Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Feminist and Postcolonial Critique of Le Guin's "Sur"

Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "Sur" lends itself easily to feminist literary criticism. As a fantasy of alternate history about polar exploration, the story tells of nine women arriving at the South Pole over a year before Roald Amundsen's all-male team gained the Pole on 14 December, 1911 (Encarta, Amundsen article). However, the women are Spanish-speaking (presumably of European rather than Native American descent, though that is implied rather than explicit in Le Guin's text) Argentinians, Peruvians, and Chileans, which also opens up the possibility of postcolonial commentary.

The feminist critical angle is interesting not only because the women felt that they were forced to conceal their expedition from the wider world, for fear of public criticism or perhaps even active prevention of the pursuit of their goal, but also because of the women's concealment in their own private and familial spheres, the powers in which would have equally censured the journey. The public and private oppression were of differing, but equal, strength, and forced upon the women explorers a level of subterfuge that required secrecy not only before and during their expedition, but also for generations after it.

The...

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