The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

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The Left Hand of Darkness: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The morning after their dinner, Estraven comes to visit Ai in his room. Ai doesn’t feel guilty for contributing to Estraven’s exile, and is convinced they can never be friends, as he believes Estraven has been purposefully concealing his actions and motivations. Ai dislikes that he will have to continue to interact with him.
Ai’s misunderstanding of Gethenian and Karhidish customs, along with a distrust of Estraven because of his ambiguous gender, have prevented him from trusting the former prime minister. Although Estraven is committed to the same cause as Ai, Ai is uninterested in collaborating.
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Ai gives Estraven the money Ashe gave him. Ai feels guilty for a moment, but decides to humiliate Estraven so he will stop visiting. Estraven cautions that the radio in Orgoreyn can lie, and offers Ai advice, switching from speaking Karhidish to Orgota, which he feels in its sweetness “suits a traitor better.” As compensation for the money, Estraven warns Ai that in Orgoreyn he is a political tool, and he should be careful. Ai can tell Estraven is being strangely formal, but doesn’t know what this means. The warning surprises him, and his good mood is spoiled. After Estraven leaves, Ai is suddenly homesick. Winter is beginning again and he does not look forward to months of cold.
Ai understands enough of Karhidish social etiquette to know how to offend Estraven. However, he does not understand Karhidish etiquette enough to understand how deeply he’s hurt Estraven’s feelings, or that Estraven has lashed out in response. In Karhide, it is rude to offer another person advice, as it offends their shifgrethor. Ai, however, doesn’t know this, and so accepts Estraven’s advice, which is offered as an insult, earnestly.
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At lunch Obsle gossips to Ai about other men in the room. Mersen is a Karhidish spy, and Gaum is an agent of the Sarf, although Ai doesn’t know what the Sarf is.
Ai doesn’t understand the Orgota gossip. Although he recognizes that it is significant, he is missing too much background cultural information to decipher it.
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As Ai sits to eat, someone announces that Argaven gave birth, but the child quickly died. This leads to speculation over who Argaven will name as heir.
The officials feel no pity for Argaven. They cannot relate to him as a fellow human, but instead see him as a political threat.
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After lunch the assembled officials ask Ai about himself, his mission, and the Ekumen. Ai remembers Faxe’s stance on questions and answers. In Karhide he was primarily questioned by experts asking questions limited to their areas of expertise. Only Estraven, Ai reflects, asked him enough questions to form a clear picture of Terra or Ekumenical society.
The Orgota people primarily observe Yomeshta, and so believe that knowledge can lead to enlightenment. However, the questions they are asking do not give them a full sense of who Ai is, or what the Ekumen is, and so he remains strange and foreign to them.
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In Orgoreyn, pride doesn’t govern social behavior in the same way, and people are more open in their questions. However Ai senses some men are trying to prove him to be a fraud. This is a new experience, as most people in Karhide believed him—even Tibe, who distrusted him. Ai’s spaceship is still in Karhide, so he has just his body, his mind, and his pictures with which to convince the government officials of his truthfulness. 
In Karhide Ai felt as though people believed he was an alien, even if they distrusted him, but in Orgoreyn he feels like a phony and a liar. He is still treated as a foreigner, but is now suspected to be a fraud.  Still, he must do his best to complete his mission, whether or not the Orgota officials will easily cooperate.
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Yegey doesn’t understand why Ekumen is interested in Gethen, and Ai explains that he’s just trying to facilitate trade and the exchange of goods and ideas. Slose, another official, wonders if Ai wants to connect Orgoreyn or Gethen. Ai responds that Orgoreyn could be the first, but the goal is the planet.
Many officials are uninterested in the connection between various facets of mankind offered by the Ekumen. Instead, they are mostly excited by the possibility of joining with the Ekumen before Karhide, which would be a blow to its national pride.
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Gaum, the Sarf, who Ai finds very attractive, wonders where Ai’s ship is. It’s in Karhide, but Ai could have a ship sent from the closest planet, 17 light-years away, or alert the spaceship that brought him to Gethen, which would arrive in days.
Ai, who has difficulty seeing Gethenians as a combination of two genders, is occasionally attracted to a person such as Gaum or Faxe. However, he never acts on this attraction.
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This revelation shocks the room. It is a fact Ai has kept hidden from everyone, even Estraven. Obsle wonders if the spaceship would come if Ai never signaled it. Ai says no; they would just send another Envoy. Slose wonders why Ai never mentioned the ship before, and Gaum jokes “How do we know that he didn’t?”
It’s clear by their genuine surprise at this new information that the Orgota officials knew more about Ai than what Karhide had intentionally broadcast. When Gaum asks, “How do we know that he didn’t,” he’s joking. He has clearly been spying on Karhide, and the Commensals know for a fact Ai never mentioned his ship.
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Ai says he understands that the idea of a waiting ship can be threatening, but he feels the Orgota are less ruled by fear than the Karhidish, and more ready to accept him. Slose promises he will be able to bring down the ship within the month, as a symbol of a new age. Obsle wants Ai to give him more proof, but Ai cannot bring down his ship without having its safety guaranteed, which would require a public announcement of his mission.
Ai is excited by what he feels is a warm response from the Orgota government. However, to protect himself and his colleagues, he is unwilling to fully trust his hosts until they demonstrate that they fully trust him.
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Ai recognizes that Slose sees him as a religious figure, and Gaum sees him as a fraud. Obsle, Yegey and others think that by joining with the Ekumen they can demonstrate their superiority to Karhide, thus diminishing the other nation’s shifgrethor permanently. Additionally, they know this national political victory would boost their personal political status as well. These men are also members of the Open Trade faction, a non-nationalistic minority in Orgota government that wants to end the Sinoth Valley dispute.  
Slose, a follower of Yomeshta, sees Ai as a prophet. His allegiance is to his religion before anything else. Other commensals are dedicated to Orgoreyn, but primarily they are dedicated to their own political status, and they know that their success is tied to that of their nation. In all cases, however, Ai is seen as a tool, a person to be manipulated so that others can get what they want.
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Related Quotes
After the lunch, Ai drives home with Shusgis. Ai asks about Sarf, which is apparently an Internal Administration bureau investigating forgeries, unauthorized travel, and similar minor crimes. Shusgis describes the areas it oversees as trash, which translates to sarf. They act as a secret police force, and control some of the Inspectors. Ai finds this idea sinister. He wonders what Gaum’s end goal is.
Once again, Ai doesn’t fully understand the political machinations and intrigue of the nation in which he resides. He understands Gaum and the Sarf are working against him, but he doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t know what he can do to combat them.
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Ai feels that his mission is suddenly as complicated in Orgoreyn as it was in Karhide. He blames Estraven, and wonders what Estraven is doing in Mishnory. He also realizes Estraven didn’t come to lunch and is purposefully avoiding him. Shusgis tells Ai that Estraven is aligned with the Open Traders, who are using him to annoy Mersen, Tibe’s spy. Shusgis’s opinion of Estraven is that he’s a traitor who unsuccessfully tried to block Tibe. He thinks Estraven has no patriotism, only self-love, and has suffered for it. Ai is glad Shusgis also distrusts Estraven.   
Estraven, like Ai, wants Gethen to join the Ekumen. However, Ai distrusts Estraven. Though Estraven is no less trustworthy than any of the other officials working with Ai, Ai likes him less. He looks for any excuse he can to further denigrate his would-be collaborator, and assumes that Estraven’s defection from Karhide reveals his selfishness. In fact, Estraven cares about mankind more than any single nation, but Ai assumes he only cares about himself.  
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Back in his room, Ai considers how everything in Orgoreyn seems insipid, as though it does not cast a shadow. He feels like nothing, and no one, can be fully trusted.
Ai likes Orgoreyn at first, but feels as though it is all artifice and no substance, all bright snow and no contextualizing shadows. Although everything seems to be conducted in the open, something essential is missing, and this makes him suspicious.
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