Allusion and Allegory in “She Unnames Them”
Ursula Le Guin’s short story “She Unnames Them” takes place in the time of Adam and Eve. God had given Adam the task of naming every animal on the earth, but in Le Guin’s story, Eve feels separated from the animals. She feels that the names of the animals do not fit them and that by giving them names, they are attempting to label the essences of the animals. She begins to go around unnaming the animals, and in doing so, she begins to feel the wall of separation between her and the animals coming down. Predator and prey can no longer be distinguished, because Eve and all the animals began to feel the same simultaneous fear of one another and the desire to interact with one another. In this way, Eve and the animals become equals, and she realizes that she can even give up her own name. She gives it back to Adam, who does not even notice, and goes out to be with the animals.
Part of what makes “She Unnames Them” work is allusion. At first, it is not obvious that the story is about the Adam and Eve of Genesis, but it can be inferred that it is because of some important details Le Guin includes. When Eve goes to Adam to give him back her name, she says, “You and your father lent me this—gave it to me, actually.” This is a reference to God, the father, giving Eve her name when he created her. Later in her interaction with Adam, as she is trying to leave, she tells him that she hopes “the garden key turns up.” Le Guin is alluding to the Garden of Eden here and suggesting humorously that instead of being thrown out of the Garden, Adam and Eve simply lost the key. In addition to her references to Adam and Eve, Le Guin also alludes to two famous writers and one scientist. She mentions Jonathan Swift’s attempt to name horses in Gulliver’s Travels as well as the poem in which T.S. Eliot makes the claim that cats have “ineffably personal names” which they give...
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