Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Martyrdom (Motif)

Martyrdom is a motif that appears in Le Guin’s stories “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, “The Matter of Seggri”, “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow”, “The Word of Unbinding”, and “The Day Before the Revolution”. In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, martyrdom is a central feature of the narrative as seen with the suffering child under the city. In “The Matter of Seggri”, the leader of the castle revolution is martyred and incites the castle riots. In “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow”, Osden is the martyr, opting to live his life in the wilderness to save his crew and to soothe the agitated plant life on the planet. In “Word of the Unbinding”, Festin martyrs himself so that he can rid the world of a great evil presence. Finally, Odo in “The Day Before the Revolution” allows herself to finally pass away so that the young revolutionaries can come into their own power.

Social Revolution (Motif)

Social revolution is an idea that appears in several of Le Guin’s short stories. The fatc that it appears with such frequency speaks to Le Guin’s affinity for the idea of political change and upheaval. In “The Matter of Seggri", the men in the castle stage a rebellion that leads to greater freedom and potential social mobility for men in Seggrian society. Likewise in “The Day Before the Revolution”, Odo and her companions lead an uprising which leads to a complete reconstruction of the Odonian’s way of life. The idea of questioning one's government and acting when dissatisfied is a fairly central concept throughout Le Guin’s work.

Names (Symbol)

In “The Rule of Names”, names function as magical symbols. Names carry an enormous weight because with them people can control anyone and anything they wish. Indeed, knowledge of another's true name allows one to harness or even kill that person or thing.

Seggrian Society (Allegory)

The society of Seggri is an allegory on gender segregation. Every facet of their society is structured in a way that reinforces the idea of gender discrimination. To add another layer of complexity to the allegory, Le Guin structures the Seggrian gender roles in such a way that the professions and social positions occupied by each gender are the opposite of those typically the case in reality. All of this highlights the absurdity of rigid socially constructed gender roles.

Language (Motif)

The importance of language is explored throughout Le Guin's short stories. In tales such as "Rule of Names" and "The Word of Unbinding", words actually hold mystical power. In Le Guin's writing, as mentioned in the discussion of names, through the use of words, one can control or even destroy someone. In some of her less fantastical stories, language still plays a vital role. In "The Matter of Seggri", language represents freedom, in that once a voice is given to the male population, they are able to express their grievances and call for greater civil rights. Similarly, the ability to control the use of language leads to a sort of spiritual and emotional freedom for the Asonu people in "The Silence of the Asonu".