Research Papers

An Exploration of Alter-ego in Fiction: A Psychoanalytic Study of Selected Short Stories of Jorge Luis Borges-Aqsa Waris

Table of Contents:



Literature review:

Theoretical framework:

Discussion and Analysis:




            This paper will analyse the study of Alter-ego in Borges’ short stories. This paper explains that why Borges is using Alter-ego in most of his short stories. Secondly, it also explains that what task is given to Alter-ego. In this research paper Carl Jung theory of Shadow will be applied on literary piece of writing. Every human consist of self the good intentions and anti-self the evil intentions. It depends on the role of free will to choose intentions. When human moves with good intentions then the evil side is repressed. But life is very painful that is why human start repressing his good intentions and moves towards evil side. The basic purpose of self is to support the life mission but on the other hand anti-self is supporting the anti-life mission. (Anti-self The Shadow 4)


            The concept of Alter-ego is a popular term in the field of psychology. Most of the literary texts are a fine example of using this term and one of the literary text is Borges’ collective fiction. The three selected stories for this research is The Circular Ruins, Aleph, Death and the Compass. As Protagonist is nothing without the presence of Antagonist same is the case with the presence of alter-ego that is very important aspect of all characters in Borges short fictions. Every character confronts his alter-ego in order to know his own self. Borges purpose of using alter-ego is very important.

            Life Mission Theory point of view is that the crux of human being is the purpose of life. For the fulfilment of this purpose the first step is towards positive intentions. Human being is the combination of self which consists of good intentions and anti-self which consist of evil intentions. The dark side of human is popularly known as shadows or anti-self. The basic thing about anti-self is that it consist of destruction and evil intentions.( Anti-self The Shadow 2).According to life mission theory of Jung when human deny his good intentions and at the same time avoid existential pain then evil side of human being arises. Carl Jung claims that the anti-self or shadow is the accurate reflection of human good that is self. Human being consist of good as well as evil so by making ethical choices human realizes  about his constructive talents and good nature. In short ethics is the most important thing because it helps in realization about intentions. (Anti-self The Shadow 3).


            Methodology is define as a system of rules and principles that provides methods as well as procedures to interpret the text and to solve different problems related to particular discipline. It is an appropriate step for the investigation of a problem. One of the important thing about methodology is providing researcher with information and supply with the data that is needed. It also provides data as well as directs that how data can be analysed. Qualitative research is in which the researcher analyses any social problem that is happened in the past. This is a qualitative research and the data has been collected from the three short stories of Borges The Circular Ruins, Aleph, Death and the Compass. In the close reading of selected short stories, the characters as well as situations are taken to study the exploration of alter-ego.

Literature Review:

Literature review consists of a brief review of different critics related to this topic of research that is exploration of alter-ego in Borges’ short stories. Literature review not only highlights the importance of the topic but also gives a background and sometimes it work as a launching pad for the present research. In one of the article Iago’s alter-ego: Race as Projection in Othello critic is clearly making distinction between self that is Othello and the anti-self that is Iago. In the start of the play Othello Iago appears in the darkness of night. This clearly explores idea that he is opposite of light. As Iago is in split form same is the case with his nature, he always makes plan just like a monster to destroy lives of other characters. It is clear at the end of the play when Othello is in divided form and become suspicious about Desdemona. Iago called Othello as black and assumes himself as white but his actions prove that he is internally black having monstrous mind. Iago transfers his own sense of hidden contamination to other characters.

            Davis Colin in his article The Cost of Being Ethical: Fiction, Violence, and Altericide discuss the idea of alter-ego in a notable way. Davis has applied theory of Rene Girard on the text of Albert Camus The Stranger. Girard point of view is that the desire is in the form of triangle consist of three people. “I desire what the other desires, I desire it because the other desires it.” Three figures are involved the desiring object, the desired object and the prestigious mediator in this triangle known as Mimetic Desire. The other not only make the thing desirable but also become rival. The prestigious meditator not only make the thing desirable but also stands in the way of earning it. So the mimetic desire ends into substitution or violence. The beach incident is important in the novel The Stranger because it explains the desire that is established in the heart of Meursault and the triangular relationship. Meursault is the desiring object, Arab is the desire object and Raymond is the prestigious mediator. Meursault desire is to possess Arab which is already possessed by Raymond. Meursault murder the Arab is his secret struggle to restored contact with the humanity. Meursault is like romantics who want isolation at the same time secretly desire for the contact with people. Meursault is present in the group of three people that is Raymond and Masson. Raymond is more close to the Masson that is why Meursault feels like an omitted person from the group that is why he gives more attention to Raymond. The act of killing Arab is very important because it help Meursault in achieving not only the devotion of people but also the attention of the law.

