You are on page 1of 7

Hassanali

1
Fatemah Hassanali
Date: 09/19/2016
ENG1111H
PROJECT 1, DRAFT 3
MLA
Word count: 1468
Questioning the Unquestioned

The world is filled with individuals of different cultures, unique personalities and
languages. I am an Indian Muslim who was born and raised in East Africa; and I am
surrounded by diversity in Tanzania. As I worked on this assignment however, I realized
that most of the books I have read in my life lack the diversity that I embody and
appreciate. I questioned myself What would happen if I never came across LeGuins
essay? Would I have ever researched why books other than those adhering to LeGuins
unquestioned assumptions are so rare? I realized, that as a reader, I was reading more
books that contained the same white and male characters. Ironically, as a female,
Indian Tanzanian, Swahili and Katchi speaking reader, I almost fell into the trap of
believing that books with male and white characters were better in writing and more
interesting than other books. Although I am not white or male, the frequency of
reading such books made me feel like a part of them and hence us was normal.
LeGuins intriguing essay outlines the assumptions that contemporary fiction
writers make about their readers. She identifies the Unquestioned Assumptions that
authors make in their writing. These assumptions take place so often that they sometimes
go unrecognized. They are referred to as unquestioned since they have become an
integral part of fiction writing. LeGuin questions these assumptions in a unique style, as
she does not conform to a typical essay structure. To fulfill her purpose of awakening the

Hassanali 2
writer and reader, she combines the use of informal language and varied sentence length.
Perhaps LeGuin aims to use a unique, informal way of writing to stand out and illustrate
how it still creates a strong impact as writing professionally or rather according to the
norm. LeGuin indirectly shows us how writing like the other is still as convincing as
writing like us. This essay discusses the assumptions that all readers are male, white,
Christian and young.
In todays works of fiction, many writers assume their readers are male and thus
make their story lines and characters more relatable to men (Daubney). Furthermore, the
experiences that protagonists face are also more relatable to the white race (Daubney).
For instance, the famous collection of Harry Potter novels by J.K Rowling revolves
around a boy named Harry and his experiences as a wizard in a school of magic.
Although the characters are diverse in general, the main character is a white male. The
way Rowling describes Harry, his experiences and the culture he grew up with is more
relatable to white people i.e. The European culture. In addition, Rowling describes the
race of other characters of minority races indicating that white is the norm within the
novels (Anne). However, there are books of fiction that oppose this assumption. LeGuin
mentions, The unquestioned assumption, the mistake of thinking we all think alike, is
less often made by writers who belong to a minority or oppressed social group(LeGuin
240). For instance, Woman At Point Zero by Nawaal al Saadawi is a novel revolving
around an Egyptian woman, Firdaus, who survives male domination and gender
inequality within her society. She becomes a prostitute as a way to survive, since
education for women was regarded as a taboo in her community. Nawaal al Saadawi
writes in a way that is relevant to women and their struggles since she expresses

Hassanali 3
Firdauss emotions vividly and depicts the roles of women within the Egyptian society of
that time. Furthermore, Saadawi mentions metaphors involving veils and jalabiyyah,
clothing that is native to the Arab Egyptian culture. She challenges the mainstream
assumption because the novel revolves around a non-white woman, among male
characters that are not the focus of the story.
It could be argued that J.K Rowling wrote the novels based on the setting of the
book. Since, Harry Potter is a book generally set in Europe where the white race is
dominant, the author writes the novel that will be applicable to her audience and
mentions races of the minority group, which are not white. On the other hand, it is fair
for the author of the book A Long Way Gone set in Sierra Leone to describe only white
people, since the dominant race in the region is black. The readers of Harry
Potter would automatically assume that Harry is white since the book is set in Europe
while the readers of A Long Way Gone would inevitably assume that all characters are
black and hence the author would only mention white people in the book.
LeGuin also discusses the assumption that We are all Christian. The novel, The
Best of Times by Alan Maley, describes majority Christian holidays such as Christmas.
The author neither describes when Christmas takes place nor its significance. It is
expected of the readers to be aware about Christmas and Christianity. This assumption
may also apply to non-Christian authors, for instance, in Surviving Zahra, Fatima Jaffer
mentions the festival of Eid and the Islamic month of Ramadhan. However, there is no
context for the reader. Again, the reader is expected to know what Eid and Ramadhan are
and their significances. Hence, since LeGuin mentions that although the Muslim writer
assumes that he/she will only have a Muslim audience, it is unwise to assume that your

