Literary Devices in Short Story “She Unnames Them”

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The multi-awarded American sci-fi author and known for her prominent feminist beliefs Ursula K. Le Guin gives a new viewpoint on the Book of Genesis through the short story “She Unnames Them” that was first published by The New Yorkers on 1985.

Le Guin takes a proposition to the patriarchal foundation carved in renowned biblical story of the Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve. The Unnaming tests the inferior image of women and the unequal power between men and women.

This paper aims to understand the nature of the character presented, and discuss the work’s organization, style, and the effectiveness of the story. This paper will also aim to establish the stories relevance to the objective of feminism. It would demand that you give it time to read so as to understand the magic behind the author’s attempt to convey sound messages that hopefully would open our eyes to reality and enlighten our way of looking at things that may ultimately be a cause for social change.

Structure and Overview

Le Guin seems to divide the story into two sections: the third-person’s perspective and the other is the first-person and you’ll realized that the story all along has been told by Eve, though the name “Eve” is never used.

The first section is a third-person account explaining how the animals react to their unnaming, Part of this section is the beginning of the story that displays a group of animals specifically stated in the story as “council of the elderly females” having a meeting tackling about the unnaming. On the ensuing paragraphs, shows that some animals had resistance to the idea of unnaming. Yet others are happy to return their names.

The second section shifts to first-person. The main character is never named, but it is concluded that it is Eve. On this part, Eve goes to Adam to tell him that she is giving back the name bestowed by “you and your father […] It’s been really useful, but it doesn’t exactly seem to fit very well lately. But thanks very much! It’s really been very useful.’ This is the part where Eve’s action seems to be revolutionary, but Adam doesn’t care.

If you’ll deeply analyze the content of the story, you’ll realized that it has no third person point of view. It was Eve who is narrating all along. You will realize it in the second section of the story:

“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, fear of them and their fear of me became one same fear.”

It seems that these lines relate the first section of the story. In which, Eve is pointing out the same feeling she felt with the sentiments of the animals narrated in the first section.

The Unnaming

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament Bible, you’ll know that in Genesis 2:19 to 20, It was stated that God made the animals and gave Adam the privilege on naming them:

‘And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam would call every living creature, that was the name thereof. So, Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.’

It’s very much a patriarchal situation; in which there is a male God who created the creature in the first place. There was also this male Adam who then gets to name and classify them. In addition, the second chapter of the Genesis: God sends Eve to Adam last, after all the animals and Adam chooses her name “woman” just as he chooses the names of the animals. Thus, Eve just become another kind of animal for him to name, and he literally decides to call her woman, so he comes up with her base identity. All the power and the story are seated with the male characters and the female character is just very passive. She’s just another creature that gets a name from a man. “She Unnames Them” is trying to undo that power structure.

In most of the classical stories, women have been depicted as the quintessence of temptation. In Leung Ho Kwan’s analysis paper “In the Beginning Is the Unnaming: A Feminist Perspective”, she displays the image of women in different classical holy book such as The Odyssey, Qur’an including The Book of Genesis.

In Qur’an, they mark the female as the source of temptation, this is why Muslim women are not allowed to show their figure and to cover their arms and even the face with hijab. The word hijab takes the root of hajaba, meaning to hide or to conceal to avoid them from arousing men’s sexual desire. Qur’an also states that: “Women shall with justice have the rights similar to those exercised against them, although men have a status above women.” Therefore, they have this principle that men have a higher status and that women can enjoy similar but not equal rights. And to make it worst, the line in Qur’an: “Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please.” Really insults a women’s dignity.

Female character in The Odyssey also represent the stereotype known in the Chinese proverb as “A woman’s beauty is a man’s ruin,” In which the image of woman as a seductress is more obvious. According to Le Ho Kwan, in the story of The Odyssey, women’s role as a helper or lesser is portrayed in religious texts is displayed as domesticity. Regardless of the social status, female is responsible for domestic chores. “Helen as a queen also bathes Odysseus and rubs him down with olive oil to show hospitality.” Women’s role of doing household chores is taken for granted by men. The domesticity of female is also initiated in “She Unnames Them,” where Adam’s response to Eve’s “O.K., fine, dear. When’s dinner?” This suggests the usual expectation to Eve of obeying Adam unquestioningly.

