an allegory of the human condition, where individuals briefly assume identities and names before facing their ultimate fate. Borges weaves the inevitability of death throughout the narrative, reminding readers of the transience of life and the universal experience of mortality.

The Symbolism of Waiting

Beyond its surface narrative, ‘The Waiting’ offers deeper symbolism. The protagonist's existence mirrors the human experience, where each person awaits their destiny and grapples with the unknown. The act of waiting becomes a reflection of the broader human struggle to make sense of life's uncertainties and the anticipation of what lies ahead.

Borges' exploration of the double, the merging of identities, and the theme of waiting imbue ‘The Waiting’ with complexity and philosophical depth. The narrative's enigmatic nature invites readers to contemplate the blurred lines between reality and illusion, the inevitability of mortality, and the significance of waiting as an allegorical representation of the human experience.

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