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“The Carrier-Bag Theory of Fiction” by Le Guin

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The essay “The Carrier-Bag Theory of Fiction” by Le Guin (1988) describes the importance of two dominant stories in the context of new pedagogies. These are the “killer story,” focused on the collective concept of aggression, and the “life story,” represented through the dynamic development of the concept of continuance in teaching and learning. People can identify themselves in the continuous process of acquiring relevant knowledge and skills that can be helpful in their professional realization in the future. The objective of this essay is to compare and contrast the “killer story” and the “life story” as two unique representations of human storytelling potential.

Le Guin definitely reconsiders the specific contexts of learning because she presents a quite interesting point of view. She compares and contrasts two distinct stories: one that has prevailed culture for centuries and a second one that emerges with its innovative characteristics. The first type of story is identified as the “killer story” because it refers to the depiction of culture as based on manifestations of both individual and collective violence. Such a story makes a difference, and the author of the essay says, “It is the story that hid my humanity from me, the story that mammoth hunters told about bashing, thrusting, raping, killing, about the Hero” (Le Guin 152). Le Guin thoroughly discusses the thrilling, engaging aspects of such stories that impose their power of attracting the audience’s attention.

The main component of this type of stories is the linear, progressive development of the plot as well as the fact that it always includes a hero in a particular conflict. The author of the essay argues that the “killer story” presents Herculean and Promethean myth elements, and this is associated with the dominance of triumph and tragedy at the same time. However, Le Guin seems convinced that this type of story is coming to its end; its importance gradually diminishes.

Therefore, she elaborates on the second type of story, respectively the all-inclusive “life story” that involves details about containers, webs, baskets, bags, etc. These are mainly stories interested in the actions of containing, carrying, and preserving energy sources. The shape of the “life story” is similar to “a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us” (Le Guin 153). This implies that reducing narrative to conflict is almost impossible and even absurd, as Le Guin argues. In the “life story” of narrative, the presence of warrior heroes is limited in the sense that they do not prevail within the narrative.

Undoubtedly, the leading element relates to the presence of all sorts of ordinary individuals, which means that the readers can always make appropriate associations with their own lives. It is clear that Le Guin uses the carrier bag theory as a metaphor that could be applied in the learning process in today’s classrooms. The bag is full of numerous essential attributes of classrooms, especially regarding activities of creation and transformation. These two aspects emerge out of misunderstanding and confusion. Even if the hero story is tragic in its essence, the carrier bag or life story is predominantly comic.

As it has already been mentioned, the story carries immense importance and it is the one that makes the difference. Indeed, the reader will address relevant questions after reading Le Guin’s essay, respectively questions related to bringing fullest humanity and the most effective type of pedagogy. By discussing the differences between the “killer story” and the “life story,” the author of the essay implies that contemporary pedagogies seem adequate reflections of the stories that emerge throughout people’s lives. In the period when the hero narrative was prevailing, the process of teaching encouraged individualism and competition in order to control the surrounding reality.

However, the metaphor of the carrier bag narrative ensures that these days the development of inclusive, process-centered pedagogies is taking place. Therefore, Le Guin’s essays has numerous implications to learning, presenting it as a continuous, challenging process of obtaining and mastering new knowledge and skills as well as dealing with various personalities. The significance of narrative suggests the specific way in which individuals know themselves and the surrounding world. People differ, which implies that everyone seeks the truth of one’s experiences in a different manner.

The depicted differences between the discussed two types of stories illustrate the way the author considers certain interrelations with the process of teaching and learning. Yet the complete disappearance of the “killer story” is not easy, and “the trouble is, we’ve all let ourselves become part of the killer story, and so we may get finished along with it” (Le Guin 152). In other words, individuals within modern society need to consider activities of seeking deeper, more effective meanings that gave positive implications to their ambitions and achievements. Despite the initial association of unfamiliarity of the “life story,” it becomes clear that this type of story has been present in numerous novel, folktales, jokes, etc. In addition, the comparison of the “killer story” and the “life story” is indicative of interrelations between the story of origins and the specific writing of fiction. By favoring the arguments of the “life story,” Le Guin is convinced in this narrative’s advantages in today’s learning context.

One needs to rethink the aspects of this “bag” of initiations demonstrating “beginning without ends” (Le Guin 153). The main idea is that both writing fiction and learning are uneasy, challenging processes that require tireless efforts, understanding, and tolerance toward others’ differences. Learners can choose between one or another type of story for perceiving and interpreting particular meanings, but the most important thing remains their engagement with the text, the persistent willingness to demonstrate their critical and analytical thinking skills. Only in this way, individuals can satisfy the urgency of obtaining new knowledge and reaching certain conclusions. Both the “killer story” and the “life story” show the importance of involving people with their unique experiences in certain contexts in history. For that reason, one can consider benefits and negative sides of two types of distinct narrative experiences.

The essay by Le Guin describes important ideas that can find application in today’s classrooms. By differentiating two types of story, the author suggests that individuals can choose their own learning experiences. Yet it is clear that the advantages of the “life story” are greater because it is broader, inclusive, and more effective and objective in terms of learning. People can rely on the potential of the “life story” if they want to be more engaged in the context of obtaining and expanding knowledge.


Le Guin, Ursula. “The Carrier-Bag Theory of Fiction.” 1988.

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