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 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Estraven’s cook wakes him in his home. There is a runner from the King’s house, who has a paper announcing his exile. Estraven had known this was coming, but did not know it was coming so soon. He is briefly overwhelmed, but gets in control of his emotions, and has packed and prepared to leave by the late morning.
This chapter, like the earlier ones narrated by Genly Ai, is told in the first person. However, this chapter is from Estraven’s point of view, as we finally see Estraven’s “alien” perspective. Although he knew his political behavior had fallen out of favor, he was surprised by the swiftness of his exile. 
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Estraven writes to his old kemmering, Ashe, warning him not to contact him, and promising him some of his valuable belongings.
Though they are no longer a “couple,” Estraven and Ashe still feel obligated to look out for each other.
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Estraven briefly considers returning home to his Hearth, but decides against it. He considers the three days he has left until his exile officially takes effect. Because he was given no warning before the notice was sent out, he knows no landboat or ship captain will dare to help him. Instead, he will walk to the Gulf separating Karhide from Orgoreyn.  
Estraven knows that he will be safe in Orgoreyn, where his exile will have no effect. However, he worries that the widespread knowledge of his fall from grace will prevent anyone from helping him in the three days before his exile officially begins. 
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Estraven’s cook kindly left him food, so he is not hungry during his journey. He is reassured that one man, at least, doesn’t think him to be a traitor, and is surprised at how the label hurts him.
A small act of kindness reminds Estraven that although the government may neither like nor trust him, individuals still care for him in spite of the potential legal consequences.
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After three days of walking, Estraven arrives at the Gulf. At the gates is Ashe, his former kemmering, with whom he has two children. Although Ashe is now a Celibate Foreteller, the two still love one another.
Once again, Estraven is moved that people in his life still care about him despite his new status as a traitor to Karhide. He is happy that personal bonds transcend political ones.  
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Estraven wants to protect Ashe by driving him away, so he is purposefully cruel and bitter. Estraven accuses Ashe of breaking his vow, which Ashe denies breaking. Estraven then suggests it wasn’t a real vow, as he (Estraven) promised kemmering to another man (his brother Arek) who is now dead. Ashe, tearful, tries to give Estraven (whom he calls Therem) money, but Estraven will not take it, and walks away toward the harbor.
While Estraven recognizes Ashe’s love for him, his love for Ashe makes him want to protect his former lover. He decides he must hurt Ashe in order to save him, believing it is the only way to protect him. He feels a stronger obligation to protect Ashe’s life in the long term, than to protect his present feelings.
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Estraven is concerned to see that the fishermen recognize him and will not rent out their boats to him. He sees that Tibe plans to keep him in Karhide for three days, after which his exile will truly begin, and he can be killed for a reward.
Estraven realizes his exile is truly a death sentence. Tibe hopes to turn all the people of Karhide against Estraven, who he sees as a threat that must be removed, not just from the country but from the planet itself.  
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Estraven sits and thinks. He will have to take a boat to Orgoreyn, and will have to commit a crime to get a ship. He steals a rowboat, and begins to paddle out into the harbor. As he’s rowing, he is overcome by weakness and sickness. Two agents of Tibe, still on the shore, have shot him with a sonic gun on a lethal setting, a blast which would have killed him had he been in range. Although in pain, Estraven forces himself to keep rowing, knowing the agents will come after him in a motor boat to finish him off.   
Estraven must consider the strength of his moral obligation to the laws of Karhide. If he obeys them, and does not steal, he will die. He decides his own life is more valuable to him than any legal codes. Tibe’s men, similarly, have decided that Tibe’s orders to kill Estraven are more important than the laws of the country, which protect him until his exile officially begins the next day. 
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After some time Estraven is pulled out of the water and onto a Karhidish patrol ship. Estraven is too weak to move or speak, but he can hear the captain arguing with someone. The captain insists Estraven’s exile hasn’t fully come into effect yet, and in response to radio commands from Tibe’s agents telling him to return to shore, the captain declares “The king exiled him, I’ll follow the king’s order, no lesser man’s.” Estraven doesn’t know why the man saves his life, but appreciates it.   
The captain of the ship that rescues Estraven must decide where his loyalty lies. Although it is clear that Tibe wants Estraven dead, the captain decides to honor the letter of the law declaring Estraven’s exile — which protects him for a few more hours — as opposed to the spirit, which is intended to kill him as soon as possible. This deference to the King as opposed to his prime minister, and to humanity as opposed to law enforcement, saves Estraven’s life.
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Estraven is dropped on the Orgota coast the next morning. He is weak but tries to walk toward the nearby town of Shelt. He collapses in the street, is found, and transported to a hospital some time later. Estraven had used dothe strength to row himself away from Tibe’s men, but had not sufficiently rested during the thangen phase, which led to his collapse and hospitalization. The doctor chastises him for putting himself in danger.  
The use of dothe strength is a Handdara practice. It is a sustained use of hysterical strength, which Estraven used to save himself in the Gulf. Like many Handdara concepts, dothe requires a careful balance between dark and light, action and inaction, and its use requires a commensurate rest phase, which Estraven did not observe, and which has further injured him.
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After the doctor leaves, an Inspector comes to ask Estraven for his information. Estraven jokes that “behind every man in Orgoreyn comes the Inspector.” Estraven tells him he is from Karhide, but has lost his identification papers during his unconsciousness. He is briefly angry, and then laughs at the ridiculousness of his situation. The Inspector is angry, and thinks Estraven doesn’t understand the seriousness of his situation.
