31 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Word for World is Forest

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1972

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Athshe is a planet that has been colonized by the humans from Earth. Its resources are milled and ransacked as its people are enslaved and used by the colonizers. Some of the invaders are relatively benevolent, like Lyubov, although he is aware that he is a participant in a harmful system, even though he does no harm. Others, like Davidson, revel in the power they have over the people they subjugate, even believing that, as a stronger people, they have a duty to take by force whatever they can. The negative aspects of colonialism and imperialism are mirrored in the novella in a way that can be seen in the British Empire in India, the American slave trade, and the heavy-handed attempts by the English to keep their American colonies from revolting. As the story ends, Athshe has won its freedom from colonizing forces, and this is shown as a victory and an indictment of the distorted morality and priorities of the invaders. The effects of the colonial presence—the introduction of murder among the natives—is Le Guin’s reminder that simply expelling the invading force does not guarantee a return to normalcy.