Jorge Luis Borges is famous for his short stories. The Gospel According to Mark is an allegorical take on the time-worn story of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It excels in all the essential features of good short fiction. In particular, as this essay will argue, its theme, symbolisms, tone and style showcase Borges’ mastery of the form. These elements unite and complement one another to produce a cohesive and powerful piece of fiction.
The most powerful element in The Gospel is its theme. The writer draws upon an ancient and codified biblical theme of sacrifice. Just as Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for the salvation of his fellow brethren so does Espinosa end up being crucified. But in Espinosa’s case it was involuntary and much to his shock. This deviation from the original story comes to define the short story, for by transposing an eternal religious myth upon a real-life situation it questions the significance and meaning of the original story.
Jorge Luis Borges infuses the story with numerous symbols that are allegorical to the Biblical story. For example, the huge and persistent storm and the consequent flooding can be equated to the episode of the Noah’s Ark. The family of the Gutres stands for the spiritual ignorance of Christ’s crucifiers. Espinosa actually educated the ignorant Gutres but paid the ultimate price due to their dogmatic understanding of what he preached. In this respect Espinosa is the Christ equivalent in the story. What is extraneous to the Biblical text is how Espinosa falls for temptation (offered him in the form of the Gutres girl). In this regard Espinosa is not quite Christ but a human aspirant for salvation. Perhaps the message conveyed by Borges is that sin is an essential feature of human life and to live above it is impossible for humans. After all, Espinosa did not make overt advances to the girl but was tempted and seduced nevertheless. In this sense he took upon himself the sins of his followers – the Gutres to be exact. So the story is rich in theological symbols. It also exposes certain contradictions and gray areas in what the scriptures signify.
The tone and style adopted by Borges is complementary to the form and genre. The tone is mostly matter-of-fact. What emotional affect there is upon the reader is purely based on the events and conditions being narrated. Not only does short fiction require this short of economy but the implied allegory requires it too. In other words, for the Biblical allusions to take full effect the author will have to leave the most profound facts left unsaid. The richness and familiarity of the already known biblical narrative supplies all the drama, emotion and gravity to the story in the foreground. A hallmark of a good short story is its sound ending. The final line is often the most important in that it contains the surprise and twist ending. This is evident in The Gospel as well.
In conclusion, The Gospel According to Mark is a classic in the short story genre. It satisfies in terms of containing all necessary elements for the genre. Of these, the theme, symbolism, tone and style are the stand-out elements. The work is also exemplary in terms of its crisp and compact plot. The story is told with an economy of detail – both in terms of characterization, situation and event – that it almost becomes a model for short fiction.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Gospel According to Mark, first published in 1970, retrieved from <http://www.unil.ch/webdav/site/angl/shared/pdf/Crossing_Americas/BORGES.GOSPEL.pdf> on 28th September 2013.