The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Left Hand of Darkness can help.

The Left Hand of Darkness: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter is made up of Estraven’s diary entries. He first relates intrigue in the Thirty-Three. He is aligned with Obsle and Yegey, who are Open Traders, of which there are only seven. Obsle thinks ten more could be convinced to vote with them to consider Ai’s mission seriously. One man, Commensal Ithepen of the Enyen District, wants to join with Karhide to invite Ai’s spaceship down, but Estraven knows Orgoreyn will not collaborate with Karhide. Estraven, who had brought Ai to Orgoreyn and tried to get others to trust him, is not sure that the majority of the Thirty-Three can be convinced.
In this chapter, told from Estraven’s point of view, it becomes clear that he believes in Ai’s mission and has been working actively to support him. Unfortunately, although Ai has convinced Estraven, Estraven has struggled to convince the Orgota Commensals, who can only consider the impact of Ai’s proposal narrowly — how it would affect their own careers and the fate of the nation.  
Themes
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Estraven knows the Sarf contingent in the Thirty-Three fears the Envoy, and thinks he is a hoax. They worry if they call down his spaceship it will not come and they will look foolish. Estraven realizes that “Genly Ai demands of us an inordinate trustfulness,” though to him “evidently it is not inordinate.”
Although Ai does not like or trust Estraven, Estraven has given up his career and his country for Ai and his mission. Although Ai is a stranger and an alien, Estraven deeply trusts Ai. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Estraven is thankful for Ashe’s money, which allows him to live as a “unit” and not a “dependent.” He distances himself from Obsle and other members of government. He is angry at how Ai gave him the money, “as one would give a hired assassin his fee.” He meant to insult Ai by giving him advice, an insult Ai didn’t understand. It concerns Estraven that Ai is so oblivious. He worries that Ai had been seeking his advice for months, and had misinterpreted much of what Estraven had told him. Estraven realizes Ai’s shifgrethor is totally different than most Gethenians, a trait that has kept him ignorant.
Ai meant to insult Estraven when he gave him his money from Ashe, but had no idea how offensive he was being. Estraven, initially hurt, has realized that many of Ai’s faux-pas are not the result of intentional rudeness, but instead the result of his alienness, and his unfamiliarity with Gethenian customs. Although Estraven still doesn’t understand Ai fully, he has at least begun to realize how much he misunderstood Ai in the past. 
Themes
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Estraven begins to see that Ai is not arrogant, but ignorant, and that he, in turn, is ignorant of Ai. He commits to controlling his own pride and vanity so as not to jeopardize Ai’s mission. 
Estraven believes Ai’s mission is more important than his personal pride, and promises to serve the Ekumen and mankind instead of himself. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Get the entire The Left Hand of Darkness LitChart as a printable PDF.
The left hand of darkness.pdf.medium
During the day Estraven works in a plastic factory and practices fasting, and in the afternoon he works on improving his dothe-strength. He wonders why he even bothers to write in his diary. He thinks maybe it is just nice to write in Karhidish, his native language.
Karhidish connects Estraven to his home, culture, and himself. Language is a powerful tool, and he can fully be himself in his native tongue, as opposed to a translation of himself, as he is in Orgota.
Themes
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
A few days later, Estraven writes again. Ai has not been mentioned on the radio. He wonders if Ai understands that the Orgoreyn government is full of secrets. Yesterday Orgoreyn attacked a Karhidish granary, and Estraven reflects this is what Tibe and the Sarf want.
Tensions between Karhide and Orgoreyn are increasing, and Estraven worries that Ai, unfamiliar with Gethenian politics, will be accidentally caught in the crossfire.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
A few days later Estraven writes that he’s becoming more uneasy. Ai has still not been mentioned on the radio. Although Ai is taken publicly through the city, Estraven sees this as deception. The people of Orgoreyn do not know of him. He is seen but not known, and so he is hidden. Estraven thinks it is unfortunate that Ai blends in. However, Estraven knows that upon close examination Ai’s biology is different, and reflects, “one must know him to know him alien.” Estraven urges Obsle to speak out, but he has a thousand excuses and will not.
Because Ai does not look like an alien, his presence is not enough to convince people of his origin and mission. However, as Estraven has grown to know Ai better, he has increasingly seen the ways in which Ai is an alien. Still, although Ai is an alien, Estraven cares about him and his wellbeing, and worries that the Orgota Commensals do not.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
The next day, Estraven comments that he thinks Gaum is stupid for believing that Ai is a fraud. Gaum has also noticed that Yegey is no longer invested in him, and thinks Estraven’s loyalty can be bought.
To Gaum, it looks like Estraven defected to Orgoreyn from Karhide for political reasons, and is looking to advance his own political career. In fact, Estraven is committed to a cause outside of himself — he sacrificed his whole life in Karhide to further Ai’s mission.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Gaum notices Estraven is about to go into kemmer, and so induces his own kemmer. He intersects Estraven in the street and tries to seduce him, using his given (informal) name. Estraven resists, noting that “detestation” overrides any arousal he feels. He is uneasy that Gaum thinks him so easily manipulated. 
This is a seduction that would only work on Gethen — it is one of the few instances in the novel in which Gethenian sexuality is essentially weaponized, and used as a way to manipulate another person.
Themes
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
The next day, Ai gives a speech to the Thirty-Three. Estraven is not invited, but Obsle plays him a tape of the meeting. Estraven thinks Ai is innocent but clearly disciplined with a “largeness of purpose that awes” him. He sees that Ai has become a better speaker since his time in Karhide, and notes his task is profound and immense, difficult for a man to carry. Throughout the recording are interruptions by some of the Thirty-Three, many of them who think Ai a fraud, but Ai handles himself well. Estraven is frustrated that, although he set these events in motion, he no longer has any control.
Estraven and Ai have interacted very little in Orgoreyn, but Estraven has still become increasingly sympathetic towards Ai. Estraven has always supported his mission, but he now better understands the “largeness of purpose” Ai is saddled with, and the difficulty of his task. Estraven feels responsible for Ai, and so it is frustrating that he has so little control over Ai’s success or safety. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
The next day, Estraven notes Ai’s transmitting device has been turned over to the Thirty-Three. Estraven suggests to Obsle they communicate with Ai’s spaceship, but Obsle claims the radio, run by Sarf, would block or falsify the transmission. Estraven can see the tide is turning, and knows if Obsle calls off a planned reception for Ai the situation is truly dire. The next day the reception is called off.
Estraven can see that the Thirty-Three either do not believe Ai, do not trust him, or simply do not care about his mission. Although Estraven believes Ai is working to unite humankind, the Thirty-Three are more concerned with their own careers and their own country than with Ai’s universal mission. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Estraven goes to meet Ai by his house. He pretends it is a chance meeting, “Orgota style.” Estraven warns him that if he is not allowed to contact his ship by Obsle or Yegey, he should call it down himself. He warns Ai his life is under threat, but Ai doesn’t respond. Estraven believes the Orgota too narrow-minded to understand what Ai has to offer. He worries everything is falling apart and blames himself.
Estraven suspects that Ai does not understand the danger he is in. He tries to warn Ai to save himself by contacting his colleagues orbiting Gethen, but Ai doesn’t recognize the gravity of the situation. While Estraven understands Ai’s mission, it is clear that the Orgota do not understand, or else do not care.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon