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 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ai resumes his report. He has spent the summer more as an Investigator than a Mobile, gathering information and learning about the culture. He notes that in his early days as Mobile he was a “marvel and monstrosity,” and appreciates the ability to blend in more easily. The people he meets are generally warm and welcoming. In Karhide strangers are not your enemy—threats come instead from your neighbors.
As an Envoy and an alien, Genly Ai has not always enjoyed being a visible outsider. Now, for the first time, he is able to see Gethen not as a stranger, but as someone seen and accepted as human. He benefits from Karhidish hospitality, and the easy bonds Karhiders form with strangers in need. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai observes that very little in Gethen has changed in thousands of years. They are in a Machine Age, but have had no true Industrial Revolution. Gethen has developed much more slowly than Terra, but in its steady development it has avoided environmental or societal disaster. Ai suspects that the planet itself is so unforgiving that it discourages risky and rushed behavior.    
Like Ong Tot Oppong suggested in Chapter 7, Ai suspects that the Gethenian climate, as much as Gethenian culture, has shaped and changed Gethenian culture to a great degree, slowing progress so as to preserve a fragile society, easily destroyed by any shifts in climate. 
Themes
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai hears on the radio that Argaven is pregnant. He finds it funny because he had seen Argaven as a man. People in Karhide also find it funny, but because they think Argaven too old to have a child. 
Ironically, Ai unites with other rural Karhiders in ridiculing the king. Each group, however, finds a different aspect of the pregnancy funny depending on their cultural background.
Themes
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai realizes, as he travels, that Karhide is a disjointed nation, made up of “pseudo-feudal tribal economic units,” or small aggressive towns, often united by blood ties.
This realization echoes an observation Estraven made earlier in the novel. Karhiders’ loyalties are primarily to their families and Hearths, and secondarily to their nation. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Get the entire The Left Hand of Darkness LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Left Hand of Darkness PDF
Ai returns to Erhenrang, where he now feels unsafe. Argaven has taken time off for his pregnancy, and Tibe is in charge in the interim. While Argaven was insane and fearful, his political cabinet did good work. Tibe, in contrast, is insane and logical, capable of doing great harm.  Ai notices Tibe speaks on the radio much more than Estraven ever did. He talks about pride of country, but not shifgrethor, or personal pride and honor. This seems to be intentional, forcing listeners to become fearful and angry on Karhide’s behalf. He frequently discusses the Sinoth Valley conflict, referring to Karhidish farmers as “true patriots,” and discussing his plans to escalate the violence. 
Ai, always an outsider in Karhide, is suddenly both an outsider and a potential threat. Karhide is a nation governed by fear, and is slowly turning from an agenda of self-defense towards a path of violent paranoia. As Estraven warned, Tibe is embracing a dangerous patriotism, elevating the “true patriots” of Karhide over the increasingly dehumanized Orgota. Whereas Argaven simply wanted to protect Karhide through isolation, Tibe wants to actively destroy its enemies.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Tibe also talks about Truth, and claims to be “cutting down beneath the veneer of civilization.” Ai sees this as dangerous—the implication being that primitiveness is the opposite of civilization, and that civilization is artificial and unnatural. He believes the two to exist on a spectrum, with the true opposite of civilization being war.
Tibe uses his speech as a way to indoctrinate the citizens of Karhide. By referring to an objective “Truth” he hopes to discourage residents of Karhide from challenging him, and instead expects them to blindly follow him in his hatred for the Orgota.
Themes
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Orgoreyn has, in the past few centuries, achieved material stability, which allowed it to centralize its government and build up its power. Karhide now has the opportunity to do the same thing, having “got a little ahead of Nature.” Ai sees that Tibe wants to unite Karhide into a nation. He can mobilize it either through a new religion, which isn’t available, or war, which is.
Ai worries that the only thing preventing war between Karhide and Orgoreyn is their different stages of development. Orgoreyn is more developed than Karhide, and so previously neither seemed like a threat to the other. Unfortunately, under Tibe, Karhide is developing the kind of national pride that could see Orgoreyn as a threat, and could lead to violent conflict.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Ai informs Tibe of his question to the Foretellers, to no response. He then goes to the Orgota Embassy and requests to enter Orgoreyn. Ai is excited to leave Karhide. He feels less welcome than he did earlier in his mission, less like a sideshow and more like a political suspect.
