Earlier in the quarter, our class studied Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy of social “othering.” “Others” in society can be any person who does not fit in with the dominant population. Beauvoir’s description of “othering” referred mainly to women, but can be extended to include members of various racial/ethnic/cultural/religious backgrounds. In the context of Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction novel “The Telling,” the protagonist Sutty is considered an outsider on planet Aka because she comes from a faraway planet known as Earth or Terra. Because of this, she is ignored and distrusted.
In Dovza, the Akan city where Sutty dwells at the beginning of the novel, most people know that she is of another planet and they avoid her all together. She looks physically different from the natives of Dovza as well, which identifies her as an “other” even to people who don’t know her background. Once she sets off on a journey to the far-off wilderness to explore the old Akan traditions, however, she is finally liberated from her alienation. People on the river boat come from all parts of Aka, and since nobody knows her, friendly travelers converse with her readily. Sutty welcomes the change of surroundings and the chats. Just when she believes she is free of Dovzan influence though, she meets a Moniter sent from her city to watch over her, making sure she does not cause any trouble for the central government while she digs into Akan history. For Sutty, it is very distressing to feel like someone is watching her every move, just waiting for her to mess up.
Once Sutty arrives in Okzat-Okzat, the Moniter continues to lurk around, popping up to keep tabs on her at random moments. Here in the wilderness, Sutty is accepted by the old folks living by the traditional Akan religion known as “The Telling,” but the Moniter is always nearby to remind her that she is an alien who doesn’t belong to this society. As a result of this constant surveillance, Sutty can never fully naturalize into Okzat-Okzat.
In spite of the adversity Sutty faces as an alien from another planet, she overcomes her “otherness” and succeeds in her goal of learning about Akan tradition. Le Guin utilizes “othering” to classify her female protagonist as an underdog, so that when she ultimately overcomes adversity and achieves her goal, it is more satisfying for the reader.