Essay on Nine Lives by Ursula K. Le Guin
Have students ever thought of what makes a short sci-fi/fantasy story so extradentary to read? “Nine Lives” by Ursula K. Le Guin “is a novelette that was first published in Playboy magazine in 1968.At the time of the story’s magazine publication, Playboy requested that she publish the work under her initials U. K. Le Guin to prevent male readers from becoming nervous about a female writer. The piece gained national attention after President Lyndon B. Johnson publically praised the work”(Cove), which to mention that it is a bizarre place that no one would have guessed was the greatest idea that overcome her journey to be an extradentary female writer till this day.
Nevertheless, Le Guin used setting as her most important elements because it immense effects on the plot and the characters it gives the mood throughout the story and it gives an idea on what the role of each characters are going to be which sets up how the story engages the reader to learn more about what is going to happen next. One way to see setting very important is when establishing how you want to start any short story. For instance, Nine Lives takes place on a remote planet named Libra and primarily involves two workers, Alvaro Guillen Martin and Owen Pugh, who are in charge of locating areas for mining.
Martin and Pugh send frequent reports back to Earth, which has almost been completely destroyed by wars and famine. Martin and Pugh receive help from ten clones, collectively named John Chow and distinguished through middle initials. The story depicts the clones’ symbiotic relationship as well as the process of developing the clones. When a powerful earthquake occurs, nine of the ten clones die, leaving one remaining clone, “Kaph.” Kaph physically and emotionally experiences all nine of the deaths, and he suffers from severe depression from the separation from his companions. Without having a full baseline to any story, a theme and tone should be included in order to give out some sort of reason why this story was made for to the reader. (Whitney)
Another way that setting is important is to demonstrate how the theme is created throughout the plot. Le Guin shows the capability of humans and clones to coexist and even have an understanding for each other. In the end, as the new shipment of clones arrive, one is reminded that the clones are replaceable. (Cove). This story is centered on the themes of individualism and the importance of social connection. In a way, this tale is split between a challenge and a defense of the idea of individualism. Though Martin and Pugh are an effective team, their combined efficacy is initially shown to be less than that of the clone collective. The clones’ perfect symbiosis is, in the opinion of Martin and Pugh, something enviable.
The idea of collectivism over individuality seems to reflect the social mores of their time. This is reflected in the discussions between Martin and Pugh of the events that took place on Earth that led to the start of the cloning initiative. The idea of the value of the whole over the value of individuals is also evident when Martin and Pugh explain the choices that led to the decision to launching the cloning initiative. The rationale given for pursuing cloning is that the clones are a valuable means to an end. Rather than focusing on the clones’ quality of life, they emphasize the clones’ value as workers and their worth to society as a functioning group. Though the unity of the clones is an asset, it is also a serious liability (Cove).
Throughout the tale, Le Guin refers back to the people who died on Earth during the famines and wars with a clinical sort of detachment. The tone for this story give an impact on how the one clone “Kaph” felt after the death of the 9 others which as depression, sadness, loneliness, and fear. When the earthquake occurs and when hours go by without contact from the clones, both Martin and Pugh become concerned and embark in search of them. What they find is one male clone, barely alive, and the lifeless body of one female clone.
Once they arrive back at the base, the remaining clone actually dies nine times, seemingly reenacting the deaths of each of his lost companions. Once stable, the live clone, John K. Chow, called ‘Kaph’, wrestles with depression stemming from being alone for the first time in his life. The connection between the clones ultimately breed the fear of being separated from the whole, and this fear leads each clone to make illogical decisions when the accident occurs.
The fear of existing as singular beings leads each clone to follow the rest into a mine of hazardous wreckage, which kills nine of the ten clones. When the remaining clone is forced to live apart from his siblings – for a lack of a better word – the extent of the problems with their collectivism becomes more apparent. Kaph’s instability and depression following the accident illustrate, in part, that though collectivism has its uses, it is important for people to be able to exist as singular individuals so that their understanding of their place in society is not entirely dependent on their relationships with others. (Whitney) In Conclusion, setting is a huge importance when criticizing a short story because without a setting, how will the reader know what is happening to each character demonstrating some type of mood effect to engage with the characters.
Le Guin makes references throughout the story to underline this point. If one makes a mistake, none tease him. If one makes a joke, nine others will laugh. If one cries, he has a support group around him at all times who understand what he’s feeling. This little closed community of people are able to function socially without needing to go outside their clique. (Mayden). That being said, it is precisely this independence that makes collaboration and caring relationships between individuals all the more meaningful. This is seen with the relationship between Martin and Pugh towards the end of the story, when Pugh risks his own life to save Martin – not out of the fear of being alone – but because of his genuine feelings of care, concern, and even love for Martin (Whitney).
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