The Word for World is Forest: Animalism/Dehumanization

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Kay Hung
The Word for World is Forest: Animalism/Dehumanization

Another theme that surfaces through the course of the novel is that of animalism or dehumanization. The Athsheans are constantly described by the Terrans with language that connotes qualities associated with animals - most importantly the lack of emotions. Even the Terran slang for the Athsheans, "creechie", evokes the word "creature" and thus reinforces the animal quality of the group - as perceived by the Terrans. It is important, however, to note that Le Guin emphasizes the role of perspective in the act of dehumanization. At points in the story focalized around Captain Davidson, the Athsheans are depicted as dumb, emotionless, and animalistic:

"They're little, all right, but don't let 'em fool you, Ok. They're tough; they've got terrific endurance; and they don't feel pain like humans. That's the part you forget, Ok. You think hitting one is like hitting a kid, sort of. Believe me, it's more like hitting a robot for all they feel it... Like some beetle you have to keep stepping on because it doesn't know it's been squashed already." (Le Guin 19). Italics mine.

However, the reverse is true for passages shown through Selver's perspective. The Athsheans are depicted as having a rich culture and capacity for acts associated with being human, i.e. feeling, dreaming, singing, etc. By comparing these two distinct viewpoints, Le Guin highlights how easy it is to justify and legitimize the violation of human rights when the subjects of those rights are not perceived to be human in the first place.