            Alter-ego is an important term use in many literary texts.  Every writer uses the term according to the time period as well as the situation. From Renaissance to Post -Modernism there are a lot of innovations take place in using this term. In Shakespeare’s play Othello the purpose of alter-egois to make every character into divided form. In Camus’ notable novel The Stranger this term is used in a different way. Alter-ego not only make the thing desirable for the self at the same time stands in the way of obtaining it.

            Scope of this research is exploring the concept of alter-ego with the help of theory of Shadow by Jung. Secondly Borges short fiction has rarely been discussed in this perspective. The detail analysis on the concept of alter-ego may pave a way for the scholars to discuss other genres in this perspective.

Theoretical Framework:

            The analysis of data is one of the important step in order to get information about research topic. Analysis of data is not only helpful for understanding of the problem but also to solve it. The selected data will be analysed according to the framework. For human being free will plays a very important role because by using this will man can either engage in good or move towards evil. With the existential choice as well as free will every human being have potential to be good or evil. History is full of examples about the people who uses their power of evil purposes. Two fine examples are the Persecution of witches and the second one is Holocaust. (Anti-self The Shadow 4). A lot of research is present on the nature as well as the source of evil side of human being. Freud point of view is that the evil side of human being is a natural force and it moves toward death.  Jung one of the Freud student studies about shadow or anti-self, he described anti-self-better than anyone else. Jung claims that on one hand, the free will plays important role moving towards anti-self but on the other hand, this shadow cannot be completely defeated. When human being move towards good intentions then inside he is repressing the evil side and while moving towards evil intentions man starts repressing the good side. (Life Mission Theory 4).

            According to the life mission theory human being feels that life is painful so he repressed the good intentions and moves towards evil side. Later on, when he realizes about the constructive purpose of life then he travels towards positive purpose. While treating a patient the positive intentions as well as negative intentions are repressed and forced to move towards the mysterious unconsciousness. A normal human does not know about himself because the positive and negative intentions are in unconscious and of the same size. So the normal human shifts between good towards evil intentions according to what is suitable in what situation. For the satisfaction of needs this normal human shifts towards situation to situations. Such a human has no possession on his intentions therefore he consist of both good and evil so he cannot live his life with strength. When human becomes conscious then he can chooses between good and evil because he has ownership on his intentions. If he confronts the ethical chooses in his life then it is clear that he is moving towards evil side. A man chooses to move towards good intentions then he is denying his hidden evil intentions. It is very difficult to get rid of evilness because when man consciously moves towards good intentions then unconsciously is devil but still this man is less evil then the one who consciously moves towards evil intentions. (Life Mission Theory 5).

            The centre of all intentions is towards life mission. Ego appears when human denies his primary and secondary purposes of life. Every human being ends up having both the white aspect of life as well as the black aspect of life. White aspects are the good and constructive talents and the black aspects are the evil intentions. Human realizes that the black intentions moves towards life while the white intentions moves towards supporting life.

            Shadow appears as the negative copy of personality. The core of self or good intentions is for supporting the life mission. The core of anti-self or evil intentions is about the destruction of life mission which is commonly known as anti-life mission.  When shadow is developed in human then new mission also take place that mission is always anti-life mission. A normal man who does not know about himself because his life mission as well as the anti-life mission is repressed. (Life Mission Theory 5).

            The intentions are the core ingredient for guiding human being towards mission or anti-mission. A normal person does not know about himself because of switching from good towards evil continuously because his life is confused and he is unable to know about his own talents. A lot of people have the strength to know about themselves but it is a difficult task. A very fine example is present in Christianity that Jesus Christ was tempted many times by devil but at the end Christ decided to move towards good and for humanity. (Life Mission Theory 6).

