The Library, the Labyrinth, and "Things Invisible:" A Comparative Study of Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub and Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones


Amber Lockard

Publication Date

January 2009

Document Type



English Language and Literature


Dr. Prior was a reader on the committee for this thesis.


One of the most difficult and yet perhaps most revealing means of investigating the proclivities and flaws of the contemporary age is to compare the literatures of this time with the literatures of a past time. The benefits of such a comparison can first highlight the ways in which talented authors from different ages employ similar methods in skillful ways; but moreover, the assessment can help to place postmodern literature, culture, and individuals within a proper and perceivable historical context. To do so is to recognize the advances, discoveries, promises, limitations, and flaws in the present manner of thinking and to avoid the crippling mistake of regarding only the present, assuming its presuppositions to be always accurate. Most importantly, focused study into a text from a time vastly different from the present avails one of a profound comprehension of human possibility, while at the same time serving as a reminder that, more often than not, the present complexities are far more like those dilemmas faced by greater minds in past times. While vastly different in background, Jonathan Swift's eighteenth-century satirical A Tale of a Tub and Jorge Luis Borges' postmodern short story collection Ficciones both employ a distinctive type of fantasy, allegory, and narrative voice to discompose readers, and furthermore investigate the themes of human reason, memory, and epistemology. Ultimately both works make emptiness their centers, but while Borges' labyrinthine library stories suggest that mankind is irrevocably limited by his subjectivity and trapped within his skewed nature, Swift's clever satire of his modern narrator shows that, supported by reason and sustained by the foundations of history and community, man does possesses the ability to objectively approach reality.