The Library in the Mountains and the Writing on the Wall : Fragmented Memories and Cultural Amnesia in Ursula K. Le Guin
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
Memory, especially its loss, plays a prominent role in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929). The Telling (2000) and Voices (2006), two of Le Guin’s most recent works, go into great detail on what happens when a memory is lost or destroyed, usually under duress. The former, the last book in Le Guin’s Hainish cycle, deals with a goal to preserve books and learning from a regime that has made it a misguided goal to eradicate all elements of past culture in an effort to modernize the country. In the latter, part of Le Guin’s Annals of the Western Shore series, the city of Ansul loses nearly all of its books when the Alds, a people that fears and/or despises written words, overtake the city and order the destruction of books and libraries, deeming them to be a sacrilege and a threat. The destruction of cultural memories in Le Guin’s books may be likened to trauma, in that it leads to the separation of people from each other and from their memories of the past, and it leaves a society without roots or resources to draw upon. Le Guin especially uses the motifs of the anthropologist-hero, the secret library and the preservation of books to demonstrate what happens to a society when it is forced to erase its memories. She also delves into the subject of what must be done to preserve those memories, as well as the debate over when it is better to remember and when to forget. This subject is especially critical when it comes to the subject of reconciliation: when bad events in the past should be remembered, and when they should be forgotten or forgiven. We see this topic especially at the end of both books, when the respective characters are trying to determine how to come to terms with past events. This essay examines the use of memory in Le Guin’s works of fiction and her nonfiction essays, and how they fit into the subject of memory’s loss and redemption in dystopian science fiction in general. The essay also examines real-life incidents in history that bear similarities to the events in her work, such as the destruction of Bosnia’s national library, the Cultural Revolution in China and the recent war in Iraq.
Roll, Erin Michelle, "The Library in the Mountains and the Writing on the Wall : Fragmented Memories and Cultural Amnesia in Ursula K. Le Guin" (2018). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 111.