“She Unnames Them” by Ursula K. Le Guin

11Feb05

Even though Le Guin gets a little cute at times, e.g. “Well, goodbye, dear. I hope the garden key turns up,” I found Le Guin’s new conclusion to Adam and Eve’s relationship interesting.

Judging by the descriptions of the other short stories in the collection in which this story was published, the importance of Eve unnaming the animals, at least for Le Guin, is enabling her to become closer to nature and ultimately forsake her domesticity. However, there is also the gesture of woman reclaiming language. According to one of the creation stories (the one generally favored), man was created first, then the animals, and then woman. Man was allowed to name the animals, thus granting man a power of language that woman was not given. By unnaming the animals in this story, Eve seems to reclaim that power in a way. Eve notes:

None were left now to unname, and yet how close I felt to them when I saw one of them swim or fly or trot or crawl across my way or over my skin, or stalk me in the night, or go along beside me for a while in the day. They seemed far closer than when their names had stood between myself and them like a clear barrier: so close that my fear of them and their fear of me became one same fear. And the attraction that many of us felt, the desire to feel or rub or caress one another’s scales or skin or feathers or fur, taste one another’s blood or flesh, keep one another warm—that attraction was now all one with the fear, and the hunter could not be told from the hunted, nor the eater from the food.

Man created language and that language created a hierarchy, a separation between humans and animals, animals and other animals.

Between the humans, “talk was getting [them] nowhere.” And, though it isn’t made explicitly clear in this story (though a hierarchy in the animal realm is obvious), language creates a hierarchy between men and women. By disassembling Adam’s language and joining the animals, Eve effectively renounces the hierarchy of the human realm and joins her newly created, classless society.

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