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Critical Analysis Modest Motives

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Essay title: Critical Analysis Modest Motives

Modest Motives

Ursula K Le Guin expresses her motive for going to the South Pole:

And the desire was as pure as the polar snows: to go, to see - no more, no less. I deeply respect the scientific accomplishments of Captain Scott’s expedition, and have read with passionate interest the findings of physicists, meteorologists, biologists, etc.; but having had no training in any science, nor any opportunity for such training, my ignorance obliged me to forego any thought of adding to the body of scientific knowledge concerning Antarctica; and the same is true for all the members of my expedition. It seems a pity; but there was nothing we could do about it. Our goal was limited to observation and exploration. We hoped to go a little farther, perhaps, and see a little more; if not, simply to go and to see. A simple ambition, I think, and essentially a modest one. (Le Guin 257)

When nine bold women in the story “Sur” decide to embark on the Yelcho Expedition, a physically and mentally demanding journey, they are well aware that if they succeed and their secret is exposed they will not receive recognition for their great accomplishment or be named heroes by any means. They will not be seen on the front page of the daily newspaper or receive any sort of praise for their braveness. If they flaunt their courageousness most will not believe that a group of mere women, on their own, made it to one of the last untouched spots on this earth before a man. If their plans are made known before they set out, they will not be permitted to go. They are women, and because of that, they are looked down upon in society. They endure strict expectations and limited freedoms. Knowing all of this, they will remain undisclosed with the exception of the boat crew, and go solely for their own internal purposes which will eventually be hidden in an attic away from the rest of the world. This particular expedition is driven by passion, heart and is unique from a typical expedition in the early 1900’s. Throughout this story Ursula Le Guin shows how these women, despite their inferiority to men, strive to prove to themselves that they are as capable as men by succeeding in reaching their difficult goal. She emphasizes the uniqueness of their motive which is “simply, to go and see, (Le Guin, science fiction and fantasy writer, 257)” and also how they overcome female oppression by empowering themselves through their success and defiance of what is the social norm.

Bound to a life of repetitive, somewhat meaningless work with no rewards or sense of accomplishment they live day to day for their family and not themselves. The typical role of a woman in the early 1900’s consists mainly of house work and taking care of her children. Cooking and cleaning is a woman’s forte at this point in time and ultimately her duty is to her husband and her family. The housewife is thought of as an object, stripped of her name and lost behind her husband. This pattern is seen frequently in the early 1900’s in works such as “The Story of an Hour.” In this story a feeling of freedom overcomes the author when she receives the news of her husband’s death. She states that in the years to come “she would live for herself (Chopin 40).” Many women of this time have little or no self satisfaction, no way of stepping out of their husband’s shadow and away from the life society has planned for them. They are not recognized for, or allowed to set out to accomplish or discover great things. They can not strive to become a doctor, lawyer, important political official or anything that has a great impact on society. They cannot dream of being the best or the first at anything. They are told by society that their proper place is to sit quietly and do what they are told while the men of the world take care of everything. Men are the rulers, the head of the house, and the ultimate say in any situation. Women have little say in their daily lives. This is why if nine women at this time openly admit their desire to set out and reach the South Pole they will be laughed at, scolded for such an outrageous thought, and ultimately not be permitted to do so. This is why after their decision is made, they will plan quietly amongst themselves and reveal to almost no one what they are about to do. Even their benefactor remained anonymous because if he had been revealed, he, like the women, will be looked down upon. His action of aiding these women in such an unheard of task will cause much controversy. Financially helping a group of women succeed in a task that in this time is only appropriate for men to try will earn him much disgrace among the public.

Le Guin emphasizes female empowerment throughout the whole story and how important it is

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