This short story retells a horrible event from the perspective of a wife. The entire tale is shrouded in mystery as the wife merely alludes to the event for the majority of the story, without spelling out what actually occurred. Her story begins with a description of her loving husband. She tells of how she first spotted him and how his gentility enticed her.
She extols his virtues as a husband and as a member of the community. He was a wonderful father, well liked and celebrated for his singing abilities. In her words, “He was purely good […] a hard worker and never lazy, and so big and fine-looking. Everybody looked up to him, [and] he had such a beautiful voice” (274). To his wife, he seemed perfect.
However, her account quickly takes a dark turn when she begins to discuss the event itself. She says that after the event, members of the community blamed the moon, claiming a connection between blood and the moon.
They said that it was something in her husband’s blood, just as it had been in his father’s blood. His father had disappeared some time ago, and for the first time she wondered about the nature of his fate. Before the event, she had started to notice that her husband would disappear some nights unexpectedly.
He would leave, making flimsy excuses for his absences. At these times, when he spoke, his voice would change and so would his demeanor. He would even smell different – disgusting – upon his return. This smell would linger for days even after he would bathe. One day, after returning, his daughter took notice of him and became afraid. The next time the moon changed, his wife finally saw what was happening. When he stood in the open, his fur fell away, revealing a pale, fleshy human where once a proud, handsome wolf had stood. After seeing this, his wife cried out, howling in fear.
Hearing her cries, the rest of the pack came and quickly hunted him down. As he lay dead, his wife watched his body, waiting for it to transform back into her husband, but instead his body remained motionless - a lifeless human body growing cold on the ground.
Le Guin entices the reader and heightens the suspense in the story by limiting the reader to the perspective of the wife and revealing information slowly. This is a clever way to keep the reader guessing throughout the story. While the language she uses is not vague, the tale is imbued with double meaning, so much so that once the twist is reveled, it forces a reinterpretation, and often a rereading, of the entire story.
It is not until the end of the story that the reader realizes that he or she has been duped into believing that the story was about a human relationship. Le Guin brilliantly misleads the reader by never explicitly saying the narrator and her family are human. “The Wife’s Story” prompts a reader to examine the relationship between the reader and the story.
Le Guin illustrates with “The Wife’s Story” the extent to which readers apply their assumptions to a text. Though Le Guin never says that the characters are human, she counts on this assumption to create the plot twist. In this way, she shows how a story’s impact comes from what is imagined in the minds of the readers.
She also demonstrates how a reader can easily be led astray through the power of subtle suggestions. Le Guin writes, “Then one time when I was walking in the woods I met him by himself coming back from a hunting trip…” (273). Readers fill in the details about the husband, including his species. Readers do not question the lack of a full description because the wife, with whom readers form a bond via a shared perspective, also seems in the dark for most of the story.
As with much of Le Guin’s writing, “The Wife’s Story” features mythological elements. In this case, the main mythological element is the concept of the werewolf, a being capable of shifting form, from man to wolf, compelled to do so at the full moon. However, Le Guin even turns this on its head, by suggesting that the wolf, rather than the man, is the werewolf’s true form.