The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


Ursula K. Le Guin

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Shadows Symbol Icon

In Gethen there are two primary religions: Yomeshta, which worships the light, and Handdara, which worships balance and darkness. Although both are discussed in the novel, Genly Ai is drawn to Handdara, and discusses in depth its belief that light cannot exist without darkness. Like the concept of yin and yang, which imagines the universe as being made up of opposites that rely upon each other, shadows and darkness exist as the opposite of light. Although light is traditionally aligned with goodness and life, shadows, their opposite, are not inherently bad. Shadows provide a useful counterweight and context, making the world clearer than it would be with light alone. This is true metaphorically (when Ai comments that the politicians of Orgoreyn cast no shadow he means that they are insubstantial and untrustworthy) as well as literally (Ai and Estraven’s most treacherous days on the Gobrin Ice come during whiteouts, when the snow is so bright there are no shadows, and they cannot safely navigate the terrain). Shadows therefore symbolize not only the Handdara religion, but its emphasis on balance and duality more generally—including, more specifically, the dual nature of Gethenian gender and sexuality.

Shadows Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

The The Left Hand of Darkness quotes below all refer to the symbol of Shadows. 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:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Darkness is only in the mortal eye, that thinks it sees, but sees not. In the Sight of Meshe there is no darkness.
Therefore those that call upon the darkness are made fools of and spat out from the mouth of Meshe, for they name what is not, calling it Source and End.
There is neither source nor end, for all things are in the Center of Time. As all the stars may be reflected in a round raindrop falling in the night: so too do all the stars reflect the raindrop. There is neither darkness nor death, for all things are, in the light of the Moment, and their end and their beginning are one.
One center, one seeing, one law, one light! Look now into the Eye of Meshe!

Related Characters: Meshe
Related Symbols: Shadows
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

Light is the left hand of darkness

and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying

together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together,

like the end and the way.

Related Symbols: Shadows
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

“Fear’s very useful. Like darkness; like shadows.” Estraven’s smile was an ugly split in a peeling, cracked brown mask, thatched with black fur and set with two flecks of black rock. “It’s queer that daylight’s not enough. We need the shadows, in order to walk.”
“Give me your notebook a moment.”
He had just noted down our day’s journey and done some calculation of mileage and rations. He pushed the little tablet and carbon-pencil around the Chabe stove to me. On the blank leaf glued to the inner back cover I drew the double curve within the circle, and blacked the yin half of the symbol, then pushed it back to my companion. “Do you know that sign?”
He looked at it a long time with a strange look, but he said, “No.”
“It’s found on Earth, and on Hain-Davenant, and on Chiffewar. It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness…how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow.”

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shadows
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:
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Shadows Symbol Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the symbol Shadows appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 10
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...Ai considers how everything in Orgoreyn seems insipid, as though it does not cast a shadow. He feels like nothing, and no one, can be fully trusted. (full context)
Chapter 17
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
All of Edondurath’s children have a piece of darkness within them “because they were born in the house of flesh” and “therefore death follows... (full context)
Chapter 19
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...thick precipitation that reduces all visibility. In this weather there is no sound and no shadows.   (full context)
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...white weather. Ai fears it, and Estraven observes that “fear’s very useful. Like darkness; like shadows.” He continues, noting “we need the shadows, in order to walk.” This reminds Ai of... (full context)