Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin writes in her preface to the novel, is a possible archaeology of the future, and the story unfolds through narration, poetry, pictures, and drama. To shape Kesh’s culture in Always Coming Home, Le Guin displays her signature Taoist principles, in which oneness with the world is a significant driver of plot and characterization. In the valley, all life is interdependent, and each entity relies on all others to be whole. Rather than use the yin and yang that Taoism uses to symbolize balance, Le Guin uses a double spiral, with two arms moving outward from a central hinge. Towns are shaped like this double spiral, with sacred places on one arm, a common area in the center hinge, and living and working spaces along the other arm. She also draws on American Indian beliefs to create valley lore; the Coyote, a central figure in much American Indian folklore, is a sacred figure in the valley.
Le Guin’s Pandora, from Greek mythology, addresses the reader directly and poses philosophical conundrums. In mythology, Pandora had disobeyed the gods and had opened a jar, releasing all human evils and retaining only hope. In Le Guin’s tale, Pandora is an external force, a visitor who marvels at the valley people, sometimes with jealousy, sometimes with spite. Uneasy with the valley, she nonetheless values it and constantly examines it. She engages in a dialogue with one character, an archivist, about the utopian nature of the valley. Though the archivist insists the valley is not a utopia, Pandora argues that it is, and she suggests that, ironic though it may seem, only through a utopian lens can reality be properly evaluated.
Children serve a similar purpose throughout the work, disrupting the world in ways that help readers connect with the work. These forces, while they interrupt...
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