Borges : The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero (Summary)

This is another impressive work by Borges where he conceives a short two page detective story. He mentions the setting are unimportant, the plot could well be in any country, at any times. The story is told by a narrator named Ryan who is great grandson of heroic Irish resistance leader Kilpatrick who was mysteriously killed. Ryan attempts to uncover the truth regarding his death. Some things to him regarding his death seem cyclical as if to repeat events from different places and times, from history and from literature. Like a unopened letter warning Kilpatrick of the plot (similar to Caesar) and other events that appeared repeated from story of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. These parallels led Ryan to "imagine some secret shape of time, a pattern of repeating lines." He also toys with the idea that before Kilpatrick was Kilpatrick, he was Julius Caesar. Further details plunge Ryan into yet more deeper maze. Certain events on the day the hero died seems to have been picked up from the Macbeth. "The idea that history might have copied history is mind-boggling enough; that history should copy literature is inconceivable". Also known is the fact that a close comrade of Kilpatrick named Nolan had translated works of Shakespeare besides written a piece on "Festspiele which is a vast traveling theatrical performances that require thousands of actors and retell historical episodes in the same cities, the same mountains in which they occurred". It was also revealed that Kilpatrick signed a death sentence to a unnamed traitor just days before death. Ryan ultimately discovers that the killing was staged and entire plot was executed over many days in which entire city placed the role of theater. The actual sequence of events are this - the resistance leaders meet and realize that they have a traitor in their midst. Kilpatrick gives Nolan the task of uncovering the traitor. Nolan proves beyond doubt that the traitor was Kilpatrick himself. The leader signs his own death sentence, but pleads that his punishment should not harm the cause. So Nolan devised a plan where Kilpatrick's execution by unknown assassins would rally the support for the rebellion. Nolan being short on time, plagiarizes the scenes from Caesar and Macbeth and this act is played out over multiple days in the entire city. Each act of the traitor is carefully choreographed, hundreds of actors are involved. The act ended with the traitor-hero being shot by unknown assailants. "Ryan suspected that the author interpolated them so that someone, in the future, would be able to stumble upon the truth. Ryan realized that he, too, was part of Nolan’s plot.... After long and stubborn deliberation, he decided to silence the discovery. He published a book dedicated to the hero’s glory; that too, perhaps, had been foreseen."

In this crisp story the lines between reality and fiction are obscured and blurred. Each real day and it's events are played out as an act, each moment of the reality is at the same time is a moment of fiction as well. The falsehood is planned in such detail and such scheme that in close observation the truth could be realized and the truth is again to be buried. Not only does the life imitates the art, falsehood actually replaces the reality. In this falsehood itself somewhere lies hidden the reality waiting to be discovered and to be lost again. Also the difference between reality and drama is not absolute, neither is the difference between the hero and the traitor. Both are hostage to perception and the act of investigation. The truth play out irrespective of they are being perceived correctly or not. Is it the truth, the complete truth? What if I do not understand it? Would it still be the truth. It becomes a prisoner to the Observer. The act of perceiving defines what the truth is. It is similar to a idea that "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" What looks to be an dramatic act on a wider stage to Ryan may appear to be truth by someone else who has access to more or less layers of information about the events than Ryan had. Alternate levels of realities each deeper than the other may exist depending on how many layers you unravel. There is no end to the layers and each one adding more detail to the whole plot.Besides the indifference to the place and timings, the generalization of details tells us the universality of the theme.