Crossing Lines? Self-Other Boundary Regulation
I draw on and critically assess ideas and concepts from literary theory, especially post-colonial and gender theory with the aim to demonstrate that such divisions are cultural constructs, which are used to categorize people and assign each category certain arbitrary characteristics. I apply these ideas to discuss, among others, Le Guin’s establishment of an alternative, non-binary gender model in The Left Hand of Darkness and the dynamics of marginalization and exploitation based on racial prejudice portrayed in Four Ways to Forgiveness. By drawing parallels to current affairs and world history, I also illustrate that such cultural constructs play a crucial role in societies because they define how individuals think about themselves and others and that they are frequently used to establish unequal power relations based on ideologies of difference. I have come to the conclusion that Le Guin’s depiction of alternative realities effectively deconstructs certain cultural paradigms prevalent in Western society. By confronting her readers with distorted versions of Western conceptualizations of gender, race, and national identity, her narratives foster the readers’ awareness of their own culturally shaped views. Thus, her narratives encourage readers to drop possible prejudices and to reconsider certain assumptions. However, my analysis has also shown that it is difficult for writers to shelve their cultural baggage and that Le Guin’s narratives to some extent perpetuate prevalent preconceptions about race and sexuality. In the end, during my analysis I have come to acknowledge that, rather than encouraging her readers to abandon all binary ways of thinking, Le Guin’s science fiction narratives aim at making them reflect on the arbitrariness of categorizing others into us and them.