The Word for World Is Forest Critical Essays

Ursula K. Le Guin


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Written in 1968 and 1969, The Word for World Is Forest contains obvious references to both the Vietnam War and the destruction of indigenous peoples. Along with this political theme, the novel also has a focus on the contrast between the people of Athshe, who have developed a balanced, integrated society, and the colonists from Terra, whose society is both unbalanced and fragmented. This novella is part of Ursula Le Guin’s “Hainish” novels, which include Rocannon’s World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), City of Illusions (1967), and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). The novels are set in a universe made up of planets whose civilizations were “seeded” by colonists from the planet Hain.

Athshean culture is thoroughly integrated with the planet’s ecology. Rather than clearing the forests, the Athsheans live within the roots of the trees themselves in widely dispersed clans that are named after tree species. Along with their physical integration within the forest environment, the Athsheans are integrated psychologically: Their dreams are integrated within their waking consciousness. Thus the Athshean subconscious is integrated with the conscious mind. This integrated culture echoes a recurrent theme in Le Guin’s work, that of the unity of differences through balanced opposition, the Taoist unity from duality. In contrast, the alien Terran culture imposed on Athshe depends on exploitation of the land...

(The entire section is 501 words.)