El Sur by Jorge Luis Borges: Author, Summary & Theme

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Jorge Luis Borges, author of 'El Sur,' sets the short story in his native Argentina. 'El Sur' is a story about a man who risks his life to protect his name.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges was born in Argentina and died in 1986 at the age of eighty six. Borges is considered by many to be Latin America's greatest writer. He primarily wrote short stories, fantasies, and fables. In later years, however, he became completely blind and began to focus on writing poetry. Borges was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he never received the award.

The Plot of ''El Sur''

Juan Dahlmann, the short story's protagonist, or main character, is the secretary of a city library in Buenos Aires. The first paragraph of the narrative describes Dahlmann's aristocratic heritage; he is descended from a family of military heroes and landowners. Dahlmann has been able to save the ancestral family ranch in southern Argentina, but he never manages to visit until an unusual turn of events prompts him to travel south.

Dahlmann cuts his head on a door at work and contracts blood poisoning from the infection. He is taken to a hospital, where he spends his feverish days confused and dreaming of pictures from The Thousand and One Nights, a book he has recently purchased. Once he begins to recover from the surgery and the illness, he travels south to the ranch to recuperate. On the train ride through southern Argentina, Dahlmann is tempted to look at the book again, but he realizes that reality is more beautiful than the illustrations in books.

As Dahlmann waits for transportation from the train station to the ranch, he enters a store. The first man he notices inside is an older cowboy, dressed in a style Dahlmann recognizes as being distinctly southern. Some other men are also seated in the store. Dahlmann is astonished when one of the men throws a balled up piece of bread at him.

In an attempt to ignore the strange incident, Dahlmann opens his book but soon another spit ball of bread is flung in his direction. Still, he hopes to avoid a confrontation with the other men, in part because he is still recovering from surgery.

Suddenly, the old man says, ''Señor Dahlmann, don't pay any attention to those lads; they're half high.'' Once the old man mentions Dahlmann's name, his reaction to situation changes because ''now it was an attack against him, against his name, and his neighbors knew it.''

He confronts the men, asking them what they want. One of the men stands and begins to shout insults at Dahlmann. Then the man pulls a knife and challenges Dahlmann to fight. The store owner points out that this will not be a fair fight since Dahlmann does not possess a weapon.

Upon hearing this, the old cowboy pitches a knife to Dahlmann. Dahlmann knows that he is not competent to handle a knife fight, yet he clutches the knife and goes outside with the man anyway.

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