A Journey to Adulthood

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  • Topic: Binary opposition, Earthsea, A Wizard of Earthsea
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  • Published : March 28, 2005
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Journey To Adulthood
In A Wizard of Earthsea an archetypal pattern of death and rebirth highlights Ged's journey from adolescence to adulthood. In "Myth and Archetypal Criticism" we read, "Images of death and rebirth […] usually suggest some kind of emotional, moral, or spiritual rebirth"(Young 70). We see one or more of these aspects in each of Ged's rebirths, especially in his last rebirth in this book. Ged's coming of age process in this novel is also illuminated by the use of binary oppositions, one of which can even be seen in the book's title; earth/sea. The relationship between these oppositions helps us to better understand Ged's journey into adulthood as being also a journey into the self.

Ged's first major rebirth along with significant binary opposites can be seen in his Ceremony of Passage. In this ceremony his aunt, the witch, first takes from him his boy name, Duny. Then without name or clothes he walks into some cold springs near his village. As he enters the water the story mentions that "water clouds crossed the sun's face and great shadows slid and mingled over the water" (Le Guin 15). When he comes to the other bank Ogion clasps his arm and whispers his true name, Ged, to him. Thus Ged begins his journey into adulthood by gaining his true, or adult, name. (Le Guin 14-15)

If we look at this ceremony through an archetypal lens we can see the pattern of death and rebirth mentioned earlier. His symbolic death in this ceremony can be seen in the taking of his boy name. Ged's symbolic rebirth can be seen in that he emerges from the river naked and nameless just as an infant is naked and nameless when born. His rebirth in this ceremony is complete when he gains the knowledge of his true name. Thus, a true name being the key to a thing's true nature or essence, Ged's knowledge of his true name helps him begin to learn about his inner self.

The images of binary opposition in this first step of Ged's journey are few and seemingly simple. First we have the image of the sun being covered by clouds, which makes shadows. In this we see the opposite images of light and dark, which is a recurring theme in this novel. In the poem before the first page of the book is the line, "only in dark the light,"(line 2). In this, as in other places in the story, we find "the idea that opposites are actually complementary"(Cummins 33). Which is the idea that without darkness we could not know light or as the Master Hand says, "To light a candle is to cast a shadow…"(Le Guin 44). This image also foreshadows Ged's future, just as his passage through the water was marked by shadow so will his passage into adulthood.

The next binary image of this ceremony can be seen when Ogion clasps Ged's arm. In this image we can see many oppositions. Ogion is old and assumedly has already completed his passage into manhood, while Ged is young and just beginning his. Ogion is knowledgeable in the ways of magic and the world while Ged having little knowledge of either is mostly ignorant. Ogion is wise and his actions are motivated by what he must do, Ged on the other hand is often foolish and his actions are motivated by pride, lust for power, or rage. In this image on the bank of the river, we can see the young boy starting out in life compared with what he will become someday; a knowledgeable, wise, old wizard.

Another major death and rebirth of Ged on his passage into manhood happens when he lets loose the shadow. We can also see the theme of binary opposites in this event as well. This event begins when Ged invokes a spell to summon a spirit of the dead, to prove that he is greater than Jasper. During the spell an exceedingly bright "rent in the darkness of the earth and night"(Le Guin 61) appears and begins to grow, out of this climbs the shadow. The shadow attacks Ged and would have killed him if not for the Archmage Nemmerle who drives off the shadow and revives Ged with his staff. After the...
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