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 Terms

Gethen

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 analysis of Gethen

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. Genlyread analysis of Envoy / Mobile

Investigators

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 analysis of Investigators

Karhide

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 analysis of Karhide

Orgoreyn

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 analysis of Orgoreyn
Get the entire The Left Hand of Darkness LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Left Hand of Darkness PDF

Ekumen

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 analysis of Ekumen

Erhenrang

Karhide’s capital city. It is located in the southwestern corner of the country. read analysis of Erhenrang

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 analysis of Foray Gun

Kyorremy

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 analysis of Kyorremy

Karosh / Island

A Gethenian boarding house that houses between twenty and two hundred individuals. read analysis of Karosh / Island

Shifgrethor

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 analysis of Shifgrethor

Kemmer

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 analysis of Kemmer

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 analysis of Vow Kemmering

Hearth

An extended family unit, or clan. This is the most basic unit of Karhidish society. read analysis of Hearth

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 analysis of Pering Ice

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 Iceread analysis of Gobrin Ice

Ansible Communicator

An Ekumenical communication device that instantly transmits a signal to and from anywhere in the universe. read analysis of Ansible Communicator

Foretellers

Handdarata men who are able to predict the future when they work in collaboration with each other. read analysis of Foretellers

Yomeshta

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 analysis of Yomeshta

Handdara

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 analysis of Handdara

Sinoth Valley

A contested region on the Orgoreyn/Karhide border. Disputes over this land almost lead the two nations into war. read analysis of Sinoth Valley

Landboat

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 analysis of Landboat

Terra

The interplanetary name for what humans call planet Earth. Ai’s home planet. read analysis of Terra

Fastness

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

Otherhord

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 analysis of Otherhord

Mindspeech

Telepathic communication in which it is impossible to lie. Ai has been trained in mindspeech and it is common among Ekuminicals. read analysis of Mindspeech

Dothe

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 analysis of Dothe

Thangen

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 analysis of Thangen

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 analysis of Old Men of the Handdara

Nusuth

A Handdara word meaning “no matter.” read analysis of Nusuth

Weaver

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 analysis of Weaver

Pervert

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 analysis of Pervert

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 analysis of Question of Shorth

Shelt

A port city in Orgoreyn directly across the gulf from Karhide. read analysis of Shelt

Mishnory

The capital of Orgoreyn. read analysis of Mishnory

Inspectors

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 Orgoreynread analysis of Inspectors

Sarf

The Orgata secret police. They also wield bureaucratic power and influence Orgoreyn’s government. read analysis of Sarf

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 analysis of Open Trade Faction

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 analysis of The Thirty-Three

Commensal

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 analysis of Commensal

Turuf

A hunting village in the northwestern corner of Orgoreyn. read analysis of Turuf

Mindchange

A chemical or physical lobotomy, and the unfortunate result of such an operation. read analysis of Mindchange

Pesthry

A furry mammal that lives on Gethen. It is prized for its soft, warm fur. read analysis of Pesthry

Hain

A group of people who colonized much of the known universe hundreds of thousands of years ago. read analysis of Hain

Kurkurast

A Karhidish fishing village in the country’s northwest corner. read analysis of Kurkurast

Sassinoth

A Karhidish city near the country’s western border. read analysis of Sassinoth

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 analysis of Hermaphroditic Neuter