Ai’s duty is to the Ekumen. He likes Karhide, but feels no need to continue to try and convince its government to cooperate with him. Orgoreyn will provide him with a new opportunity to plead his case. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
One evening Ashe comes to visit Ai. He introduces himself as “a friend of one who befriended you.” Ai assumes he’s referring to Faxe, but Ashe is referring to Estraven. Ashe can see Ai has no feelings of friendship towards Estraven, and becomes angry. He is playing shifgrethor but Ai is not, which offends him. Ashe feels he has made a mistake in coming to Ai and tries to leave, but Ai catches him.   
Ai doesn’t see Estraven as his friend. This is because of an enduring miscommunication between the two characters, based on their different cultures. Ashe clearly believed Estraven and Ai to be friends, and sees Ai’s initial confusion as an insult to both him and Estraven.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ashe wonders bitterly if Ai feels himself in debt to Estraven, who was exiled partially because of his support for Ai’s mission. Ai explains that his mission “overrides all personal debts and loyalties,” which causes Ashe to argue that it is therefore “an immoral mission.” Ai is taken aback. He concedes, “the shortcomings are in the messenger, not the message,” and encourages Ashe to speak his mind.
Ai’s loyalty is primary to the Ekumen. This duty, at least initially, transcends any personal bonds, and certainly bonds of friendship between himself and Estraven, who he had not even seen as a friend. Ashe, who sees interpersonal bonds as the foundation of any larger society, dislikes Ai’s mindset.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ashe wants Ai to take money to Estraven, since Ai has no political ties and cannot be punished for it. Ashe, however, feels he has misjudged and forgotten that Ai does in fact have his own (interplanetary) politics.
Ai and Ashe have difficulty communicating because of their different cultural backgrounds. Ashe assumes Ai to be apolitical, forgetting that his mission is a diplomatic one. Ai explains his allegiance is to mankind, not to a single government.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai agrees to take the money, and Ashe is overcome with emotion, crying easily. He tells Ai he was Estraven’s kemmering, which surprises Ai. Ashe makes a gesture of friendship to Ai (one that Ai notes is not made lightly) and wishes him luck. 
Ashe and Ai eventually understand each other. Ashe’s tears, however, come as a surprise. Ai rarely cries, and links this to his masculinity. In contrast, with no sense of male pride or masculine suppression of emotion, Gethenians cry freely.
Themes
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Two days later, Ai leaves for Orgoreyn. Some higher-up has expedited the immigration process. Ai walks to the border, relying on the hospitality of Karhidish townsfolk, who by code must provide three days of lodging, but will often happily provide more. Ai feels warmly towards Karhide, a land he found “indifferent to the Envoy, so gentle to the stranger.” He is nervous to leave and begin again in a new nation.
Although Ai has felt like an outsider wandering the country as an Envoy, he has appreciated how accepting the people of Karhide have been. While his mission has not been a success, he has made personal connections in spite of the fact that he is alien to the Gethenians, and they are alien to him. 
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
At the border, the Karhidish bridge-keeper happily lets Ai cross, whereas the Orgota Inspector reviews his documents for hours. His passport is eventually taken for further inspection and Ai is sent to a Commensal Transient-House for the night.
The governments of Orgoreyn and Karhide are wildly different, although the sexualities of the people and climates of the nations are the same. Orgoreyn is highly organized, and Karhide highly disorganized. 
Themes
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai is taken to a Commensal and fed. Everyone else is already sleeping and he goes to bed as well. He wakes up to an attack upon the village. He manages to escape his boarding house with his papers and his pack, which luckily holds a change of clothes and the rubies he’s used as money. Ai joins a crowd of people evacuating their smoking hometown. Orgota guards eventually stop the group. They separate out those without papers, including Ai, who has no passport. This group is locked in a cold, lightless storage barn for the night. Ai is surprised by the compliance of the men locked in with him, who were first attacked and driven out of their homes, and then imprisoned by their own government.