In the Book of Genesis, Eve is tempted by the traitor to eat the forbidden fruit, which she in turn gave to Adam. You can find this in Genesis 3:4-6 that when God sits in judgement, Eve bears the blame for Adam’s misconducts and for the fall of humanity ever since. Aside from being depicted in a bad light, women are given inferior roles in the classics. Man has been the superior to woman right from the beginning if you based it from the other story of Creation in Genesis 2:4 to 3:4. Adam was made first, out of the ground, while Eve was made from Adam’s rib. Leung Ho Kwan state that the basis for women’s submission to men in patriarchal societies is the origin of humankind and the eating of the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve story influences all of women’s literature. Many of the kind of sexist ideas that have appeared in literature throughout the ages have been based on that one idea that eve was a broken woman. And that all women therefore are weak or vulnerable for temptation of what not. Taking this story which is the root of so much of that evil and rewriting it powerful. Adam also is classified as powerful in terms of like wanting everything to have its name. But then in the end when Eve leaves him he doesn’t even care, instead he asks Eve what time the dinner is, and he doesn’t seem to notice that she’s leaving. So, Adam has really taken his power for granted he’s not even realizing anymore the suppression of those who he’s been ruling over.

This is a great idea that Eve become the writer of her own story, so Eve becomes a new creator or uncreated. Whereas we thought of God and Adam as being really the leaders of the narrative. If we take a step back as well, Le Guin becomes the retailer of one of our most important myths which is this idea that “It’s written by a man, it’s written for men” women are very passive and submissive and Le Guin totally rewrites that story for a female audience and imagines almost like a female creatress.

On Eve’s explanation on this line in the story: ‘They seemed far closer than when their names had stood between myself and them like a clear barrier.’ also shows that the story is also a means of tearing down barriers. Because, names assist to emphasize the difference amongst the animals, but without names, their similarities become visible.

As Eve feel separated from the animals. She sensed that the names of the animals do not fit them and that by giving them names, they are attempting to label the essence of the animals. Eve feels the walls of separation coming down among her and the animals when she comes around and unnaming them one by one. Eve also returns her name to Adam who does not even notice. By doing so, they can no longer distinguished who’s the predator and the prey among animals, because Eve and all the animals began to feel the same simultaneous fear of one another and the desire to interact one another. In this way eve and the animals rejects the stereotypical role and they become equal.

The story seems to be so innocent, but superlatively has so much to say about how people discern others and themselves based on qualities that they did not choose. The animals did not choose their own names, just as Eve did not choose to have the status of female be inferior to man, that was chosen for them (DeBrock). Le Guin is trying to look for a way to inverse these barriers, to give everyone a freedom and allow them to express themselves.

Le Guin’s really gives voice to feminism and supports the Womens’s Rights movement by the representation of Eve. As the story revolves around the theme of power. God gives Adam the power to name, as she also has the authority to name Eve, and this sound like Eve is coequal with the animals whom has no rights to name herself, but Eve ostensibly takes away that power by unnaming the animals and herself. The hierarchy of man is lost since she is now equal to man, she has claimed the power of language that was not given to her (Elmore). She defies the social class that Christian teachings had put on humans and animals. Women are capable of being independent, and just as all life is inherently equal, men and women should be equal.

Le Guin uses the narrative strategies in literary devices of allegory and allusion to provoke her readers to think about the labels which they are given and which they give others. Choses words that captures more effects, and paints so much more of a picture than the word. The language is beautiful and evocative, often evoking the characteristics of the animal as an antidote to simply using their name (Sustana).

Le Guin’s allegory on the Book of Genesis works is very effective in embellishing gender stereotypes. It also made the reader question the roles of men and women. Through this short story, “She Unnanmes Them,” Ursula Le Guin successfully presents a feminist argument towards the Biblical stereotypes of gender differences present in society. As her text portraits Eve as capable intelligent and sensible. Unlike Adam who is portrayed as lazy.

The story will made us realized and relates DeBrock quote on his thesis on this story, “Identity should not be determined at creation, it should be allowed to explore and constantly be reevaluated by who it belongs to. It is, in a sense, nameless.” It is not about the names, or gender, status or any part of one’s self, it’s how you interact with one another.

Works Cited

  1. Elmore, Shyanne. 25 April 2011 .http://shyannee.blogspot.com/2011/04/she-unnames-them-literary-analysis.hml.
  2. Sustana, Catherine.Analysis of ‘She Unnames Them’ by Ursula K. Le Guin. 2017 https://www.thoughtco.com/analysis-of-she-unnames-them-2990526
  3. Le Ho Kwan.In the Beginning Is the Unnaming: A Feminist Perspective. http://www5.cuhk.edu.hk/oge/oge_media/gef/doc/student_seminar/2nd/11LeungHoKwan.pdf
  4. DeBrock, Jacob. www.seelio.com. 30 June 2016.
  5. Dabney, Lucy. What about Eve? (Feminist Analysis). November 20, 2010. https://lucydabney.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/she-unnames-them-2.pdf
  6. Murphy, Cullen. The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own. New York: Houghton Miffl in Co., 1998. 20 April 2009.
  7. Bergant, Dianne (2013). Genesis: In the Beginning. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814682753.

Cite this paper

Literary Devices in Short Story “She Unnames Them”. (2022, Apr 01). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/literary-devices-in-short-story-she-unnames-them/

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