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22 Jan

The Shape of the Sword by Jorge Luis Borges

The Shape of the Sword by Jorge Luis Borges

An Irishman, now living near Tacuarembo in Uruguay, recounts his experiences in the Irish War of Independence and how he received the large scar on his face.

Borges starts the story narrating as himself as he is forced to stop in a small town run by the unnamed Irishman, who is known as strict but fair. Borges ingratiates himself with the Irishman, and they go out to drink together on the patio. Borges gets drunk and asks about the origin of a crescent-shaped scar on the Irishman's face. His story is as follows:

The Irishman describes the war and the introduction of a new comrade, John Vincent Moon, into their band of rebels. He explains that the new comrade was a coward and was arrogant about his mental capabilities but terrified of being hurt. He describes how he himself saved John Vincent Moon's life when soldiers attacked them. A bullet scraped John Vincent Moon as they escaped, but the wound was only superficial.

He and Vincent Moon fled together to a general's house, where they stayed for ten days. The ninth day, he went out to avenge the death of some comrades. Vincent Moon always stayed at the house, pleading his injury. When the Irishman returned on their last day in the house, he heard Vincent Moon on the telephone, selling him to the police.

He recounts his chase of Vincent Moon, how he cornered him and marked a moon-shaped scar on his forehead just before the police captured him.

Borges interrupts the story here to ask what happened to Vincent Moon.

The Irishman tells Borges he only is telling him the rest of this story because he is a stranger, because his disdain will not hurt so much. Then he proceeds to reveal that Moon fled with "Judas' money" while his comrade (apparently) was killed.

His story ends with the line: "I denounced the man who protected me: I am Vincent Moon. Now despise me."


B.1. It was a nearly perfect ashen arc which sank into his temple on one side and his cheek on the other.

B.2. When he was drunk, the narrator asked the Irishman about the scar.

B.3. During the autumn of 1922, the Irishman was joined by a comrade from Munsler, called John Vincent Moon.

B.4. Though it was less than hundred years old, it was dark and deteriorated and had plenty of confusing corridors and useless antechambers.

B.5. He overheard a conversation by Vincent Moon over the telephone where the narrator was being sold to the British. He passed on information regarding the whereabouts of the narrator to the English forces.


C.1. A careless reader may be caught unawares by Borges’ craft, but a competent reader will be able to sort out the ambiguity surrounding the man’s identity. The moment the narrator wounds Moon’s face, it becomes obvious that the narrator must be Moon himself. And the earlier assertion, “I am all others, any man is all man” prepares the reader for any mixing up of identity.


C.2. The entire story can be seen as an act of confession by Vincent Moon. The early parts of the story might mislead the reader into believing that this one too is another one of the typical labyrinthine Borges stories. Only towards the end of the story does the reader realise that he/she has been sucked into the labyrinth, that it is in fact a story of confession. He fears that if he reveals that he is Moon, Borges won’t listen to his confession. So he conceals his identity and tells the story in the guise of the Irishman. Finally he confesses that he is in fact Moon who betrayed his loyal friend, the Irishman. The fact that he is ready to accept the crime and face the consequence is ample proof that it indeed is a confession. He repents and is ready to do penance.


C.3. The narrator stopped to give Borges the space to express his contempt and hatred for the shameful deed that he committed in betraying his good friend. He hoped that Borges had by then recognised him as Vincent Moon. Earlier he had asked Borges not to minimise the opprobrium that his infamous deed warranted.


C.4.  Use points from C.1 and C.2.


C.5. See page 70. Para 2.


Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, SGC Aruvithura

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