Unlike in Karhide, where Ai was frequently treated as a friend and a citizen in spite of his literal alienness, in Orgoreyn he is initially treated as a stranger and a criminal. Because he doesn’t have his papers, he is imprisoned with dozens of other men, all of whom are actual Orgota citizens. However, the people of Orgoreyn defer to the government in a way that Ai finds shocking. Although he is unhappy to be treated like a criminal, these actual citizens seem happy to sacrifice their personal comfort for the (perceived) wellbeing of the state.  
Themes
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
In the morning the group is let out into the sunlight, but Ai is singled out by an official who knows his name. He is relieved to be “named, known, recognized.” He is taken to the Local Commensal Farm Centrality, which is filled with Inspectors who recognize him not as the Envoy, but as a “distinguished person.” They help get him a new passport and send him on his way to Mishnory.
In Karhide Ai didn’t like being recognized as the Envoy. Now, ironically, he is relieved to be singled out. His special status, although vaguely defined by the Orgota officials, saves him time, and maybe even saves his life.
Themes
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
On the radio Ai is happy to hear calm announcements about the weather and the economy, worlds away from Tibe’s ranting. He is happy to be out of Karhide, which he now considers “an incoherent” and irrational land. It takes Ai two days to reach Mishnory. During his travels he notes that the Orgota seem incurious, a welcome change from Karhide’s passionate people. Arriving finally in Mishonry, even the architecture makes Ai feel as though he has “come out of a dark age.”
Although Ai enjoyed Karhide while he was there, and was greeted unenthusiastically with a brief imprisonment in Orgoreyn, he has decided (in this moment at least) that he prefers Orgoreyn. He feels its culture to be more organized and rational, a far cry from the passionate disorganization of Karhide’s government.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai is greeted in Mishnory by Commissioner Shusgis. Shusgis also recognizes Ai as Envoy, the first in Orgota to acknowledge his origin. Ai suspects Karhide has kept his presence as a national secret. Shusgis reveals he expected Ai to look like a monster, tall and dark, but was surprised to find Ai looked almost Gethenian
Part of the difficulty of Ai’s task on Gethen is convincing other people of his humanity, and of the humanity of the Ekumen. Although Ai looks recognizably human, to those who don’t know him he is described as monstrous — and a monstrous alien person is more difficult to sympathize with than a fellow human man.
Themes
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
As they talk and tour his home, Shusgis tells Ai that Karhide was afraid of him, and afraid that if they mishandled him there would be celestial retribution. Shusgis professes he is not afraid of Ai or his mission. He is ready to introduce Ai to various people who are interested in him and his goal. 
Shusgis wants to join with the Ekumen because he thinks it will increase Orgoreyn’s power and influence. He is dedicated to his country, and wants to see it succeed while Karhide fails. He is less interested in Ai’s grand mission than in what Ai can do for him.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai is given new clothing, and driven to his first dinner. There are almost thirty guests at the dinner, but Ai is the center of attention. He believes the government officials want to use or manipulate him in some way, but he is not sure what they plan to do. It is considered rude in Gethen to talk politics over dinner and so Ai remains in the dark as to the meeting’s purpose, talking instead with Obsle about life on his home planet, Terra, and the wider universe.
Once again, Ai’s lack of knowledge of Gethenian custom and culture puts his future in jeopardy. He is unable to navigate whatever political scheming has brought him to Orgoreyn, to this specific dinner, and is unable to guess how he will be used and abused by the officials, and whether or not they believe in him and his mission.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Obsle is distracted and turns away to another conversation. At this point Ai looks to his right, where he realizes Estraven is sitting. Ai remarks he is surprised to see him, and tells Estraven he has money for him from Ashe. Ai has no desire to talk to him further, and feels Estraven doesn’t want to talk to him. He becomes unhappy as he realizes Estraven has summoned him to Orgoreyn.  
Although Ai had believed he was moving about Gethen of his own free will, he sees that many small factors have pushed him towards Orgoreyn. Because Estraven believes in him and his mission, he has made Ai’s journey to Orgoreyn easier, where he hopes Ai will have a better chance at completing his mission.
Themes
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon