The Library of Babel - Jorge Luis Borges

The Library of Babel was first published in 1941 as part of a collection of stories titled The Bifurcated Garden of Paths. His fiction takes the reader to a parallel universe made up of a library that contains all the possible books that pre-exist man.


The Library of Babel is a tale. These types of works are defined as a short story that can be based on real or fictitious events. As an essential feature, these types of works have a fairly small group of characters that interact in the plot. It is a shorter narrative than a closed-frame novel that contains only one story.

Narrator and character

In this Jorge Luis Borges story, the narrator is the only character the reader knows, so the narrator is in the first person. The Library of Babel relates the life experience of a librarian who has access to all the books in history. This character-narrator is lonely, in fact we never hear him talk about anyone else.

His main interest seems to be to assimilate all the knowledge of the universe by reading all the books he can. Now, in his old age, he worries about the universe and answering important questions in life such as where do we come from? And what is the meaning of life?

Title-content relationship

The word "Babel" does not appear anywhere in the story. Which means that it must be another example of Borges' use of "intertextuality". Intertextuality occurs when a text or narration emerges within another narrative in a way that shapes the meaning of the larger text. The title for its part is a biblical reference to a story in the book of Genesis, which explains the origin of different languages.

Synopsis - Summary

The narrator begins his story by describing the library. It is made up of innumerable hexagonal rooms; in each, there are four walls occupied by shelves. The other walls contain small nooks where readers can sleep and bathe, as well as hallways connecting each hexagon with other rooms. In each corridor, a spiral staircase allows you to travel to the library rooms upstairs and downstairs. There are no hallways without mirrors.

The narrator interprets the mirrors as a reminder of his own fleetingness, compared to the endless library. When the narrator was a child, he searched for a specific book but never found it. The narrator is now approaching death. He relates that when he passes away, someone will find his body and throw it from one of the library's balconies into the bottomless void.

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The narrator then describes a confusing feature of the library: its texts are highly ordered, but virtually unintelligible. On each library shelf, there are five shelves, containing exactly thirty-two books. Each book has exactly 410 pages, each page has forty lines, and each line has eighty characters.

The alphabet used in books has twenty-five unique characters. Each book has a title that is completely irrelevant to its printed content. The narrator asserts that the library must have been created by a god, because it has always existed and has no end. Furthermore, he argues that since the readers of his story use twenty-six characters in their language, they belong to a different universe than the library.

The vast majority of library books are unintelligible even in the language of its inhabitants. Those who have studied it have speculated on why this is so, and have invented theories; for example, they wonder if the books contain yet unknown languages ​​or if they are encoded in some way.

Hundreds of years ago, an enlightened man discovered something about the library that changed the paradigmatic way of thinking about it. He argued that the library does not contain two identical books and that, therefore, its content lists all the possible expressions that can be written in the world's twenty-five-character alphabet, given the parameters of its books. Therefore, the library must contain texts that are intelligible, even profound and illustrative.

After the discovery of the secret of the library, its inhabitants set out to find texts that expressed great truths about their world. Many of the readers spent their lives searching for texts that definitively described their individual life paths: their "Vindications". All of these people failed and dissolved in violence or went crazy.

Other readers struggled to find a book that would finally enlighten everyone about how and why the library started. These people, the "inquisitors", searched in vain for centuries. Readers have abandoned the project since the library is too large. The post-Inquisitor period was characterized by disappointment. Many believed that they would never discover any meaning.

Others jokingly proclaimed that they would be more successful at randomly generating their own texts by rolling dice. A third philosophical group, the "Purifiers," believed that it would be better to progressively destroy books that made no sense because it would increase their chances of finding good ones. They destroyed many volumes, but their impact was infinitesimal compared to the size of the library.

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The narrator recounts a library myth that a librarian had once found the book that explained the library. He also hopes that this is so.

The narrator rejects theories from the library's three main philosophical fields. He believes that none of the books is meaningless, since the instructions for the most unintelligible book can be found in another book. He wonders if the inhabitants of the library even understand their own language. At the present time of the narrator, the inhabitants of the library are disappearing. You are sure that the library will remain even after no one is left to explore it.

Finally, he explains that he believes that the universe has an "Order": anyone who explores it walking in a straight line will one day return to the same books. Beneath the mess of the universe is deep elegance. A thinker named Letizia Alvarez de Toledo thought along the same lines, viewing the library as a volume in itself, with infinite pages that can be recursively divided into two. These mental exercises give the narrator hope that the universe has transcendental meaning.


The story is an allegorical meditation on the effort to live the best life possible in a universe that can seem hopelessly confusing and messy. The meaning and the answers to life, the universe and everything are in a book somewhere.

Everything in this Library has meaning, even the seemingly random assortments of letters. For every word that looks like gibberish, there is a book in the Library that decodes that gibberish and gives the word meaning.


"The universe (which others call the Library) is made up of an indefinite number, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries."

“Let heaven exist, even though my own place is in hell. Let me be tortured, mistreated, and annihilated, but let there be an instant creature in which your enormous Library can find its justification. ”

“Like all the men in the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps from the catalog of catalogs; Now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I prepare to die a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. ”

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