Hassanali 4
readers think the way you do about anything (LeGuin 240). LeGuin is creating urgency
for writers to make all their readers feel like they are a part of what they are reading as
opposed to feeling disconnected. In other words, readers should feel a part of us within
every story in fiction.
Nowadays we see authors trying to create diverse characters within their works of
fiction to attract more readers. This diversity caters to current readers who are global
citizens in numerous melting pots. Todays authors aim at these audiences and hence do
not adhere to Unquestioned assumptions. In the novel An Abundance of Katherines by
John Green, the author includes a diverse range of characters that belong to different
races and religions. An Abundance of Katherines is a story about Colin, who is a child
genius and creates a theorem that calculates how long a relationship can last. He has a
Muslim best friend, Hassan by his side who is present throughout Colins many
relationships. This novel is ranked number 9 in the New York Times Best Seller (Young
Adult). Furthermore, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman is also a book involving
diverse characters with different racial backgrounds set in a womens prison. It has
gained popularity to an extent that there is a Netflix show based on it. At present, readers
open-mindedness contributes to the demand of such books, which forces authors to
accommodate for diversity in their writing. It is assumed that the diversity within the
novel increases its popularity, as the plot of the novel is relatable to more readers in a
population.
The fifth assumption, All readers are young, by LeGuin is also found
within Harry Potter. The author describes adults within the novel as people who do not
understand Harry and act as barriers in his life. Although some of them prove to be

Hassanali 5
Harrys confidants and advisors, he is still seen overcoming challenges with only his
young friends by his side. It is assumed that youth opinions are valued more than that of
adults. In another instance, Diary of A Wimpy Kid revolves around the protagonist
Gregory Heffley who is going through different challenges and experiences in High
School. He struggles to make friends and talk to girls. Although his parents are always
there for support from the perspective of adult readers, the author, Jeff Kinney describes
Gregorys parents as an overwhelming entity in his life. From a child or young
readers perspective, Gregorys parents are a burden on him and a hindrance to his High
School life. They are described as unsympathetic towards Gregory especially when he is
forced to work with his father during the summer. Although further analysis into this
book would show that parents are in fact an important aspect in a childs life, the
mainstream reader will automatically perceive parents as the other or them due to the
way the author describes them.
It is evident that all these assumptions are found in many works of fiction. Some
novels adhere to these Unquestioned Assumptions while others do not. While some
authors unintentionally assume characteristics of their readers, others make a conscious
choice of creating a protagonist of a certain race or gender. However, current books are
attempting to break the norm and newer authors are taking into account the diversity of
their readers. However, the question still remains Will authors/writers ever have the
ability to eliminate the distinction of us and them in works of fiction?

Hassanali 6

Acknowledgements
The completion of this assignment would be impossible without the help of many people.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Cecelia Musselman for enhancing
my ideas and allowing me to analyze and describe my points in depth. I would also like
to thank my classmates for contributing and guiding me throughout my thought process;
especially Vlad, Daniel and Raven for peer reviewing my essay. Lastly, I would like to
thank my sister, Sakina for proofreading my essay. I am grateful for all the help and
support I have received from them.

Hassanali 7
Works Cited:

Anne, Kayleigh. "J K Rowling, We All Know You Didn't Write Hermione as Black in
the Harry Potter Books - but It Doesn't Matter." Independent. Independent Digital
Use and Media, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

Daubney, Martin. "Are You Reading Too Many Books by Straight White Men?" The
Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 14 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

Le Guin, Ursula K. "Unquestioned Assumptions." The Wave in the Mind. Boston:


Shambhala, 2004. 240-49. Print.

"Young Adult." The New York Times. Ed. New York Times. The New York Times
Company, 23 Aug. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

Related Interests