Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories Literary Elements


Science Fiction & Fantasy

Setting and Context

An anarchist compound on the day of a revolutionary’s death ("The Day Before the Revolution"); A prison on the planet of Earthsea when Festin, a young wizard, is being held captive ("The Word of Unbinding"); Winter and Ollul when the king is poisoned and abdicates her throne to her child ("Winter’s King"); Space and then World 4470 during the exploits of a crew on a deep space exploratory mission ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow"); The west coast of the United States at a time when pollution has destroyed the country ("The New Atlantis"); The forest during a retelling of a disastrous event that leads to the death of the narrator’s husband ("The Wife’s Story"); The land of the Asonu, a peaceful place filled with silent people, as outsiders observe it ("The Silence of the Asonu"); Sattins Island, on the planet of Earthsea, on a day when a mysterious stranger arrives to reclaim his fortune ("The Rule of Names"); Omelas, a utopian city by the sea, on the day of the Festival of Summer ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"); Libra, a desolate planet manned by two scientists, in the days leading to and following the arrival of ten clones sent to help them ("Nine Lives"); Seggri, a society segregated along gender lines, as depicted in a series of journal entries and firsthand observations of life on Seggri ("The Matter of Seggri"); A fantasy land with a society highly stratified along class lines, wherein two girls are stolen from their homes and forced into marriages with their captors ("The Wild Girls").

Narrator and Point of View

Third person, omniscient ("The Day Before the Revolution")

Third person, limited ("The Word of Unbinding")

Third person, limited ("Winter’s King")

Third person, omniscient ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow")

Third person, omniscient ("The New Atlantis")

First person, limited ("The Wife's Story")

Third person, omniscient ("The Silence of the Asonu")

Third person, omniscient ("The Rule of Names")

Third person, limited ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas")

Third person, omniscient ("Nine Lives")

First person (alternating between Captain A, Azak, Kaza, and Yude), limited ("The Matter of Seggri")

Third person, omniscient ("The Wild Girls")

Tone and Mood

Reflective and resigned ("The Day Before the Revolution")

Frantic, then calm and resolute ("The Word of Unbinding")

Disjointed and anxious ("Winter’s King")

Descriptive and gloomy ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow")

Neutral and pessimistic, then optimistic ("The New Atlantis")

Reflective and anxious ("The Wife’s Story")

Clinical and neutral ("The Silence of the Asonu")

Whimsical and mysterious ("The Rule of Names")

Joyous, then somber ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas")

Detached and pessimistic ("Nine Lives")

Clinical and stilted ("The Matter of Seggri")

Descriptive and anxious ("The Wild Girls")

Protagonist and Antagonist

Odo is the protagonist and time is the antagonist ("The Day Before the Revolution"); Festin is the protagonist and Voll, the evil wizard, is the antagonist ("The Word of Unbinding"); Argaven is the protagonist, and Emran and her advisors are the antagonists ("Winter’s King"); All of the crew members are both protagonists and antagonists for their arrival harms World 4470 and the planet in turn harms them ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow"); Belle and Simon are the protagonists and the government is the antagonist ("The New Atlantis"); The wife is the protagonist and the husband is the antagonist ("The Wife’s Story"); The Asonu child is the protagonist and the kidnapper is the antagonist ("The Silence of the Asonu"); Blackbeard and Birt are the protagonists, and Yevaud is the antagonist ("The Rule of Names"); There is no traditional protagonist or antagonist, but the people of Omelas and the child arguably occupy both roles ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"); Martin, Pugh, and the ten clones are the protagonists, and the Exploitation Corps is the antagonist ("Nine Lives"); Azak, Kaza and Yude are the protagonists, and Toddra and the rest of society are the antagonists ("The Matter of Seggri"); Mal and Modh are the protagonists, and the Sky People are the antagonists ("The Wild Girls")

Major Conflict

Odo struggles with living in the past as she nears death ("The Day Before the Revolution").

Festin is held captive by an evil wizard ("The Word of Unbinding").

Argaven has been poisoned, and she must seek help on a faraway planet, leaving her young child in charge of her kingdom ("Winter’s King").

The crew suffers from extreme emotional distress after arriving on a seemingly unoccupied world ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow").

The continued decay of society ("The New Atlantis").

The husband’s changes cause the wife much concern ("The Wife’s Story").

The outsider’s continued interference in the lives of the Asonu ("The Silence of the Asonu").

The fight between Blackbeard and Underhill ("The Rule of Names").

An internal struggle in the hearts and minds of the population of Omelas once they find out about the existence of the child ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas").

Men on Seggri struggle to live in a society that does not have a true place for them outside of the castles and the breeding rooms ("The Matter of Seggri").

The girls are sold into slavery, held captive, and forced into arranged marriages ("The Wild Girls")


Odo’s death ("The Day Before the Revolution")

The moment when Festin decides to take his own life ("The Word of Unbinding")

The moment Argaven seizes power from Emran ("Winter’s King")

The attack on Osden ("Vaster Than Empires and More Slow")

The moment when the narrator’s plans for the future are made clear ("The New Atlantis")

The husband’s transformation ("The Wife’s Story")

The child’s kidnapping ("The Silence of the Asonu")

The moment when Blackbeard finally uses Mr. Underhill’s true name and Underhill transforms into a dragon ("The Rule of Names")

The moment when the existence of the child is revealed ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas")

The moment when the first, large earthquake happens and nine of the ten clones die in the mines ("Nine Lives")

The moment when Seggrian men finally earn their freedom ("The Matter of Seggri")

The moment when Mal murders her husband and is killed because of her crime ("The Wild Girls")


Le Guin foreshadows Odo’s impending death when Odo replies, “Tomorrow? I wont be around tomorrow”, to a suggestion that she should speak at the revolutionary rally on the following day. ("The Day Before the Revolution").

Le Guin hints at Underhill’s true nature as she writes, “He did not come out, and the boys came to no harm, though they said you couldn’t believe what a huge hooting howling hissing horrible bellow that little fat man could make unless you’d heard it” (280) and “Each breath shot out of his nostrils as a double puff of steam, now-white in the morning sunshine” (279). ("The Rule of Names")




The entire premise of the story alludes to a quotation by William James in which James wonders about whether a society could exist in perfect happiness if its happiness depended on another’s suffering. ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas").


See "Imagery".





Metonymy and Synecdoche



Libra is personified throughout the story. For example, the first sentences of the story says, “She was alive inside but dead outside, her face a black and dun net of wrinkles, tumors, cracks. She was bald and blind. The tremors that crossed Libra’s face were mere quiverings of corruption” (29). ("Nine Lives")