Sunday, March 29, 2009

El Sur

written by Jorge Luis Borges
[I] pp. 143 - 154

Juan Dahlmann is a man of two heritages, his parents heralding from Argentina and Germany, and that he is a bookkeeper. But this really isn't that important. What is important, though, is that Dahlmann has a farm in the South of Argentina that he wants to settle in.

One day in February 1939, something hit Dahlmann on the head while he was walking with the book One Thousand and One Nights. He walks back to his room, where a fever and some nightmares overtake him. He is taken to the hospital, un sanatorio, where he has surgery and endures great pain, both physically and psychologically. All he wants to do is go to his farm.

After noticing symmetries between his time before and after his hospital stay, Dahlmann takes a trip to the South of Buenos Aires. He sees a cat, and realizes that he doesn't know where he is: aquel contacto era ilusorio (147).

He goes to the train station where he boards the train, happy to be alive after his ordeal. He observes nature, eats, lives, and feels. He takes a nap, and dreams, before again realizing that perhaps he is not going to his farm: la soledad era perfecta y tal vez hostil, y Dahlmann pudo sospechar que viajaba al pasado y o sólo al Sur (149). Dahlmann then gets kicked off the train.

A series of parallels between the two worlds then emerge: the loud cafeteria, the customer who looks like a hopsital employee, a light brush on his face. He then decides to read his book, but others laugh at him. Then a compadrito from the rowdy crowd approaches him with a large dagger, and they are about to fight. Perhaps this is a way for Dahlmann to come to terms with his pain: Era como si el Sur hubiera resuelto que Dahlmann aceptara el duelo (153). He wants to fight, but is unable. Fortunately, the compadrito leaves, and Dahlmann leaves towards his farm, towards El Sur.

The story is somewhat autobiographical, and is a good example of desdoblamiento. The reader is left with a large degree of ambiguity in what is real and what is fake.


-el desdoblamiento y la dualidad de ser
-la tenue línea entre lo real y lo ilusorio
-el cuento fantástico del siglo XIX y del siglo XX


  1. This is wrong. Dahlmann never goes to El Sur. He fights because he realizes that death by fighting would be more honorable than dying in a sanatarium, but the ambiguity is whether or not he was in the sanitarium the whole time.

    1. Actually, in my textbook, the story goes exactly as they have it described here.

    2. No Zoey is right. The gaucho throws Dahlmann a knife and it is assumed he dies in the knifefight. Gallantly just as his grandfather did.

    3. Zoey is right! I found a more thorough summary of it here:
      It also has some good analysis.

  2. Excuse me, but this summary is incorrect. And his grandparents are extremely important. Juan Dahlmann felt that his life was a failure, however, he admired his grandfather who lived his life to the fullest. To be more exact, it was the grandfather from Argentina who fought as a soldier and was esteemed by many men. Juan dies in the sanitarium when he gets injected, before he dies he relives an entire life that is similar to the one of his grandfather. In a sense, he copies the life that his grandfather had. He dies a different death in this illusion.

  3. yes, and the quotes have been misinterpreted. If you really need a translation, here is an infinitely better one

    1. Umm i am confused which one is right? I know his grandparents are important but Juan also has two identities.. Doesnt he? I know he dies or maybe not i dont know the story is really confusing!

  4. Umm i am confused which one is right? I know his grandparents are important but Juan also has two identities.. Doesnt he? I know he dies or maybe not i dont know the story is really confusing!