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 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Obsle, Yegey, and Slose have left town or shut their doors to Estraven, and he realizes something bad has happened. He blackmails Shusgis into telling him what has happened to Ai. He then goes to the Karhidish Embassy and sends a message to Argaven informing him that Ai is imprisoned. Estraven’s visits to Shusgis and the Embassy have put him in danger.
Estraven feels as though Ai’s wellbeing is his responsibly. After all, he did lure Ai to Orgoreyn, and he has been his strongest supporter. Although Estraven is in exile, he decides the situation is dire enough for him to reach out to Argaven. He hopes that perhaps Karhide will decide it does believe Ai, and will want to help him.
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Winter is coming, and Estraven worries that Ai will not survive on the Voluntary Farm. Estraven boards a caravan that travels northwest from Mishnory to the city of Ethwen, not far from Ai’s prison camp. Estraven begins to formulate an escape plan for Ai.
During much of this chapter, Estraven constructs an elaborate plot to save Ai. Although Ai does not particularly like him, Estraven feels obligated to look out for the Envoy.
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Estraven joins with a hunting party led by a man named Mavriva. Estraven travels with him, learning about the region, breaking off from the party at a town called Turuf, where he pretends to be sick and leaves the group. Estraven spends a few days in the foothills outside of the town, memorizing the area, and storing his skis, snowshoes, and provisions in a valley. He then loops back to Turuf, where he buys a second pair of skis, snowshoes, and winter clothes, as well as a tent and a sledge.
Estraven continues to Ai’s rescue. His preparations are elaborate, but essentially he is doing his best to cover his tracks and avoid suspicion — by buying winter supplies in two different towns. no one will suspect one of the sets is for a soon-to-be-rescued prisoner of the state.
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A month has passed since he first left Mishnory, and winter has begun—the river is frozen and snow is falling. He feels that his luck is changing for the better.
Throughout the novel Estraven reflects upon his luck. This is more than ordinary luck, and seems vaguely linked to the ability of the Foretellers to harness a hunch. Estraven, a practitioner of Handdara, seems to have some limited ability to see the future.
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Estraven hides his sledge between his cache and the Farm, which he now marches towards. He has disguised himself as a paroled convict, who is now employed as a prison guard and is accepted into the prison with little suspicion. Once inside, he tours the jail, steals a non-lethal gun from the cook, and identifies Ai’s sleeping body in the dormitory. He feels lucky, like he understands exactly how to act to achieve his goal. In Erhenrang he lost his foresight, but it has now returned. He is happy to have it back. 
Estraven continues to put himself in harm’s way in order to save Ai. He feels obligated to help Ai because of their personal connection, but also because of the vast implications of Ai’s mission, which is larger and more important than either person. Again, Estraven mentions his almost supernatural luck, which is related to the way the Handdara Foretellers can harness hunches.
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Related Quotes
Estraven is put on the midnight guard shift. Some time before dawn he activates his dothe-strength and seeks out Ai. He stuns him using his gun, and then begins to carry him out. Two guards stop Estraven, but he pretends Ai has died in the night. Estraven stops in the Inspection Office to turn off the fences. He then carries Ai outside, where it is snowing heavily. He escapes the farm and hides Ai in a valley with the sledge. He waits until a pair of guards has passed by, and then pulls Ai on his sledge until the pair reaches his cache.
Estraven’s obligation to Ai is stronger than any obligation he feels to Orgota law. He will happily lie in order to save the Envoy and ensure the success of the Envoy’s mission. He is able to use dothe strength, which he has been practicing for the past few months in Orgoreyn. This is a type of religious practice related to his observance of the Handdara religion.
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Ai, who should be awake by now, remains unconscious. Estraven worries that by calling Ai dead to the prison guards he has abused his luck and has killed the Envoy. Estraven’s dothe-strength has persisted for hours, and now he must rest. He feeds himself and Ai, cleans Ai’s bedsores, and then is overtaken by thangen. He and Ai sleep for days. 
Estraven is concerned for Ai, and worries that he has abused his semi-magical luck. When he is feeling lucky he can influence the future, and he worries that by calling Ai dead he manifested his death.  
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For a day and a half, Estraven is in catatonic thangen-sleep, and for some time after that he is in a milder recovery period. In this second phase he sleeps and wakes, feeding Ai broth when he can. By the third night, Ai begins to speak, but does not fully wake up. He speaks in his native language, and also a mixture of Orgota and Karhidish. Estraven worries he has been permanently changed by the Farm, and regrets saving him. Luckily, the next time Estraven wakes, Ai is fully conscious and coherent. He recognizes Estraven, and speaks his name. Estraven is relived.
