The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


Ursula K. Le Guin

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The Left Hand of Darkness Terms


The planet on which the novel takes place. It is in the middle of an Ice Age, and much of its culture and customs have developed around preserving life in an essentially inhospitable environment. Residents… (read full term analysis)

Envoy / Mobile

The Evoy is a representative of the interplanetary trade alliance known as the Ekumen. Envoys are sent alone to new planets in order to try and convince local governments to join the Ekumen. Genly(read full term analysis)


A team of men and women who explore a planet and gather information about it on behalf of the Ekumen. Investigators, who explore secretly, are followed by an Envoy, who announces his or… (read full term analysis)


A nation on the planet Gethen. Its government closely resembles a feudal monarchy. During Genly Ai’s time on Gethen, Argaven XV is its King. Karhide is made up of many disparate Domains, and… (read full term analysis)


A nation on the planet Gethen. Its government is a complicated bureaucracy with a strict police force. It is made up of thirty-three districts, each of which has a representative who serves as a… (read full term analysis)
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An interplanetary trade coalition. Genly Ai, who works on its behalf, describes it not as a “kingdom, but a coordinator, a clearinghouse for trade and knowledge.” Ekumen sends Ai as an Envoy to convince… (read full term analysis)


Karhide’s capital city. It is located in the southwestern corner of the country. (read full term analysis)

Foray Gun

A crude and ancient type of gun on Gethen that shoots to kill. This can be contrasted with stun guns, which are used by the majority of law enforcement officials on Gethen. (read full term analysis)


The upper chamber or parliament of Karhidish government. It is led by the prime minster, whose title literally translates to “King’s ear.” Estraven is the first to lead the kyorremy, but is soon replaced by… (read full term analysis)

Karosh / Island

A Gethenian boarding house that houses between twenty and two hundred individuals. (read full term analysis)


An “untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority in Karhide” and across Gethen. It refers to personal pride and honor, both of which must be maintained by the individual, and respected by those… (read full term analysis)


A period of a few days each month in which Gethenians develop sexual organs and sexual desire. Its opposite is somer, during which time sexuality is latent. Within kemmer are three additional phases: secher, thorharmen… (read full term analysis)

Vow Kemmering

The Gethenian equivalent of monogamous marriage. Although it has no legal basis, it acts as social glue, and is the foundation of Karhidish society. When two people vow kemmering to each other, they swear to… (read full term analysis)


An extended family unit, or clan. This is the most basic unit of Karhidish society. (read full term analysis)

Pering Ice

The glacier that extends from the northernmost edge of Karhide to the north pole of Gethen. Together with the Gobrin Ice, it forms one of Gethen’s ice caps. (read full term analysis)

Gobrin Ice

Also referred to as the Gobrin Ice Sheet or simply the Gobrin Glacier, this is a huge glacier that connects the northern edge of Orgoreyn to Gethen’s north pole. Together with the Pering Ice(read full term analysis)

Ansible Communicator

An Ekumenical communication device that instantly transmits a signal to and from anywhere in the universe. (read full term analysis)


Handdarata men who are able to predict the future when they work in collaboration with each other. (read full term analysis)


A monotheistic Gethenian religion. The Yomeshta worship a single man named Meshe, who is said to be able to see the past, present, and future simultaneously. They value light, and scorn darkness. (read full term analysis)


A Gethenian religion interested in the interaction between light and darkness. Although the Handdara have mastered the art of seeing the future through the Foretellers, Handdarata believe no question is worth asking, as everyone… (read full term analysis)

Sinoth Valley

A contested region on the Orgoreyn/Karhide border. Disputes over this land almost lead the two nations into war. (read full term analysis)


A Gethenian truck that runs on treads instead of wheels. They often travel in long caravans to transport goods across the uneven surface of the planet. (read full term analysis)


The interplanetary name for what humans call planet Earth. Ai’s home planet. (read full term analysis)


A Handdarata religious retreat. Sometimes Foretellers all live here together, and sometimes they simply gather when it is time to answer a question. (read full term analysis)


A Karhidish Domain in the west of the nation. Home to a Fastness where Genly Ai lives for some time, and where he asks the Foretellers a question. (read full term analysis)


Telepathic communication in which it is impossible to lie. Ai has been trained in mindspeech and it is common among Ekuminicals. (read full term analysis)


A form of controlled hysterical strength that can be invoked by practitioners of Handdara. While it typically lasts for an hour at most, disciplined individuals can maintain dothe for hours or even a full… (read full term analysis)


The period after an expression of dothe strength in which the practitioner must rest and recover. The longer dothe was in use, the longer thangen takes. (read full term analysis)

Old Men of the Handdara

Practitioners of Handdara who are rumored to be able to maintain dothe strength for a full day and night. (read full term analysis)


A Handdara word meaning “no matter.” (read full term analysis)


A key member in a group of Foretellers. The weaver harnesses the energy of his comrades and sublimates it into an answer to whatever question has been asked. (read full term analysis)


A Gethenian who, for unknown reasons, presents as male or female all of the time, as opposed to doing so only when in kemmer. Ai, who is biologically male, is sometimes assumed to… (read full term analysis)

Question of Shorth

A legendary question asked to a group of Foretellers that led to the enlightenment of Meshe, who then went on to found the religion of Yomeshta. According to legend, a man named Shorth… (read full term analysis)


A port city in Orgoreyn directly across the gulf from Karhide. (read full term analysis)


The capital of Orgoreyn. (read full term analysis)


Different kinds of Inspectors appear throughout the novel. All of them, however, have the same kind of job. They are police, border agents, security officers, and law enforcers, committed to making sure everyone in Orgoreyn(read full term analysis)


The Orgata secret police. They also wield bureaucratic power and influence Orgoreyn’s government. (read full term analysis)

Open Trade Faction

An Orgota political party that supports an “unaggressive, non-nationalistic policy.” They oppose the Sinoth Valley dispute, and would like to be able to openly trade with Karhide. Obsle, Yegey, and Shusgis are… (read full term analysis)

The Thirty-Three

Thirty-three men who make up the Orgoreyn government. Orgoreyn is made up of thirty-three districts, each of which sends a representative, or Commensal, to the nation’s capital. (read full term analysis)


A difficult-to-translate Orgota word, which comes from a word meaning “to eat together.” It refers to the governing body of Orgoreyn, the Heads of District that make up the governing body, and the citizens of… (read full term analysis)


A hunting village in the northwestern corner of Orgoreyn. (read full term analysis)


A chemical or physical lobotomy, and the unfortunate result of such an operation. (read full term analysis)


A furry mammal that lives on Gethen. It is prized for its soft, warm fur. (read full term analysis)


A group of people who colonized much of the known universe hundreds of thousands of years ago. (read full term analysis)


A Karhidish fishing village in the country’s northwest corner. (read full term analysis)


A Karhidish city near the country’s western border. (read full term analysis)

Hermaphroditic Neuter

A person who is neither a man nor a woman, and is incapable of reproduction. All Gethenians are hermaphroditic neuters four-fifths of the time, developing sexual characteristics only during kemmer. (read full term analysis)