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 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter is introduced as a folk-tale recorded from an audio file recorded in Karhide during Argaven VIII’s reign.
This folktale provides insight into Gethenian, and specifically Karhidish, culture. It is one of many chapters enlivening the fictional world through supplemental anthropological material. 
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The story, which supposedly takes place two hundred years ago, begins with two brothers who vowed kemmering to each other and had a child. Because of the laws of the region, incest is allowed, but after a child is born all sexual activity must cease. This upsets one of the brothers so much that he kills himself, and the other brother, Getheren, is driven out of his Hearth.
The brothers’ loyalty to each other is more powerful than their loyalty to Karhidish law. This is often true, and kemmering pairs, related or not, serve as the foundation for much of Karhidish society. The acceptability of incest of likely one of the most shocking aspects of Gethenian culture, and one of the ways it most radically diverges from life on Terra. 
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A footnote in the story attributed to “G.A.” observes that the second brother is driven out not because of the incest, but because suicide is a high crime in Gethen, and the incest became shameful because it led to suicide.
G.A presumably stands for Genly Ai, who collected stories and mythology in his travels around Karhide and Orgoreyn.
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The living brother, Getheren, goes from Hearth to Hearth but can find no one to take him in. He returns to his home and curses the town, giving it his cursed name, and proceeding nameless. The townspeople chase him from the Hearth, trying to murder him before he can kill himself, but he outruns them, running to the Pering Ice, where he walks for three days until he becomes so weak he must crawl.
The intense stigma regarding suicide is another unique aspect of Gethenian culture. On Gethen, life is highly valued, and so to be implicated in someone else’s suicide is to be implicated in taking another person’s life. This is a worse crime than incest, which is generally accepted across the planet.
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On the third day Getheren has a vision of his brother Hode. Hode looks almost the same as when Getheren last saw him, but now he is clearly lifeless. Hode explains that he lives in “the place inside the blizzard,” where all people who commit suicide live. He implores Getheren to join him, but Getheren is frightened and rejects him. Hode broke his kemmering vow to Getheren by killing himself, and Getheren does not want to kill himself too.
Although the two brothers had made a promise to each other, a promise that has the potential to transcend even death, Getheren feels that Hode has broken his vow by killing himself. He is also forced to choose whether to honor his vow to his brother, and die, or his duty to society, and live, considering that his death would be a kind of suicide by inaction, which is looked down upon and criminalized by his homeland.
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Getheren turns and walks to the south, where he is eventually discovered and taken in by a kind Hearth. Although they had heard of him, he denies he is Getheren, and takes the name Ennoch. Sick and frostbitten, he somehow makes almost a full recovery, losing only his left hand, which Hode had held while asking him to stay. In his old age Getheren meets a traveler from his hometown, which has been struggling since he cursed it many years ago. Getheren declares that he has lifted the curse. He dies a few days later, and his Hearth soon begins to prosper.
While the townsfolk suspect that Getheren is a known criminal and outcast, Karhidish people are welcoming above all else, and happily accept him into their society. They feel a duty to feed and house all wandering strangers, no matter what.
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