LeGuin’s essay begins by explaining the gender dynamics of the early humans from the Paleolithic and Neolithic time periods. She describes the average life of an early human as one that began as gatherer, not hunter as many have assumed. As part of that description, she brings with her the theory that the first cultural device used by humans was a container (LeGuin 150). Again, it has been an assumption, an assumption perpetuated by the media (as LeGuin notes), that the first device used by humans had to be a weapon.
To LeGuin, the invention of the weapon was most likely a man-made invention, and one that men used to hold over women in a way, as to say, “Ha, look, men made the first invention that just happened to be violent, and women hate violence, therefore, women aren’t really human.” As Russ says of the men in her short story “When It Changed”, they didn’t consider the women they found on planet Whileaway to be human. They kept asking the women, “Where are all the people?” People, to them, meaning men.
Using the idea of the container as the first human invention, LeGuin goes on to say that finally, she can be counted as human now too: “If it is a human thing to do to put something you want […] into a bag […] and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it […] and then next day you probably do much the same again, if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all.” (LeGuin 152). What LeGuin is saying is that women invented the first relevant piece of culture, but I think it could have been both the container and the weapon, all at once. Human beings could have started out as both the hunter and the gatherer, as we also began as women and men. Still, the point that LeGuin makes is fascinating: the invention of the container is one of the most important inventions to man, and being an assumed female invention, it brings women into the arena of humanity in a way she wasn’t before.
The rest of the essay changes directions. LeGuin begins to equate the idea of grafting a good novel by using a container of words, instead of a spear of words. LeGuin mentions how some authors have described writing a book to be a mock-battle, when she believes it to be the lugging of a container full of words, thoughts, and story elements waiting to be used up.
LeGuin, Kroeber, Ursula. “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literacy Ecology. Ed. Cheryll Glotfelty, Harold Fromm. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1996. 149-154. Print.