The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

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The “mad king” of Karhide. He is not particularly curious or intelligent. Ai judges him to be “neither sane nor shrewd,” but concedes that Argaven is well-versed and practiced in rhetorical political speech. This makes it difficult for Ai to communicate with him and communicate the nature of his diplomatic mission, as Argaven always suspects an ulterior motive. Argaven admits to being ruled by fear, and rules his country with the same emotion. Unlike Tibe, who cares for himself more than he cares for his country, Argaven believes he is working in the best interest of his nation. At the novel’s end, when Karhide decides to welcome Ai’s ship and join the Ekumen, Argaven seems less excited by the prospect of joining an interplanetary network, and more excited by the prospect of being the first nation on Gethen to do so.

King Argaven XV Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

The The Left Hand of Darkness quotes below are all either spoken by King Argaven XV or refer to King Argaven XV . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ace Books edition of The Left Hand of Darkness published in 1987.
Chapter 1  Quotes

“I’m afraid that Argaven also believes you. But he does not trust you. In part because he no longer trusts me. I have made mistakes, been careless. I cannot ask for your trust any longer, either, having put you in jeopardy. I forgot what a king is, forgot that the king in his own eyes is Karhide, forgot what patriotism is and that he is, of necessity, the perfect patriot. Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?”
“No,” I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean the love of one’s homeland, for that I do know.”
“No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year. We’ve followed our road too far. And you, who come from a world that outgrew nations centuries ago, who hardly know what I’m talking about, who show us the new road—” He broke off. After a while he went on, in control again, cool and polite: “It’s because of fear that I refuse to urge your cause with the king, now. But not fear for myself, Mr. Ai. I’m not acting patriotically. There are, after all, other nations on Gethen.”

Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“…if there were anything these Ekumens wanted from us, they wouldn’t have sent you alone. It’s a joke, a hoax. Aliens would be here by the thousand.”
“But it doesn’t take a thousand men to open a door, my lord.”
“It might to keep it open.”
“The Ekumen will wait till you open it, sir. It will force nothing on you. I was sent alone, and remain here alone, in order to make it impossible for you to fear me.”
“Fear you?” said the king, turning his shadow-scarred face, grinning, speaking loud and high. “But I do fear you, Envoy. I fear those who sent you. I fear liars, and I fear tricksters, and worst I fear the bitter truth. And so I rule my country well. Because only fear rules men. Nothing else works. Nothing else lasts long enough. You are what you say you are, yet you’re a joke, a hoax. There’s nothing in between the stars but void and terror and darkness, and you come out of that all alone trying to frighten me. But I am already afraid, and I am the king. Fear is king! Now take your traps and tricks and go, there’s no more needs saying.”

Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Argaven was not sane; the sinister incoherence of his mind darkened the mood of his capital; he fed on fear. All the good of his reign had been done by his ministers and the kyorremy. But he had not done much harm. His wrestles with his own nightmares had not damaged the Kingdom. His cousin Tibe was another kind of fish, for his insanity had logic. Tibe knew when to act, and how to act. Only he did not know when to stop.
Tibe spoke on the radio a good deal. Estraven when in power had never done so, and it was not in the Karhidish vein: their government was not a public performance, normally; it was covert and indirect. Tibe, however, orated. Hearing his voice on the air I saw again the long-toothed smile and the face masked with a net of fine wrinkles. His speeches were long and loud: praises of Karhide, disparagements of Orgoreyn, vilifications of “disloyal factions,” discussions of the “Integrity of the Kingdom’s borders,” lectures in history and ethics and economics, all in a ranting, canting emotional tone that went shrill with vituperation or adulation. He talked much about pride of country and love of parentland, but little about shifgrethor, personal pride or prestige. Had Karhide lost so much prestige in the Sinoth Valley business that the subject could not be brought up? No; for he often talked about the Sinoth Valley. I decided that he was deliberately avoiding talk of shifgrethor because he wished to rouse emotions of a more elemental, uncontrollable kind. He wanted to stir up something that the whole shifgrethor-pattern was a refinement upon, a sublimation of. He wanted his hearers to be frightened and angry. His themes were not pride and love at all, though he used the words perpetually; as he used them they meant self-praise and hate. He talked a great deal about Truth also, for he was, he said, “cutting down beneath the veneer of civilization.”

Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Obsle, speaking to persuade others, had said, “Either Karhide will fear the strength this alliance will give us—and Karhide is always afraid of new ways and new ideas, remember—and so will hang back and be left behind. Or else the Erhenrang Government will get up their courage and come and ask to join, after us, in second place. In either case the shifgrethor of Karhide will be diminished; and in either case, we drive the sledge. If we have the wits to take this advantage now, it will be a permanent advantage and a certain one!” Then turning to me, “But the Ekumen must be willing to help us, Mr. Ai. We have got to have more to show our people than you alone, one man, already known in Erhenrang.”

Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

…Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and river and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.

Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

“Why the devil did he cheat me?” he demanded in his high strident voice, and for the first time looked straight at me.
“Who?” I said, sending back his stare.
“Estraven.”
“He saw to it that you didn’t cheat yourself. He got me out of sight when you began to favor a faction unfriendly to me. He brought me back to you when my return would in itself persuade you to receive the Mission of the Ekumen, and the credit for it.”
“Why did he never say anything about this larger ship to me?”
“Because he didn’t know about it: I never spoke to anyone of it until I went to Orgoreyn.”
“And a fine lot you chose to blab to there, you tow. He tried to get the Orgota to receive your Mission. He was working with their Open Traders all along. You’ll tell me that was not betrayal?”
“It was not. He knew that, whichever nation first made alliance with the Ekumen, the other would follow soon: as it will: as Sith and Perunter and the Archipelago will also follow, until you find unity. He loved his country very dearly, sir, but he did not serve it, or you. He served the master I serve.”
“The Ekumen?” said Argaven, startled.
“No. Mankind.”
As I spoke I did not know if what I said was true. True in part; an aspect of the truth. It would be no less true to say that Estraven’s acts had risen out of pure personal loyalty, a sense of responsibility and friendship towards one single human being, myself. Nor would that be the whole truth.

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:
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King Argaven XV Character Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the character King Argaven XV appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
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The action begins with Genly Ai walking in a parade in Erhenrang, the capital of Karhide. It is raining, although that has... (full context)
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...of the arch, and the River Gate itself, represents an expansion of trading possibilities. The King lays the keystone into the arch, and Ai is surprised that instead of briefly miming... (full context)
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Ai is bored watching the King work, but he notices the people of Karhide are patient. He is uncomfortable because the... (full context)
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A member of the kyorremy named Tibe (the King’s cousin) interrupts Ai’s conversation so that he can talk to Estraven. Ai can tell the... (full context)
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The parade ends when the King finishes laying the stones. As the royal party disperses, Estraven invites Ai to dinner. Ai... (full context)
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...be safer if he forgot too, and then gets in a car to visit the King. Ai understands that the conversation is somehow significant, but he doesn’t understand any of the... (full context)
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...explains that he will no longer be acting as an intermediary between Ai and the King. For the past months Estraven has believed Ai’s story about his origin and mission as... (full context)
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...shifgrethor, in which case he doesn’t hope to understand it. Estraven points out that the King didn’t speak to him during the parade, and implies he is now out of favor... (full context)
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...mission as Envoy. Although Estraven has done his best to plead Ai’s case with the King, Argaven sees Ai, and the Ekumen by extension, as a threat to his power. Ai... (full context)
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Estraven explains that the King is patriotic, in that he fears the other. Estraven assures Ai that he (Estraven) is... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Ai wakes up the morning of his meeting with the King and nervously reviews his notes on Gethenian psychology and manners. He reminds himself that his... (full context)
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...Karhide within three days. The radio continues, saying that Estraven has been conspiring against the King, trying to sell out Karhide’s sovereignty to a Union of Peoples, which in fact does... (full context)
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Ai joins Argaven in his immense reception hall. Ai sits while Argaven stands. Ai asks about Estraven, and... (full context)
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Ai wonders if Argaven believes he is an alien, and Argaven says he does. Argaven doesn’t understand what Ai... (full context)
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Ai tries to soothe the King, explaining that all the people of Ekumen, 3,000 nations across 83 planets, are “all sons... (full context)
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Argaven wonders what will happen to Ai if he refuses to join the Ekumen. Ai explains... (full context)
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Argaven does not feel obligated to believe or even listen to Ai. He says Karhide is... (full context)
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...and what is false. Estraven is apparently exiled because he advocated for Ai, but the King claimed Estraven spoke against him. Ai is not sure whether he can trust Estraven, but... (full context)
Chapter 6
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Ai hears on the radio that Argaven is pregnant. He finds it funny because he had seen Argaven as a man. People... (full context)
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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.... (full context)
Chapter 10
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As Ai sits to eat, someone announces that Argaven gave birth, but the child quickly died. This leads to speculation over who Argaven will... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...suspects the Orgota will claim he has died, and will be embarrassed when he resurfaces. Argaven will briefly be happy to have him back, during which time Ai must send for... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...that their journey is not over and by Estraven’s impending departure, and so commits to asking Argaven to revoke Estraven’s banishment before Karhide is inducted into the Ekumen. Estraven appreciates the... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Argaven invites Ai to Erhenrang. Still residually ill from his winter journey, Ai remembers little of... (full context)
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...The next morning Ai, who previously had waited six months for an audience with the King, meets with him after having waited only day. He reflects, “It had taken Estraven six... (full context)
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During this second meeting, Argaven sits instead of standing. Ai thinks he looks like a parent who has lost his... (full context)
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...Estraven knew that if one Gethenian nation joined the Ekumen, others would follow. Ai tells Argaven that Estraven loved his country, but served only one master, the same one Ai serves:... (full context)
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Argaven wonders why Ai has only now called down his spaceship. Ai explains that while his... (full context)
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The meeting almost over, Argaven comments that Estraven was a good man. Ai asks Argaven to revoke his exile, but... (full context)