Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How are sex and violence intertwined in “The Matter of Seggri”?

    Sex and violence are deeply intertwined on Seggri. Even the mechanics of choosing sexual partners are violent. The men compete and fight to the death to become champion sires used for breeding. Even sex itself is a form of violence. Azak degrades Toddra as she uses him to fulfill her sexual desires while withholding love from him. His answer to her cruelty is to stab her during sex. This combination of sex and violence is also seen within the castle walls as the older men rape the boys to assert their dominance.

  2. 2

    How does Le Guin discuss the figure of the revolutionary in “The Day Before the Revolution”?

    In “The Day Before the Revolution”, Le Guin mocks the idea of the outdated revolutionary. She writes about the tendency for revolutionaries previously considered subversive or radical in their youths to become cherished grandfatherly (or grandmotherly) figures in their old age. For example, she writes, “They accepted their tongue-lashing meekly as children, gratefully, as if she were some kind of All-Mother, the ideal of the Big Sheltering Womb... She who had screeched, and sworn, and kicked policemen, and spat at priests, and pissed in public on the big brass plaque in Capitol Square... Now she was everybody’s grandmamma, the dear old lady, the sweet old monument, come worship at the womb. The fire’s out boys, it’s safe to come up close” (297). This mirrors the situation of many contemporary revolutionaries. For example, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, once considered radical and dangerous, are now viewed by most in a warm, favorable light.

  3. 3

    How is romance discussed in “The Day Before the Revolution”?

    The idea of romance plays a minor role in “The Day Before the Revolution”. The two romantic figures in the story are Taviri, Leia’s husband, and Noi, Leia’s romantic interest. Leia spends much of her time reminiscing about her time with Taviri. When she develops feelings for Noi, and those feelings heighten her awareness of her body and her age, they underscore how detached Leia feels from the rest of the Odonians.

  4. 4

    In what ways is “The Silence of the Asonu” a cautionary tale?

    “The Silence of the Asonu” describes a fascination with an indigenous culture, which leads to the abuse of a child. The story of the researcher’s interactions with the Asonu emphasize the idea that sociologists and anthropologists have a responsibility when studying another culture to not harm that culture. If the scientists and Asonu devotees had not been so concerned with finding some deeper meaning behind the silence of the Asonu, they would not have taken such drastic measures to try to force an Asonu to talk.

  5. 5

    How is the topic of sex approached in “Nine Lives”?

    Sex is discussed as an integral part of a self-sustaining relationship. The tenclone is remarkable in that the clones not only support each other socially, emotionally, and intellectually, but also sexually. Sex is another way in which the clones illustrate that they can meet each other’s needs within the collective. The idea of this perfect, closed-off relationship is an important concept in Le Guin’s discussion of the value of the individual in a society capable of cloning.

  6. 6

    Provide an example of, and discuss how Le Guin uses, misdirection to create suspense in her stories?

    One example of the use of misdirection to create suspense lies in the narrative in “The Wife’s Story”. Through omission, Le Guin leads the reader to believe that the characters are human. The reader is kept in the dark and remains guessing throughout the tale. This gives the story a sense of suspense and makes the twist at the end of the story all the more interesting.

  7. 7

    Why is social status important in “Winter’s King”?

    Societies with defined gender roles contain a structure to life, which gives people a sense of where they rank on the social hierarchy. In male-dominated societies, men are at the top of the scale, and in female-dominated societies, women are at the top of the social hierarchy. In the absence of clearly defined social roles, power and position can act as a proxy for gender roles. Such is the case on Winter where the struggle for signifiers of rank and position are paramount. This is one of the reasons why the issue of who controls the kingdom is so contentious.

  8. 8

    How is the idea of individualism explored in “Nine Lives”?

    The idea of individualism is both critiqued and defended in “Nine Lives”. In the beginning, collectivism appears to be favored over individualism, with the emphasis on the clones’ superiority. When the clones arrive, their dependence on each other proves a great strength, giving them a social edge and an asset at work. However, the defense of individualism later arrives as Kaph is forced to learn how to exist without the rest of the clone collective. Eventually Kaph learns that relationships are best when they are complimentary but not codependent.

  9. 9

    What role do futuristic settings and imagery play in Le Guin’s social critiques?

    Setting her stories in the future gives Le Guin the freedom to shape the worlds she creates to suit her vision. She can introduce technological elements that are beyond our current capabilities, as she does in “Winter’s King” with light-speed travel. She can also put human beings into situations that are not possible right now, as in “Nine Lives” with the mining expedition on a distant planet. The ability to freely create worlds and societies allows her to completely shape the circumstances on those planets to illustrate various social conditions, as she does with Winter and Seggri, which then allows her to offer commentary on those conditions.

  10. 10

    How does Le Guin approach gender in “The Matter of Seggri”?

    Gender is the single most important determining factor in a person’s life on Seggri. Le Guin explores this idea by giving the men on Seggri more freedom to see how well they can blend into a society that has no place for them. In the end, she writes that the people of Seggri are largely unwilling to accept the introduction of men into free society.