In this moment the reader is reminded that although Ai has been able to converse with most of the people he’s met on Gethen, he has not yet been shown speaking in his native (and therefore alien) tongue. Also, it becomes clear that Estraven’s obligation is to Ai’s mission as opposed to Ai himself. Estraven’s assertion that if Ai is brain dead he would be better off on the prison farm makes it explicit that Ai was taken from prison because of his mission, not because Estraven wanted to improve the quality of his life.
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The next day, Ai is able to have a conversation. He tells Estraven about the drugs he was injected with. Estraven hypothesizes they were trying to get him addicted to a hormone derivative, or else trying to mindchange him. Ai wonders if there are secret Farms in Karhide, but Estraven asserts that Karhide is not sophisticated enough for this kind of prison system.
Even after years on Gethen, Ai doesn’t fully understand the differences between Karhide and Orgoreyn. Estraven, who knows the cultures well, believes Karhide would never have secret prison farms, whereas they’re commonplace in Orgoreyn.  
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Ai wonders how Estraven managed to break him out of prison, and is slightly suspicious. Estraven explains he used his dothe-strength, revealing that he is of the Handdara, a fact Ai had not known. Ai doesn’t understand why Estraven has helped him, which deeply offends Estraven. He takes a moment to compose himself, finally explaining that he feels he is partially responsible for drawing Ai to Orgoreyn, which led to his imprisonment.
For months, if not years, Estraven has been risking his career and his life for Ai. It is frustrating to him that Ai cannot, or will not, see how dedicated Estraven has been to the Envoy and his mission. However, as frustrated as Estraven is, he understands that much of the animosity between him and Ai is based on miscommunication, and so he tries to remain calm.
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Ai denies that Estraven motivated his trip to Orgoreyn. Estraven, who now realizes Ai has “seen the same events with different eyes” explains his perspective: back in the spring, fearful of Tibe’s ascendancy, Estraven began to encourage Argaven not to meet with Ai. He hoped that by delaying the meeting he could protect Ai from Argaven’s fear and wrath.  
Although Estraven has understood Ai to be ignorant of aspects of Gethenian culture and behavior, he finally sees how alien Ai truly is. While the politics of Karhide and Orgoreyn, as well as the nations’ feelings towards Ai, are clear to Estraven, he realizes Ai was living in total ignorance of the politics of the world around him.
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Estraven’s plotting led to his own political exile, at which point he was afraid to talk to Ai and “contaminate” him, putting him in more danger. Once in Orgoreyn he encouraged the Thirty-Three to let Ai travel into the country, hoping they would accept Ai and his story. Estraven hoped the Thirty-Three would see the Envoy as a way to become superior to Karhide and break free from the Sarf’s control.  Instead, Estraven’s contacts were too timid, and his plan backfired.
Estraven tries to explain months of behavior to Ai, who he now realizes has been misinterpreting Estraven’s actions. Estraven cut ties with Ai before leaving Karhide because he thought it would give Ai a better chance with the King, not because he didn’t trust Ai or have faith in his mission. Similarly, Estraven remained hands-off in Orgoreyn because he knew this is what Ai wanted, and he mistakenly thought Ai savvy enough to navigate on his own. 
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Ai still doesn’t understand Estraven’s motivation. Estraven explains he wants the alliance of his world with Ai’s. He doesn’t care which country is the first to make contact, as “what does it matter which country wakens first, so long as we waken?”
For the first time, Estraven explicitly explains his politics to Ai. Estraven is on Ai’s team — and he also wants to serve mankind by bringing the Ekumen to Gethen. 
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Related Quotes
Ai is upset that Estraven didn’t explain himself earlier. Estraven admits his “biggest error” was not being clearer. Ai says he doesn’t mean to be unjust, but Estraven angrily points out “I am the only man in all Gethen that has trusted you entirely, and I am the only man in Gethen that you have refused to trust.” Ai apologizes, and Estraven asks to learn mindspeech.
Ai finally begins to understand that Estraven was not inherently untrustworthy — instead, the two men continually miscommunicated because of their different backgrounds. Estraven’s request to learn mindspeech is a peace offering – in mindspeech he cannot lie, and Ai will have to trust him.
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