The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books that changed the universe, so that reading it now, in the universe it helped turn ; it is n’t possible to hold the same experience as reading it in the universe it was written in and for. The Left Hand of Darkness did n’t merely alter scientific discipline fiction-it changed feminism, and it was portion of the procedure of alteration of the construct of what it was to be a adult male or a adult female. The conflict may non be over. What I mean is that thanks in portion to this book we are standing in a really different topographic point from the battlers of 1968. Almost all books that do this sort of historic altering are of import afterwards as historical artefacts, but non as narratives, and they get left behind by the tide and stop up looking quaint. Ninety per centum of the treatment I ‘ve seen of The Left Hand of Darkness is about the gender issue, about the Gethenians and their interesting provinces of kemmer ( of either gender for a few yearss a month ) and somer ( neuter for the bulk of the clip. ) But what makes it a book that continues to be great and gratifying to read, instead than a historical wonder, is that it ‘s a terrific narrative set in a absorbing civilization, and the gender material is merely portion of that.
The Left Hand of Darkness is the narrative of how the Terran Genly Ai comes to the planet Gethen to carry Gethen to come in the Ekumen, the community of universes. And it is the narrative of the Gethenian Therem Harth rem i’r Estraven who recognizes something larger than the skylines he grew up with. And it is the narrative of the journey these two people take together. The book is written in such a manner that you have Estraven ‘s diaries written at the clip and Genly ‘s study written subsequently and assorted verse forms and folktakes and narratives of Gethen inserted in the text at appropriate points, so that the universe is non merely a character but one of the most of import characters. I love the universe, I love Karhide at least, the state and the people and how different it is from its authorities, and the faiths. The planet is in an ice age, and the versions to the clime have shaped the civilizations of the planet at least every bit much as the gender thing has. They are like existent civilizations, with existent oddnesss, and the manner the narrative is told enhances that.
If you have non read it, and if you have ever seen it mentioned as a worthy women’s rightist authoritative with weirdly gendered foreigners, you might be surprised by this interesting narrative of the find of a planet and a journey across the ice. It is a populating external respiration narrative that happened to alter the universe, non a dry text with a message.
The book is set in the same existence as a figure of Le Guin ‘s other books, many written much earlier. It has the same furniture, the ansible, the Nearly every bit Fast as Light ships, the long ago Hainish experimental colonisation of planets with tweaked humans-were they seeking to do their ain foreigners? The antecedently worked out background does n’t give the book any jobs, it makes it look more solidly rooted.
We do n’t see any of the other planets ; the book is steadfastly focused on Gethen, besides known as “ Winter ” . There is one narrative voice from an earlier study on the planet that ‘s a adult female from Chiffewar, but the non-Gethenian we are given to place with is Genly Ai, a black adult male from Earth. We ‘re non given his cultural context on Earth, though his dark tegument, darker than most Gethenians, is mentioned. Neither “ Genly ” nor “ Ai ” are names I ‘m familiar with. A speedy Google hunt finds me a town called Genly in Belgium, a mill in China, and people in the Philippines, China and India-Ai is unfortunately unsearchable. In any instance, whatever his cultural background, Genly is our “ normal ” character, our filter, the 1 who is a gender we recognize and from a planet we are familiar with. He ‘s our “ unmarked ” character, if you like. I think that ‘s cool, even though we do n’t hear anything from him that makes his ethnicity other than “ Terran ” . His sexual preference-heterosexuality-is mentioned, and his gender essentialism is really much dated from the universe the book was written in, non the universe in which it is now read.
The character I am laughably fond of is Estraven. I have loved him the beginning. He is non a adult male or a adult female, he in expatriate ever and everyplace, and he ever sees the large image and attempts to make what he can. He tries to be every bit good a individual as he can, in hard fortunes. I cried when he died. I do n’t cognize if I would respond so strongly to Estraven if I read the book for the first clip now. His backstory, which is revealed so attractively easy, is one of the beauties of the book. His name reflects the degrees of civilization we have in Karhide, friends and hearth-brothers call him Therem, familiarities call him Harth, and Estraven is his landname, which would be used where we use a title-yet when he learns mindspeech, up on the glacier, it is as Therem that he manages to hear it, and he hears it in his dead brother ‘s voice-the dead brother with whom he had a kid. Poor Estraven, so tragic, so clear-sighted, so absolutely and basically of his universe and civilization.
It ‘s a platitude of Science Fiction for planets to hold merely one state and civilization. Le Guin should be extremely praised for adverting four or five on Gethen and demoing us two. However, there ‘s a Cold War bequest in the manner Karhide and Orgereyn are opposed, and Orgoreyn is totalitarian, with its units and figures and work cantonments. I feel Orgereyn merely truly exists to give Genly and Estraven something to get away from, but I love their flight so much that I do n’t care. I think it ‘s done reasonably good, surely Genly ‘s subjective experience of it, but I do n’t believe Orgereyn is as developed or every bit good thought through as Karhide.
The “ tamed hunch ” of the speeds, and the “ mindspeech ” of the Ekumen are both dealt with scientific discipline fictionally instead than fabulously, but are “ psi powers ” of a sort instead unstylish these yearss. Le Guin writes about them believably and interestingly, and I think they enhance the book by being there and supplying more unfamiliarity.
The bosom of the book is the journey across the glacier, two people, from different universes, manhauling a sleigh across huge distances. There are reverberations of Scott ‘s South-polar expeditions-for me, echoes the other manner around, because I read The Left Hand of Darkness foremost. She took these in kernel useless and peculiarly masculine enterprises and made them over into something else wholly. She was clearly fascinated with polar exploration-she has a short narrative in The Compass Rose about adult females from South America acquiring to the South Pole foremost and non taging it or stating anyone. Here there ‘s a ground for the winter journey. So that is another gender corruption.
The Gethenians have a construct they call “ shifgrethor ” which is like pride. You waive shifgrethor for person to state you something straight ; otherwise you sidle around to avoid piquing them. This is notably different from Earth impressions of piquing pride merely in how witting they are of it, of what is sayable and unsayable, of holding a mechanism for relinquishing it. I think it ‘s one of the more interesting gender things-much more interesting than that they do n’t contend wars-that they have this set of switching privileges and offendable pride and that they ‘re cognizant of it. They ‘re huffy in a really foreign manner, and I think that ‘s truly effectual.
Le Guin has written essays since about the premises she made in composing the book. She ‘s besides written the narrative “ The Winter King ” where she uses “ she ” as the pronoun for all Gethenians, instead than “ he ” as she does in the book, and the narrative “ Coming of Age in Karhide. ” Both of these explicitly feminize the Gethenians. They ‘re interesting, as are her Hagiographas about the book, but they are reconsiderations from a different universe.
It is light that is the left manus of darkness, and darkness the left manus of visible radiation, as in the yin-yang symbol, in which dichotomies are united. The Left Hand of Darkness is a book about doing whole. It ‘s besides a book about what it means to be a good individual and where gender is important in that. But largely it ‘s about the joy of drawing a sleigh over a glacier between two universes.