Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” as a Feminist Statement Sample

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In the beginning of the twentieth century, feminist movements started to originate, with the strong belief of vindicating adult females in the societal arrangement of that time, in order to get the same opportunities as men. Literature could not escape from this reality; as a result, women began to write about their situation. Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives,” published in the 1960s, was one of the first attempts in science fiction literature to address the condition of women in the social arrangement. “Nine Lives” is set on Libra, a rocky planet far from Earth in the outer space and in a distant future. Owen Pough and Alvaro Guillen Martin, the two main characters, are two spacemen in charge of exploring the planet to find U. While being there, a ten-clone crew arrived to assist in the searching.

The writer presents the ringer crew as five males and five females. Le Guin introduced them as being identical in both physical aspects and cognitive abilities: “They were all tall, with bronzy skin, black hair, high-bridged noses, epicanthic crease, the same face,” and “Given the same stimulation, the same problem, we’re likely to be coming up with the same reactions and solutions at the same time.” However, in the development of the narrative, the writer clearly supports the female gender. For example, “Just cancel the male gene from half of the cells, and they revert to the rudiments, that is, the female,” or “…clones function best bisexually.”

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In the narrative, the female ringer is presented with characteristics that differ tremendously from those of women in the ’60s: Mugwump, with the same opportunities as men, with the same skills, and not being black of themselves as people. Ursula is contrasting the differences between these two types of women; in “Nine Lives,” Le Guin suggests what women should be and act. For example, “They woke, and the girl sat up, rose-cheeked and sleepy, with bare golden breasts. One of her sisters murmured something to her; she shot a glance at Pugh and disappeared in the sleeping bag, followed by a giant giggle… In the same paragraph: “Christ, we’re used to having a room to ourselves. Hope you don’t mind, Captain Pugh.”

By holding both male and female ringer life in the same environment with no differences between them, she is stating that there should be no differences between the workforces and adult females. Therefore, it should be said that the main conflict presented in the narrative concerning gender is that of the place and importance of adult females in society, particularly in the American society of the late 1960s. Le Guin is criticizing men’s and society’s behavior towards adult females; the writer wants them to think about adult females as what they are: people.

According to J. Chafetz (1999, p. 4), a gender theory specifically feminist should “…focus on the unfairnesses, strains, and contradictions inherent in gender arrangements,” and be “…a normative commitment that societies should develop just gender arrangements.” When reading “Nine Lives,” we realize that Le Guin follows the two aforementioned premises of feminist theory: she focuses on the contradictions in gender arrangements and tries to develop a just gender arrangement. However, she does not state her point directly in the narrative. Instead, as we mentioned before, she presents the female characters with characteristics wholly opposed to those of women in the 1960s.

Another concept dealt with in “Nine Lives” is that of humaneness. Humaneness can be defined as “the quality of compassion or consideration for others (people or animals)” (Larousse Dictionary, 2004, p. 517). Now, with this concept clearly defined, some differences can be found in the text regarding the behavior of male and female characters. The male characters are portrayed in a deep manner, with feelings, emotions, and sympathy towards the other male characters. For example: “…so kneel by Pugh, who was just sitting up, and wiped at his cut zygomatic bone. ‘Owen, are you all right, are you going to be all right Owen?'”, and “Kaph looked at him and saw the thing he had never seen before: saw him: Owen Pugh, the other, the alien who held his hand out in the dark.”

However, when referring to the female characters, the male characters merely see them as an object of desire, a sexual instrument, only a body. For example: “Martin looked bewilderedly at the long-limbed girls, and they smiled at him, three at one time,” and “What if I proposition one of the girls?” Throughout the text, there are no references to the thoughts, emotions, or feelings of the female characters, wholly opposed to the male characters’ minds; the narrator has full access to their minds, indicating their thoughts, emotions, and feelings. For example: “Pugh was pleased. He had hoped Martin would want to go on working with him, but neither of them was used to talking much about their feelings, and he hesitated to ask.”

By portraying female characters in a superficial manner, with no access to their thoughts from the storyteller, and with “distant” behavior towards them from the male characters, Le Guin makes a clear allusion to the subordination of adult females in society. According to O. Neira (1981, p.84), “La mayoría de los papeles asignados culturalmente a la mujer están concebidos de modo que contrasten con la superioridad del varón.” (1). Mrs. Ursula criticizes this male chauvinist societal arrangement. However, as with the previous point, Le Guin does not state her point directly but instead recreates in the text the characteristics in which women lived in 1960s American society.

The manner in which language is used in the narrative is an important issue. It serves to show the reader Le Guin’s point of view regarding gender arrangements and the position of women in society. The narrator displays a utopian relationship between men and women, where there are no differences among them except for their biological sex. Both males and females act as one unit, with no discrimination from their counterparts; instead, they complement each other. For instance, “They all got up within one minute, except for one pair, a boy and a girl, who lay snugly tangled and still sleeping in one bag.” Further on, “The twins braced for the halt at one minute, each with a small protective gesture to the other.” Also, “Whatever he did, any member of it would always receive the support and blessing of his equals, his other selves. Nobody else was needed.”

The differentiation presented between men and women in our world, in terms of gender arrangements, is not applied to the male-female twin relationship; on the contrary, the female twins have the same opportunities as the male twins, and there is no presence of a hierarchical organization. Furthermore, the narrator highlights the physical beauty of women, their delicacy, in order to enhance their importance. For example, “. . . from which another man emerged with the same orderly turn and leap, followed by a young woman who emerged with the same orderly turn, ornamented by a wiggle and the leap.” Also, “Their smile was gentler than that of the boys, but no less radiantly collected.” Finally, “The girl’s voice was definitely a bit higher and softer.”

All of the ringers are named John Chow, except for their middle names, which are different. These names are Aleph, Kaph, Yod, Gimel, and Samedth for the male ringer, and Sadhe, Daleth, Zayin, Beth, and Resh for the female ringer. These names are some of the consonantal letters of the Hebrew alphabet. E. Jerezano (s.f.) states that these Hebrew letters have significance by themselves. For illustration, the letter Aleph means “individualization”, while the letter Kaph means “to accept” or “to adapt”. Jerezano continues that these letters and their meanings complement each other in order to form one unit. Therefore, one can confirm that Le Guin intentionally uses this allusion to the Hebrew alphabet to show the unity men and women should have. Despite the fact that men and women are differentiated by their sex, this should be the only difference among them.

When describing the characteristics of 1950s and 1960s society in terms of men’s behavior towards women’s feelings and emotions, M. Evans (2001, p.50) says that “women’s issues seemed to them [men] “special”, “sectarian”, while issues that concerned men were “human”, “universal””. The subordination of the female gender has been a constant issue in western society, affecting women in their daily lives. Therefore, “Nine Lives” addresses a fundamental problem for all women, regardless of their race or economic status.

A woman who reads “Nine Lives” will identify with the relationship between the female and the male ringer, whether it is the utopian relationship between them or the shallow attention they receive from men when it comes to their needs, desires, and emotions. It does not matter where the reader lives since, as stated before, this subordination is a persistent matter in our modern society.

Consequently, a Venezuelan reader will easily relate to this situation because, as G. Rosciano (1991, p.108) describes, Venezuelan society is “un mundo machista donde las mujeres sufren una situación intolerable, no solamente por pobres sino por mujeres.” (2) Venezuelan women, as well as other women around the world, have suffered from the male chauvinistic construct of society for centuries. Despite the fact that they are getting more opportunities in our modern society, there is still an underlying notion that sees and values women only for their reproductive function.

Numerous feminist implications can be found in “Nine Lives”. Looking back to the past, the treatment women have received from men and society in general is unjust. Therefore, Le Guin attempts to raise awareness of this situation in the readers by criticizing the reproductive role society has assigned to women and by offering a different scenario, one in which women are equal to men. Consequently, “Nine Lives” should be considered as one of the most important stories with feminist implications.

Caracas, June 10, 2008.


  • (1): “The majority of culturally assigned roles for women are conceived in a way that contrasts with male superiority.”
  • (2): “A male chauvinist world where women suffer an intolerable situation, not only because they are poor, but because they are women.”

Bibliographic References

  1. Chafetz, J. (1999). Handbook of the sociology of gender. New York City, NY: Plenum Publishers.
  2. Evans, M. (2001). Feminism: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. New York City, NY: Routledge.
  3. Jerezano, E. (s.f.). Significado simbólico de las 22 letras hebreas. [Web page online]. Available: http://www.sekher.com/torasyah4.htm [Accessed: May 25, 2008].
  4. Larousse English Dictionary. (2004). Mexico City, D.F.: Larousse.
  5. Neira, O. (1981). Explorando las sexualidades humanas: Aspectos psicosociales. Mexico City, D.F.: Column Trillas.
  6. Rosciano, G. (1991). Arquitectura es femenino. Caracas: Alfadil Ediciones.

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Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” as a Feminist Statement Sample. (2017, Jul 21). Retrieved from


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