Who is there? Subjectivity, transformation, and the child’s journey in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan

— Meghann Cassidy

26 April 2021 | Mythlore, Volume 39, № 2: Ursula K. Le Guin, 4

The intricately crafted worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin provoke us into thinking about our own world’s constructs, our languages, and our very being. Though The Tombs of Atuan sets many puzzles for readers, subjectivity, or what it means to be an individual person, is an overarching theme. The paper demonstrates how The Tombs’ narrative leads readers through three stages of identification of name to subject: an initial, partial identification (Tenar), a passage to namelessness and near-negation of self (Arha) and finally, the retrieval of the name (Tenar). These three stages, or moments of naming, (and calling) reflect an active, violent and unstable process of subjectivation — a process through which human beings do seem to go, in the passage from childhood to adulthood. The fact that we are beings whose journeys can include radical destruction and transformation is itself crucial. The paper concludes that a certain will to power, friendship and a limited type of self-knowledge or intuition all subsist the stripping away of the name and self in Arha, (and in the passage from childhood to adulthood), and enable a performative and experiential retrieval of identity. As such, it seems that if The Tombs of Atuan is to yield any notion of a subject, no set of universally true and immutable conditions can be delineated. Rather, an individual’s who is formed and performed in the ethical sphere, meaning that performative and transformative practices and events occurring with, and in relation to, others contribute to the very constitution of self. In this respect, parallels between Tenar’s story and women’s initiation rites can be drawn. Le Guin’s tale may provide symbols and moments by which to understand the profound transformation a child undergoes in adolescence.

PlumX Metrics

permalink 🔗︁
source URL 🌐
date recorded 📅2021-08-08
scribe 🖋worblehat