Jungian psychoanalysis and Daoism are central to Le Guin’s worldview, though she has been influenced by many other thinkers and writers and by her lifelong interest in anthropology. Many of her novels and stories explore oppositions between, on one hand, an aggressive, technological, male-dominated culture that depends upon coercive controls to produce and maintain social order and, on the other hand, a more peace-loving, egalitarian, female dominated culture that depends on consensus and nature-based “magic” and ritual for social cohesion and cooperation. Though a reader might easily conclude that Le Guin would simply affirm the egalitarian in place of the authoritarian mode, Le Guin’s Daoism and Jungian ideas lead her to recognize that both sides of this opposition are necessary to human existence. The tension between them produces change and the possibility of progress, keeping society lively and interesting. The key to a culture’s success in Le Guin’s works is achieving a balance between these human tendencies that is creative and life-affirming. A culture that allows either tendency to stifle the other becomes stagnant, oppressive, and finally deadly.
Though this opposition is central to her work, Le Guin does not believe that the basis of writing is conflict. In her essay, “Conflict,” from Dancing at the Edge of the World, she writes that to base one’s writing on conflict is “to use an aspect of existence, conflict, to subsume all other aspects, many of which it does not include and does not comprehend.”
Philosophically, Le Guin recognizes a need for balance between traditional masculine and feminine modes, but she also makes clear that for much of history, little attention has been paid to articulating and understanding the “feminine” side of humanity. For example, in her short story “Crosswords” (first published in The New Yorker on July 30, 1990), her main character describes the easiest way of dealing with most men:It was easier to smile. It’s like there’s a kind of oil that makes their wheels go round, and smiling is part of it, women smiling. They expect it, and when they don’t get it they may not know what’s missing but they tend to seize up and get mean, like a motor you don’t oil.
Part of her point is that while women are required to understand how men operate in order to function in society, men seem not to be under a similar requirement with regard to women. Le Guin saw part of her mission as pushing readers to remedy this basic injustice. She said in a 1990 interview with Publishers Weekly that neither she nor “literature was ready for a female point of view in the early 1970’s.”
Until she wrote Tehanu, she believed herself unable to write fiction from the viewpoint of a mature woman. The absence of females as main characters in her early fiction had been noted by some feminist critics, though Le Guin had been incisively exploring gender issues throughout her career. Le Guin has said that she does not make up ideas; rather, images present themselves, and she writes about these images. Therefore, her choice of a male over a female protagonist is not an antifeminist statement; it is merely based on the image that appears, an arbitrary happening, not a choice. Le Guin does not view feminism as a side in a perpetual gender war, but as an assertion that in gender relations, balance and cooperation and justice and the affirmations of life and creativity are the essential elements. Many of her works, notably The Left Hand of Darkness and Always Coming Home (1985), represent sexual difference as creative on multiple levels.
With Tehanu , Le Guin took an important step toward exploring mature feminine consciousness, and she continued in this direction from that point onward. She has described her works as “thought experiments about the meaning of sexuality...
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- Critical Essays