Communities of the Heart

Communities of the HeartSynopsis

The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin
Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2001

WARREN G. ROCHELLE, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA

This book explores the use of imaginative literature as persuasion, focusing on the science fiction and fantasy of Ursula K. Le Guin and her rhetorical use of myth. Since we live in a culture that is saturated with the mythic, the author argues that, as Le Guin interprets and reimagines myth in her fiction, the myth becomes rhetorical. As Le Guin revisions and reinterprets myth in the story she is telling, she also subverts myth—in particular the Myth of the Hero and the Quest (the Monomyth), and the myth of utopia—as a way of making her argument for the importance of feminist and Native American approaches to our ways of making meaning. Her rhetoric, when placed in historical and sociocultural context, becomes the rhetoric of Emerson, Thoreau, Peirce, Whitman, Fuller, and Dewey: American romantic/pragmatic rhetoric, a rhetoric that argues for value be given to the subjective, the personal and private, the small, and the feminine. In exploring the rhetoric of myth in her work, Rochelle examines her writing in the Earthsea cycle, The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, Always Coming Home, Four Ways to Forgiveness, A Fisherman of The Inland Sea, selected short stories, and two recent novellas, Dragonfly and Old Music and The Slave Women.

The author concludes that Le Guin (like Emerson, Peirce, Thoreau, Fuller, Whitman, and Dewey) and like her contemporaries, such as Freire, Rose, West, and Coles, is a romantic/pragmatic rhetorician. In that sense, she is arguing for what Vico argued for in the eighteenth century: that knowledge should be seen and studied as an integrated whole, and that Cartesian thinking is only part of how humans make meaning. The rational and irrational, the subjective and objective, are all valid ways of knowing. Story, especially when expressed as myth, is a tool for human understanding as valid and as true as scientific experimentation. Science fiction and fantasy are indeed rhetorical.

Vol. 25, 256pp., October 2000, £32.95 h/b, £15.95 p/b

0-85323-876-6 h/b, 0-85323-886-3 ppr.