Estraven, so comfortable in Karhide, is an outsider in Orgoreyn. In Orgoreyn, paperwork and bureaucracy rule everything. Estraven, coming from a disorganized country built around family units and a top down monarchy, is able to recognize the ridiculousness of each system — Karhide’s extreme disorganization, and Orgoreyn’s extreme regulation.
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As an “indigent and unregistered alien” without papers, Estraven cannot return to Karhide, and the Inspector threatens to send him to a prison work camp. The physician recognizes Estraven’s name, and tells the inspector who he is—the former prime minister of Karhide. The Inspector, disappointed, softens slightly. No longer comfortable arresting him, he reminds Estraven he will have to apply for new papers and permanent residence in Orgoreyn where he can get a job and become a useful citizen. For the next few days, before Estraven is granted permanent residence, the physician keeps him in the hospital ward.
Law and order reign supreme in Orgoreyn, and so without papers initially Estraven is not given any special treatment. Luckily, even in a place with as much bureaucratic red tape as Orgoreyn, personal connections, like the one between Estraven and his doctor, can override loyalty to a vague governmental body.
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Five days later, Estraven sets out to Mishnory. He pays his way by working on a fresh-fish landboat. Once in Mishnory, Estraven continues to work with fish, even living in a boardinghouse called Fish Island. His work is smelly, but he likes working in a refrigerated room during the (relatively) warm summers.
Estraven’s pride doesn’t prevent him from doing manual labor, work an outsider like Ai might assume to be beneath the former prime minister.
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Estraven spends his free time wandering the town, noting that although streetlights have been smashed by local residents, Inspectors patrol the area, depriving “poor men their one privacy, the night.” 
 Many of the people of Orgoreyn desire darkness and privacy, but government denies them this luxury. Unlike in Karhide, where Handdara is the dominant religion, in Orgoreyn Yomeshta and its embrace of total light and total knowledge influences the government and the culture.
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Later in the summer, an Alien Registry Law causes Estraven to lose his job. It takes him half a month to get reregistered, during which time he subsists off of fish stolen by his former coworkers. He likes these “hard loyal men,” but realizes they live in inescapable poverty, and he has political work to do which is impossible in the Fish Island
Estraven is a foreigner and a traitor to his own nation, but is able to form personal connections with the other men he works with. Although none of them makes much money, they care for Estraven and look out for him during his unemployment. 
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Estraven makes calls to some officials he knows in the Orgota government, who come the next day to collect him from his boarding house. Commensal Yegey takes Estraven in as his secretary, which makes him a dependent—a term he dislikes, but which is important to the label-obsessed Orgota. Estraven is made to wait for another month before he is finally allowed to meet with Yegey and Obsle, another Commensal.
Although Estraven has enjoyed his time as a manual laborer, he knows it is time for him to resume his mission: trying to convince the government of Orgoreyn to join the Ekumen. He has no single allegiance (which is why he dislikes being connected to Yegey), and so does not care if Karhide or Orgoreyn joins first, as long as one of them eventually does. 
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Obsle and Yegey wonder how Estraven, known for his shifgrethor, was evicted from Karhide. Estraven explains that his fear of conflict in the Sinoth Valley outweighed his caution. Obsle wonders if Estraven liked “Karhide better than its king,” and Yegey suggests Estraven likes the Karhidish style of government more than the Orgata style, a more brutal and efficient regime favored by Tibe. Estraven confirms Yegey’s speculation.
These Orgota officials wonder how Estraven, known for being a savvy politician, managed to fall out of the graces of the king. They correctly guess that his allegiance was not to the politicians who ran his country, and was instead to the nation itself, specifically the people within it. Estraven only cares about politics as a means to an end, with the end being the well-being of all nations’ citizens.    
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Estraven confesses that he worries that if Karhide grows too powerful it will go to war with Orgoreyn. Obsle fears the same thing, as does Yegey. All three see the Sinoth Valley dispute as a potential catalyst for further conflict.
Although of different nations, all three men can agree that they do not want their countries to go to war. In their minds, human lives are more important than a political victory.
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Obsle agrees the men must work together to prevent war, but first wants to know about the Envoy (through this Estraven infers Genly Ai has requested permission to enter Orgoreyn). Obsle waives shifgrethor and asks Estraven for the truth. Estraven confirms Ai is an alien being, not a man to be feared, but a man who can connect Gethen with the wider universe. Yegey is made uneasy by the idea of eighty extraterrestrial worlds, and Obsle is skeptical of a man sailing in on a spaceship. Estraven tells them that following Ai can lead Obsle to greatness. 
Estraven begins to reveal his true reason for traveling to Orgoreyn. Although it was partially to save his own life, it was also to further promote Genly Ai’s alien ambassadorial mission. He trusts Ai, and although he is from another world, Estraven finds Ai recognizably human and trustworthy. Faced with the vastness of the universe, he sees Gethen’s conflicts to be insignificant distractions, although he still cares for its people. In contrast, Yegey is disturbed by his personal insignificance in the face of such scale.
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Estraven continues to praise Ai to the Commensals. He wonders, “How shall we deal with strangers, except as brothers?” and adds that if Ai “were one of us I should call him an honest man.” Estraven believes that terrestrial boundaries mean nothing in the face of extraterrestrial alliances. Yegey is convinced but Obsle remains skeptical. Estraven suggests letting them speak to Ai themselves. They admit he has requested permission to enter Orgoreyn.
Estraven continues with his mission to connect any Gethenian nation to the Ekumen. He, unlike essentially every other Gethenian, can see that Ai, although alien, is still a human man, and that his mission is one of peace and brotherhood. He emphasizes the ways in which Ai is similar enough to Gethenians to be trusted, with a mission grand enough that it ought to erase any petty political infighting.
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