Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Wife Story

Le Guin purposefully misleads her readers as to the true identity of the narrator. How does this technique help create mystery and suspense in the story?

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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.