The Rule of Names

This study guide will help you analyze the text “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, themes and message of the story, and help you put it in perspective.

Further help

If you need more information about the fantasy genre, you can read our topic guide on this:

Excerpt from the study guide:

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.

Additionally, the story features a few symbols that are more closely connected to its theme, rather than the genre of fantasy.

The names of the two main characters, Blackbeard and Mr. Underhill, are symbolic for their traits. Blackbeard is an allusion to the wizard practicing black magic, while Underhill hints at Yevaud being a dragon as dragons usually live in secluded places. The same foreshadowing symbolism lies behind the fact that he lives in a cave.

The boats are symbolic of freedom of movement, as they are the only means of transportation that can carry people from one place to another, and Birt manages to save Palani by running on a boat.

The eyes are also symbolic in the short story. Seacaptain Fogeno is blind, yet he no longer needs his sight to see the truth (he immediately knows that Blackbeard is a wizard). Also, Blackbeard’s eyes suggest cunningness while those of Birt suggest innocence: “Blackbeard returned Birt's look. Clever black eyes met candid blue ones for a long moment…” 

This reinforces the symbolism of the eyes as a window to a person’s soul.

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The Rule of Names

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