The four existential positions are as following:

  1. Unconscious position
  2. Ethical position
  3. The position of Anti purpose
  4. The Conscious Position

            As the good and evil balances inside human, so before making any conscious choice man is free to choose existential position. The first position of existential which is also called opportunistic position. In this position the person cannot be trusted because in this position man is neither in favour of life mission nor the anti-life mission.

The Ethical position is one in which man knows about his life purpose that is why he chooses to move towards good intentions which is always fighting against their shadow.

The Half-conscious or Evil position in which man moves toward evil intentions but it is in rare cases. This position consist of terrible consequences. Choosing of evil intention is rewarded by delight but the choosing of good is punished by existential pain. Later on when man heals then he realizes this fact that the pain of life is balanced with the joy of living. Only the unconditional love and positive attitude can help an evil person to moves towards the positon of conscious human being.

The fourth position is named as the Conscious learning position. When man knows about his good intentions but he is unable to live his purpose because of the repressed pain of life. Then he is not able to understand himself. He has no control on his life. The conscious position is sweet at the same time painful because the meaningfulness is sweet for him but the powerlessness is painful.

Discussion and Analysis:

            In the short story The Circular Ruins wizard is a normal person who does not know about himself because his self and anti-self is repressed. Wizard has no answer for his name and traits of his previous life clearly explore this idea that he does not know about himself. He desires to create a man from his dream in which he is successful. “In the dreaming man’s dream, the dreamed man awoke.”

             Freud give the concept of conscious and unconscious in his psychoanalytical theory. Human being consist of internal and external self but man is not aware of his internal self. This concept is further elaborated by Jung in a beautiful way. Borges remarkable work in his literary texts are that the self and anti-self is in the form of characters. The internal self is shown in the form of fictional characters. The internal personality from which human being was ignorant, is shown in concrete form. Borges noteworthy work is that the internal and external self in the form of character standing in front of each other just like wizard and his creation (dream). Wizard represents self on the other hand his creativity (dream) is anti-self. The self and anti-self-organized in the same way. One of the prominent feature of wizard is the grey colour which conforms that he is created by God of fire and on the other hand his creation is also created by the God of fire. So wizard the self and his creation the anti-self is organized in the same way. But both are different in intentions wizard follows good intentions and his creativity follows evil intentions. With the formation of shadow the good

(self) start weakens but the realization is not easily understandable. Wizard creates his dream but at the same time he was unable to give life that is why he demand for the help of God of fire. This act of demanding help form the God of fire and fulfilling his desire of not telling the reality about his creativity clearly shows that wizard is becoming weak and he is not able to realize this fact. When shadow is developed in the form of wizard creativity (dream) then the formation of new mission also take place that mission is always anti-life mission. Wizard confronts his alter-ego in order to know his own self. Borges purpose of using alter-ego in this short story The Circular Ruins enables him to confront his opposites in order to realize his true self. He realizes about the falsity of his creativity, that he is himself creation of somebody else. This realization that everyone is creation of someone else explore that the phenomenon of creation is in circular form. Wizard purpose of life is to know the truth and his creation (dream) is playing very prominent role in this search. Wizard hallucinated search for centre of labyrinth can be explain in this way that his creation of dream in the form of concrete character. At the centre of labyrinth wizard knows about the truth with the help of alter-ego which awakens a feeling of resignation and a will to accept the final end that is death. One day, he knows about this news that a man can walk on fire without any damage so he realizes this truth that everything is creation of someone else.  Wizard anti-self that is his creation is responsible for revealing this fact the falsity of his own creation. In the centre of labyrinth man realizes the fundamental truth of existence that his own creation is falsity. When man knows about the meaning of his existence then there is no option left except death. As the search of man is completed that is why he moves toward the ultimate end that is death.

