The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


Ursula K. Le Guin

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The Left Hand of Darkness Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was born Ursula Kroeber to her father Alfred, an anthropologist, and her mother, Theodora, a writer. She studied at Radcliffe College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, after which she won a Fulbright to study in Paris. There, she met her husband, and the pair moved to Portland, Oregon, where they’ve remained ever since. Le Guin published her first novel, Rocannon’s World, in 1966, and has since published an additional twenty-two novels, twelve short story collections, and twelve poetry collections, as well as works of criticism, translation, and children’s literature.
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Historical Context of The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness, a book that imagines a world without gender (and thus without gender-based discrimination), was published in the middle of the Second Wave of feminism, a movement that began in the United States in the 1960s, calling for equal rights for women. This movement arguably began in 1949 with the publication of Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, but gained momentum with the FDA’s approval of oral birth control in 1961, and the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963. This movement led to legal victories for gender equality and women’s rights such as the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, Title IX, a law which was intended to end gender discrimination in educational institutions, and the Equal Pay Act, which was intended to end wage-related sex-based discrimination.

Other Books Related to The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness was an early work in The Hainish Cycle, a collection of novels and short stories set in Le Guin’s fictional universe where a people called the Hain have colonized and connected dozens of planets. Other books in this series include Rocannon’s World, her first novel, and The Dispossessed another one of her most highly regarded works. Le Guin was one of the first contemporary science fiction authors to consider the role that sex and gender play even in fictional societies, but far from the last. Other works of science fiction that interrogate sex and gender include Octavia Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood (1987, 1988, 1989), and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975).
Key Facts about The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Full Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
  • When Written: Late 1960s
  • Where Written: Portland, Oregon
  • When Published: 1969
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Setting: The fictional planet of Gethen
  • Climax: Ai’s escape from his Labor Camp
  • Antagonist: The Orgota government, King Argaven
  • Point of View: Various — Genly Ai, Estraven, folktales

Extra Credit for The Left Hand of Darkness

Award Winner. Le Guin won two prestigious science fiction prizes for The Left Hand of Darkness—both the Hugo and the Nebula award. Her follow-up novel, The Dispossessed, also won a Hugo and a Nebula.  

An Inspiration. Many famous contemporary authors have gone on the record citing Le Guin as an influence. These authors include Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Salman Rushdie.