The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


Ursula K. Le Guin

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Keystone Symbol Analysis

Keystone  Symbol Icon

A keystone is the central stone in an archway. It provides strength and form to the rest of the structure. In the beginning of the novel, the placing of the keystone (that is, the completion of an arch) represents the opening of a brand-new River Port, which will enable increased trade for Karhide. Because the keystone is the final piece that completes the archway, it is the symbolic final element that enables an exchange of goods and ideas. Genly Ai’s mission on Gethen is like the building of an arch, and he himself describes its completion as setting the keystone in his plan. In Gethen, keystones were historically set using mortar mixed with blood. Ai’s mission is completed only with the help of Estraven, who dies for the cause—and in this sense, his blood is the metaphorical mortar that joins Karhide to the Ekumen. The keystone is therefore symbolic of connection, unification, and communication.

Keystone Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

The The Left Hand of Darkness quotes below all refer to the symbol of Keystone . 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 11 Quotes

He knew I was angry but I am not sure he understood that he was insulted; he seemed to accept my advice despite the manner of its giving; and when my temper cooled I saw this, and was worried by it. Is it possible that all along in Erhenrang he was seeking my advice, not knowing how to tell me that he sought it? If so, then he must have misunderstood half and not understood the rest of what I told him by my fireside in the Palace, the night after the Ceremony of the Keystone. His shifgrethor must be founded, and composed, and sustained, altogether differently from ours; and when I thought myself most blunt and frank with him he may have found me most subtle and unclear.

His obtuseness is ignorance. His arrogance is ignorance. He is ignorant of us: we of him. He is infinitely a stranger, and I a fool, to let my shadow cross the light of hope he brings us.

Related Symbols: Keystone , Shadows
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
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Keystone Symbol Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the symbol Keystone appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...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 manual labor, Argaven... (full context)
Chapter 20
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon Ehrenrang again, he feels stronger, his heart harder. He decides he must “set the keystone in the arch,” and accomplish the task Estraven died for. (full context)