Searoad Essay - Critical Essays

Ursula K. Le Guin


Winner of several fantasy and science fiction awards, Le Guin has written in SEAROAD an absorbing novel that is not fantasy or science fiction. SEAROAD is like Sarah Orne Jewett’s THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS (1896) and Louise Erdrich’s LOVE MEDICINE (1985) in that it reads at first like a collection of stories, but as one approaches the end, it comes more and more to seem a unified work.

All the stories seem finally to relate thematically to the revision of the myth of Persephone by one of the main characters of the last long story, Virginia Herne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. There, Persephone returns from Hell to bring spring back to her mother earth and finds her mother destroyed by militarism, racism, business, and war. She returns to the husband who raped and imprisoned her in Hell, demanding an explanation. His explanation is “money.” She then recognizes that the attitudes that make her into his possession have turned Earth into Hell. She repudiates him and returns to Earth, where she continues the fundamental cycle of human life that passes from mother to daughter.

This is a feminist revision of myth, and SEAROAD is a feminist book. Not a strident polemic, it is written in what Le Guin has elsewhere called the “mother tongue,” designed to reveal and call readers to conversation, the language of communion as opposed to the father tongue, the language of division and cultural work, which is a valuable tool so long as people remember that it should be subordinated to human relations. When the father tongue is reified, it silences the mother tongue and produces barbarisms like those the new Persephone discovers. The stories of this volume work together to subvert the father tongue and to make the mother tongue heard by showing the personal and familial values and limits of each way of talking/seeing in moving and often amusing stories of modern life.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLXVIII, November, 1991, p. 161.

Booklist. LXXXVII, August, 1991, p. 2078.

Kirkus Reviews. LIX, August 1, 1991, p. 959.

Los Angeles Times. January 17, 1992, p. E11.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, January 12, 1992, p. 10.

People Weekly. XXXVI, November 18, 1991, p. 69.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, July 25, 1991, p. 38.

San Francisco Chronicle. November 3, 1991, p. REV3.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, December 8, 1991, p. 11.