Death and the Compass by Jorge Luis BorgesJorge Luis BorgesLiteratureWorld Literature

Thematically Analyzing “Death and the Compass”

4 Mins read

Death and the Compass is a famous detective short story written by Jorge Luis Borges. The story is about the effort of a detective to find the murderer of three murders happened in the same pattern. But in the end of the story his effort to solve the mystery leads him to his own death. Story includes themes like revenge, murder, labyrinth etc. It has various stylistic features like mysterious setting of plot, use of symbolism, symmetry and detective genre.

Summarizing Death and the Compass:

The story is about a detective Erik Lonnrot who tries to solve mystery of three murders, occur on 3rd of each month. The first murder occurs at Hotel du Nord on 3rd of December in which a Yiddish Scholar Dr. Marcel Yarmolinsky is found dead with a deep hole in his chest in the corridor of the hotel. Commissioner Treviranus says that someone tried to steal sapphires from Tetrarch of Galilee but killed Dr. Yarmolinsky by mistake. In Yarmolinsky’s room they find a piece of paper in the type writer saying:

“The first letter of the name has been spoken”

Lonnrot being a true reasoner thinks that this murder is related to some kind of sacrifice to find the Absolute name of God. The 2nd murder occurs on 3rd of January in the Western suburbs in which a person named Daniel Simon Azevedo is killed. On the wall, they find some words written with the chalk:

“The second letter of the name has been spoken”

On 3rd of February before the 3rd crime, Commissioner Treviranus gets a phone call by a man named Ginsberg who tells him that he’s got an explanation about the sacrifices of Azevedo and Yarmolinsky. Treviranus finds that he had been called from The Liverpool House. When he reaches there the owner of the place tells him that two harlequins took Ginsberg with them. On one of the slates of outdoor shed, some words are written:

“The last of the letters of the name has been spoken”

On March 1st Treviranus gets an envelope having a map inside of it which shows that all three places of crime makes a triangle which means that there would be no 4th crime on March 3rd. Treviranus sends this map to Lonnrot, but Lonnrot thinks that there would be another crime on the 3rd of March and Red Scharlach would be the victim. So he travels to the Villa Triste-le-Roy to save Scharlach. But when he reaches there, he finds that Scharlach is the murderer and he set this entire labyrinth around Lonnrot just to lead him towards his death. He tells Lonnrot that he is the one who arrested his brother and that he died in the prison because of Lonnrot. He tells about his entire planning and in the end shoots Lonnrot and kills him.

Read About: Thematic and Stylistic Analysis of “The Library of Babel”

Themes in Death and the Compass:

Followings are the major themes found in the story:


Revenge is the major theme of this story as whole plot revolves around the traps which have been set by Scharlach in order to lead Lonnrot towards his own death. Scharlach thinks that Lonnrot is the reason behind his brother’s death as he arrested him and after that he died in jail.

“You arrested my brother and had him sent to prison.”

So he weaves a perfect labyrinth around Lonnrot. Lonnrot tries to solve this labyrinth but in the end of the story he pays the price by giving away his life.


Story starts with the very theme when Dr. Yarmolinsky is found dead in the corridor of the hotel. After Yarmolinsky, Daniel Azevedo and Ginsberg are also killed and the clues which Lonnrot finds at the crime scenes lead him towards his own death by Scharlach in Villa Triste-le-Roy.


It is also an important theme of this story. The whole deception in the story is created by Red Scharlach as he is the real genius in the story. It is by leading Lonnrot to his death and completing his puzzle that the reader sense that Scharlach has been one step ahead of everybody else at all times.

 “Erik Lonnrot, so as to draw you to the solitude of Triste-le-Roy.”

He is also not to be found guilty of any of the murders and may in fact have committed the perfect crimes by using religious scripture as a backdrop to his crimes.

Read About: Comparison Between Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges


Scharlach creates labyrinth around Lonnrot in such a way that he knows Lonnrot will solve the puzzle before the police and will come alone to his own death which makes things much easier for Scharlach. In reality, life would have been simpler for Lonnrot if he had not followed the path that he did. He never expected himself to be the last victim and the plot for all murders would eventually lead to his own death. Scharlach tells that the killing of Yarmolinsky had been an accident though it also served to be the impetus for Scharlach’s plan as he took Yarmolinsky’s own words to create a complicated plan that was known to no one else but Scharlach himself.

“In your labyrinth there are three lines.”

He also says:

“I have woven it, and it holds: the materials are a dead writer on heresies, a compass, an eighteenth-century sect, a Greek word, a dagger, the rhombs of a paint shop.”

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