A series of language devices embellish “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin, show the author’s creativity, and help her make readers aware of the deeper meanings of the story.


The author uses imagery (descriptive words) to create mental images of the characters and the setting, as well as to convey hints (foreshadowing elements) about the plot. Here are two examples of imagery from the text:


Humour and irony

The author uses also humor and irony which are usually constructed by presenting paradoxical situations, such as the fact that the children go to school but are illiterate: “Since no one on Sattins Island was literate, there were no...



A few similes help the author create imagery or suggest something about the action and the characters.

The “overhanging roofs like the fat red caps of toadstools” (p. 67, l. 17) suggest that the houses look like inedible mushrooms.

Seacaptain Fogeno's “mouth snapped shut like an old carp’s” (p. 70, l. 18) is a simile which compares the captain with a fish to further suggest his connection with the sea, but also to indicate wisdom because carps have moustache-like barbells around the mouth.

The simile “the islands crowd thick as flies on honey” (p. 72, l. 13) is meant to suggest the multitude of islands in the archipelago.


Rhetorical questions

A couple of rhetorical question are used in the short story to engage the readers and show something about the characters. In the following example, the rhetorical question is meant to show the opinion of some of the people on the island regarding Mr. Underhill:



Repetitions help the author give dialogue and direct speech authenticity. When characters are cited, repetitions make their dialogue sound natural: ‘He makes me nervous, he smiles so much,’ they all said (…). ‘Nervous’ was a newfangled word, and their mothers all replied grimly, ‘Nervous my foot, silliness is the word for it. Mr. Underhill is a very respectable wizard!’ (p. 68, ll. 23-26)

Repetitions are also used to add emphasis. For instance, in the following example the author repeats the conjunction ‘and’ to suggest the fascination of the islanders with the things brought by Blackbeard:



Because the short story belongs to the fantasy genre and resembles a fairytale, it also includes a lot of fairytale symbolism:

Birt symbolizes the novice—the innocent, unknowing character, Palani is the fair maiden, Seacaptain Fogeno is the wise man, Blackbeard is the antagonist, and surprisingly, Mr. Underhill is the protagonist (although he is also the villain).

The walking-stick that Blackbeard carries with him is also a typical symbol of wizards and magic, as is the shape-shifting of the main characters.


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