Study Guide

A Left-Handed Commencement Address Main Idea

By Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Main Idea

    This speech is basically a rallying cry given to women to stand up and claim their righteous place in American society. But unlike other rallying cries we're used to hearing (say, "Give me liberty or give me death!"), it's given in a nurturing, inspiring tone.

    It's like she's just gently reminding the graduates that it's time to seize the day and to embrace the "other" side of society—the side that has been relegated to women because men are either too scared or unable to acknowledge it—and by embracing it, finally achieving equality with their male counterparts.

    After all, according to Le Guin, our future lies with women. (Who's betting that Le Guin owns at least one "The Future Is Female " shirt?)

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why does Le Guin say that public speaking is done in the language of men? Is this true in 1983, or even today?
    2. How does she define success in male terms? Is it different for men and women?
    3. What is the female side of life? Do you agree?

    Chew on This

    Le Guin thinks women are better than men, and that's why they need to step up.

    Le Guin thinks that society needs a better balance between the male and female strengths, but one is not necessarily better than the other.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    It's the beginning of the end of the Second Wave of Feminism. (Don't worry: there'll be a sequel called the Third Wave.) The social reforms that have been accomplished in the name of equal rights are impressive, but not enough. So when Le Guin is asked to be the commencement speaker at the graduation of a well-known women's college, she has some things to say about what it means to be a woman.

    The Text

    Le Guin wants to make it abundantly clear that now is the time for women to claim their own place in American society. They need to stop fighting for success as it's defined in a man's world, and instead get more comfortable with what it means to succeed as a woman in a woman's world.

    She advocates separatism, to a certain degree, in order to establish places where women can be women without the patriarchal framework upon which American society was built, so that they can finally achieve their own level of greatness.

    Plus, you know, the future lies with women. (Men would have an awfully hard time trying to procreate on their own…)

    TL;DR

    Le Guin says women rule…so let's stop letting men boss us around.

      
  • Questions

    1. How does "A Left-Handed Commencement Address" depart from typical commencement addresses?
    2. Should we categorize Le Guin's books, like her Left Hand of Darkness to which her speech title refers, as science fiction? Do her works follow the rules for that genre?
    3. Did Mills College know Le Guin was going to (:::clutches pearls:::) speak in public in the language of women?
    4. Which came first: Le Guin, or Second-Wave Feminism?
    5. Why do "human beings grow human souls" in the darkness? What could Le Guin mean by that?