            One of the most celebrated short story of Borges is “Aleph” in which the narrator is Borges. In the start of the story Borges is present on the unconscious position because he does not know his life purpose as well as anti-life purpose. He has created his own imagined story about his relationship with Beatriz. He has assume that Beatriz love him so much, that is why he meet with her family every year on her birthday. One day Borges meet with one of Beatriz’s cousin Carlos. As evil and good intentions are present in all human same is the case in this story. This short story consists of self (Borges) and anti-self (Carlos). Carlos is an author working on epic-poem and his source of inspiration is Aleph. Aleph is a place, in the space from which every place can be seem simultaneously without any disturbance. Carlos meet with Borges and share his secret that his house consist of an Aleph which is the main source of inspiration for him. Shadow is developed in the form of Carlos in this story and its new mission is to displays Aleph to Borges.  Borges lay down in the cellar of Carlos house and saw the Aleph in which he sees all the places without distortion. He sees that Beatriz write love letters to Carols this self-realization is very important because for the first time he knows about the falsity of his relationship. As the new mission of shadow is always anti-life mission that is why Borges self-realization take place while watching the Aleph. At the end of the story Borges is in the conscious learning position that is why he does not help Carlo in saving house. While confronting with the alter-ego Borges recognizes the truth about his relationship which is a fantasy created by himself. When he understands the truth then there is no choice left except to accept death which is the ultimate end.

            For Borges man is in this universe for the quest of knowledge and when he reached in the centre of labyrinth he knows about the fundamental truth of his existence. Man wants order and while wandering in the dark corridors of labyrinth he understands about the chaos and multiplicity of life. When man search is completed then he moves toward the ultimate end that is death.

            Death and the Compass is one of the noteworthy short story of Borges. In the start of the story a murder is investigated by detective Lonnrot. Scharlach is presented as anti-self of Lonnrot in this story. Scharlach and Lonnrot both read the same book but for different purposes and intentions; Scharlach read book for knowledge but Lonnrot read book for cipher text to know about the killer. Reality and book is playing very important role in this short story. Reality and book mingles and it is very difficult to predict which manipulate the other. Lonnrot is reading book to interpret the reality but in fact reality is manipulating the reader and pulled him into his own execution.

            After three murder Lonnrot collected different clues and he predicted that there is a fourth murder. For detective Lonnrot search for the killer is like search for a secret. The secret which is present in the centre of labyrinth is that there is no secret at all, everything is meaningless. With the help of first clue Lonnrot idea is that the name of killer is connected to the Tetragrammaton which is name of a God. Making of Rhombus with the help of clues is just like making a trapped or net around himself.  At the end detective Lonnrot understand that while solving the riddle of the murders he is himself imprisoned in it. In the myth of Theseus and Ariadne Daedalus make labyrinth for the Mino king to trapped Minotaur in the centre. Later on Daedalus was trapped in that labyrinth and he was not able to come out of it.

In short, the construction of the short story Death and the Compass is very complex, the character who is hunting for the truth of murders, with the help of clues actually searching for his own death. Lonnrot finally meets with his death because of the alter-ego Red Scharlach.

            In the Science fiction the alter-ego is not providing clues to the self. The Circular Ruins and Aleph are Science fiction in which anti-self is not providing clues to entangle the self. Character confronts his alter-ego in order to know their own self. In Detective fiction alter-ego is making a trap with the help of clues that is why self is entangled in this trap. Death and the Compass is a detective fiction in which Scharlach is giving clues to detective Lonnrot with the help of which he is trapped in labyrinth.


            The conclusion of this research is that, with the help of Jung theory Shadow the aspects of alter-ego is applied on the characters of Borges.  One of the incredible work of Borges is that self and anti-self is in the concrete form of fictional characters. In the start of short stories of Borges Protagonist (self) is in quest of knowledge but there is a difference in Science fiction and Detective fiction. On one hand in the Science fiction the protagonist wants to hunt the truth and knowledge but in Detective fiction the protagonist is in quest of knowledge with the help of clues. With the help of alter-ego Borges is exploring the true personality of the characters. When the true personality is explored then the quest of knowledge of the character is complete. Borges is exploring this idea that man wants to know the hidden meaning of his existence and after a lot of wandering into the dark corridors of labyrinth he discover the meaning of his existence and chooses to move towards ultimate end.








Borges, Jorge L, and Andrew Hurley. Collected Fictions. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Viking, 1998. Print.

The Life Mission Theory V. Theory of the Anti-Self (the Shadow) or the Evil Side of Man. TheScientificWorldJOURNAL, 2003. Internet resource.

Conger, John P. Jung & Reich: The Body As Shadow. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books, 1988. Print.




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Aqsa Waris did her Mphil in English Literature from University of Gujrat.

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