7/15/13: Four Ways to Forgiveness

[library] FOUR WAYS TO FORGIVENESS by Ursula K. Le Guin: 208/208

TW: slavery, violence (gore p.122), rape, murder

Hello, still alive! So this is a set of four novellas set around the unclear path of slave-holding world Werel and its colony planet Yeowe, from plantation slavery to liberation. It is about power replacing power, slavers replacing slavers, and women being the last in line for freedom.

It is also about the value of knowledge and belief, and the idea that “all knowledge is local knowledge”—that the larger the world you see, the easier it is to see the airtight customs of one group of people as foolish or pointless, but despite their flaws, they do function, as much as any other view of the universe functions. They have to, because no one knows everything, and everyone needs to know just enough to live.

Some of Le Guin’s books show more of their sociological foundation than others, and this one, despite being fairly short, manages to fit some real textbook style here and there. The third story, A Man of the People, is particularly declarative. It’s also more than usually (even!) interested in the structure of history, and the characters feel like accessories to that.

There are sparks of hope in this book, usually in the last few lines of the stories, but by and large it is slowly and brutally realistic about the process of progress. Freedom is declared, undergrounds rise, envoys from peaceful alien planets change hearts, and then people are shuffled around and raped and die and women are kept enslaved and voiceless and freedoms are revoked and children are murdered and there’s no safe place to call home, even on the “free world” next door. Friends lose each other because you can both fight for freedom and still have nothing to say to one another.

Hope comes in the form of love in all these stories, specifically heterosexual romantic love, even though throughout the book there are lots of non-straight characters and sexual encounters, and even a fair amount of rejection of sex in general. I admit myself to be a little disappointed by that, because if you’re talking about a whole struggling world of powerlessness and power-grabbing and hope and fear and change, there’s got to be more than cisgendered heterosexuals shacking up to bring hope to the world—whether they’re running printing presses and comforting each other in literal shacks or whatever.

There’s a running theme of this line from the slave class’s religion: “Hold fast to the one noble thing.” And I think that thing’s got to be the unbreaking human connection, the steadfast loyalty of a human heart to another human heart, that isn’t undone by all the evil humanity can muster. And that’s amazing. But they probably don’t have to be straight, and they probably don’t have to have sex. They don’t have to be adults. They probably don’t need to both be human—there are some good pets in this book, and I would argue that love there would be at least as noble as the one noble hot guy you eventually get with. Maybe a slightly broader vision of the one noble thing. That is the bone I pick.


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