Comparing Ursula K. LeGuin’s Forgiveness Day and Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite
In Ammonite, Nicola Griffith tells the story of one woman’s encounter with and assimilation into the culture of an alien world. Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Forgiveness Day” similarly recounts one woman’s experiences as she confronts an alien culture. In both cases, these women, Solly in “Forgiveness Day” and Marghe in Ammonite, learn about themselves as their position shifts away from that of an outsider and they find their place in society. Although there are similarities in the characters’ backgrounds, their journeys, and their quest for belonging, there are fundamental differences in the process the characters go through in order to find a place where they belong. Specifically, LeGuin and Griffith mirror one another in describing the causal relationship between accepting oneself and participating in a romantic partner relationship. This difference is telling as it reflects the differing attitudes towards the role of romantic partnerships in one’s growth process as well as in society as a whole.
As these stories begin, both Marghe and Solly are striking in their lack of attachments to the outside world. Moreover, they confident in their professional abilities and proud of their independence. In their freedom, both are spiritual orphans. Marghe’s mother is dead and she is not in contact with her father. In addition, she has no real friends and is distrustful of her colleagues on Jeep. Solly is also an orphan in a very real sense; she has spent most of her life in space, and the technical restrictions of travel mean that as she traveled she would skip “another half millennium in the process” (LeGuin 47). Her parents, as well as anyone she left behind, would therefore be long dead or so far away as to be unreachable. She has been assigned alone to act as “the first and only Envoy of the Ekumen to the Divine Kingdom of Gatay” on the planet Werel (LeGuin 47-48). Just as Marghe finds herself alone as the only SEC representative on Jeep, Solly finds herself a lone diplomat to an alien culture. Although they both lack personal attachments, there are differences in the state of Solly and Marghe’s personalities when they arrive. While Marghe has an upsetting past that she would prefer to forget, Solly appears to be without a past; she is a ‘space brat,’ completely without roots. Solly is free of bonds tying her to another time or place, but Marghe is tied to Earth by her mother’s death. Solly craves human contact, feeling that “she needed to talk to a woman” (LeGuin 53), while Marghe refuses friendly invitations to socialize with the Mirrors, claiming that she is “not interested” (Griffith 26).
Solly carries her ideological beliefs with her, and imposes them on Werelian society. She treats the asset (slave) she is given as an equal because “she believed no human being had a right to dominate, much less own, another . . . and that she hoped they...