Ursula K. Le Guin 1929–-
(Full name Ursula Kroeber Le Guin) American novelist, short story and novella writer, poet, essayist, lecturer, author of children's books, editor, dramatist, and scriptwriter.
The following entry presents criticism of Le Guin's short fiction from 1990 to 2000. See also Ursula Le Guinn Literary Criticism (Introduction), and Volumes 8, 13, 22.
A highly respected award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction, Le Guin is best known for her stories in which alternative societies serve as the backdrop for discussion about philosophic and social issues such as morality, individual identity, political ideology, and racial interaction. Perhaps unexpectedly, Le Guin's works seem to be shaped more by the social sciences than the physical sciences, as evidenced in her writing by the prominent inclusion of historical context, varied political and economic systems, diverse cultures, and psychological characteristics.
Born in Berkeley, California, Le Guin grew up in a home where intellectual life was celebrated and famous scholars were regular visitors. Her father, Alfred Louis Kroeber, was an acclaimed anthropologist; her mother, Theodora, wrote Ishi in Two Worlds, the biography of a Native American who was a friend of the Kroeber family. Storytelling, reading, and a respect for diverse cultures informed life in the Kroeber household and were lasting influences on Le Guin. She wrote her first piece of fiction at age nine and submitted a story to Amazing Stories at age eleven. She studied French and Italian at Radcliffe College and earned a B.A. in Renaissance literature in 1951. She continued her literary studies at Columbia University, earning a master's degree in 1952. She was awarded a Fulbright grant in 1953 and sailed to Paris to begin a year of study in preparation for her doctoral dissertation. However, en route she met a fellow scholar, Charles Le Guin, whom she married in December 1953, at which point she ceased her own doctoral studies. From 1966 to 1968 Le Guin published her first four novels—Rocannon's World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), and City of Illusions (1967), known as the Hainish trilogy, and A Wizard of Earthsea (1967), which received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Le Guin's first literary prize. Le Guin published consistently into the twentieth-first century, receiving numerous honors and awards along the way. In 2004 Le Guin was given the Margaret A. Edwards Award by the American Library Association, honoring her lifetime contribution to young adult readers.
Le Guin's short fiction often explores political concerns. For example, The Word for World Is Forest (1972) is by Le Guin's own admission an analogy for American military involvement in Vietnam; the novella depicts a heavily forested environment and the subjugation of native people by means of force. Some commentators have criticized Le Guin's work as overtly polemical, a charge commonly leveled at the novella The Eye of the Heron (1978), which details the response of pacifists to the threat posed by a violent group with whom they share their space colony. However, works such as Orsinian Tales (1976), which comprises stories set from 1150 through 1965 in an imagined Central European country, are judged subtle renderings of political climate: in a description of the efforts of one person to assist people past the border patrol, “A Week in the Country” intimates the slightly dystopian temper of the government. Some commentators note the psychological emphasis to Le Guin's work. “The Good Trip” is about a man whose wife suffers from insanity. He hallucinates a meaningful conversation with his wife and, after initially ascribing the visionary encounter to the effects of LSD, recognizes the experience as the result of his fervent, unwavering love for his wife. In Four Ways to Forgiveness (1996), the four stories in...
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- Critical Essays