Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories Summary

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous short stories. In it, Le Guin introduces the reader to the idyllic seaside city of Omelas, wherein the city’s citizens live peaceful, happy lives despite the fact that the city harbors a dark secret. This story is considered an allegory for numerous psychological and sociological concepts including the idea of scapegoatism.

Nine Lives

“Nine Lives” tells a tale set on a remote research station on a distant, unoccupied planet. At the start, two comrades, who have a close, professional relationship, man the station alone. The two eventually receive some company and an extra few pairs of hands in the form of ten individuals who make up a clone collective. Though the clones operate as one perfect, symbiotic unit, their ability to function as individuals is put to the test following a horrific accident.  

The Matter of Seggri

“The Matter of Seggri” presents a collection of records written about a distant land called Seggri that is highly stratified along gender lines. While initially the reports of gender relations between males and females are rather basic, merely outlining the places where men and women reside and the function of each gender within society, the reports soon grow more detailed. The reports eventually evolve from detached sociological observations to firsthand accounts of life on the ground, first from a female perspective, then from a male one. What makes this society unique is that unlike most (but not all) societies on Earth this society is matriarchal. The women have all of the power and men are used primarily for breeding and entertainment purposes.  

The Rule of Names

“The Rule of Names”, set in Le Guin’s fantasy world called Earthsea, of her Earthsea book series, tells the tale of a wizard who lives on an island called Sattins full of people who constantly underestimate him. To everyone’s surprise, the story reveals that the meek, unassuming wizard is really a dragon.    

The Wild Girls

“The Wild Girls”, a Nebula award-winning novella, follows the lives of two young sisters, renamed Modh and Mal by their captors. The sisters are taken from their village by a slaving party from the nearby city. Initially, Mal was to be kidnapped alone, but Modh follows Mal because she cannot bear to lose sight of her younger sister. Upon her discovery by the men of the city, she too is taken captive and becomes a slave for life. Separated from all that is familiar to them, renamed and plugged into a civilization with a complex social hierarchy, the girls are torn between the society they live in and the culture they came from.    

The Silence of the Asonu

“The Silence of the Asonu” discusses a culture wherein people gradually stop speaking, by choice. This makes Asonu a hotbed for tourists who come either to observe the Asonu or to celebrate the silence. Some tourists prefer to join the Asonu in silence. Others like to air their grievances to the Asonu with the certainty that they will not be judged or interrupted. Linguists and philosophers also study the Asonu people hoping to learn more about them. After their attempts to understand the Asonu fail, one man devises a strategy to make an Asonu talk, and his plan has serious consequences.    

The Wife’s Story            

“The Wife’s Story” is a dramatic tale of a tragic family event from the perspective of a grief-stricken wife. As with most of Le Guin’s stories, this tale features a macabre twist. At the end of the tale, the reader learns that all of the characters are wolves, with the exception of the husband, who is a werewolf.  

The New Atlantis

“The New Atlantis” presents a dystopian tale about a society that has fallen to ruin as a result of mismanagement of the Earth’s resources. Global warming has led to the melting of the polar ice caps, which has submerged New York City. The story itself takes place in Portland and follows a woman who dreams about a better future, despite her circumstances.    

Vaster Than Empires and More Slow

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” offers an account of a space expedition sent out to find and explore unpopulated regions of the galaxy. The crew of this expedition lives and works aboard a ship called Gum, which is small and houses ten people. Though each crewmember has his or her own distinct problems, one crewmember stands out from the rest of the crew because they universally hate him. This crewman is Osden, a formerly autistic man who now functions as a sensor, one who possesses a heightened ability to feel the emotions of people and animals around. When they land on an uninhabited planet, they think that they have found the perfect opportunity to do some research in peace, but then the fear begins.    

Winter’s King

“Winter’s King” is about a king who abdicates her throne while under the influence of mind control. She leaves the kingdom under the control of her child and the child’s advisors. While she is gone, due to various astrophysical forces, everyone on her planet appears to age more rapidly than she does. After recovering from the effects of mind control on a distant planet, she returns to her home to seize control from her now elderly child.  

The Word of Unbinding

“The Word of the Unbinding” takes place on the planet of Earthsea. The story follows a young wizard forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop an evil wizard who has risen from the dead. As with “The Rule of Names”, this story prominently features magical elements. The reader even gets to see the rule of names at play when Festin uses Voll’s true name to subdue him in the end.  

The Day before the Revolution

In this short story, Le Guin returns to the character of Odo, also called Leia, who is the main character in her story “The Dispossessed”. In “The Day Before the Revolution”, the reader gets to experience a day in the life of Leia, now an old woman, as she reflects on her legacy and on her youth. Set apart from the world that she now lives in, she thinks about people that she has lost and about the world that will form after she dies.