The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


Ursula K. Le Guin

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Left Hand of Darkness can help.
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, it forms one of Gethen’s ice caps.

Gobrin Ice Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

The The Left Hand of Darkness quotes below are all either spoken by Gobrin Ice or refer to Gobrin Ice. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 15 Quotes

“Is it going to be ‘Mr.’ clear across the Gobrin Ice?”
He looked up and laughed. “I don’t know what to call you.”
“My name is Genly Ai.”
“I know. You use my landname.”
“I don’t know what to call you either.”
“Then I’m Ai—Who uses first names?”
“Hearth-brothers, or friends,” he said, and saying it was remote, out of reach, two feet from me in a tent eight feet across. No answer to that. What is more arrogant than honesty? Cooled, I climbed into my fur bag. “Good night, Ai,” said the alien, and the other alien said, “Good night, Harth.”
A friend. What is a friend, in a world where any friend may be a lover at a new phase of the moon? Not I, locked in my virility: no friend to Therem Harth, or any other of his race. Neither man nor woman, neither and both, cyclic, lunar, metamorphosing under the hand’s touch, changelings in the human cradle, they were no flesh of mine, no friends; no love between us.

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

I was galled by his patronizing. He was a head shorter than I, and built more like a woman than a man, more fat than muscle; when we hauled together I had to shorten my pace to his, hold in my strength so as not to out-pull him: a stallion in harness with a mule—
“You’re no longer ill, then?”
“No. Of course I’m tired. So are you.”
“Yes, I am,” he said. “I was anxious about you. We have a long way to go.”
He had not meant to patronize. He had thought me sick, and sick men take orders. He was frank, and expected a reciprocal frankness that I might not be able to supply. He, after all, had no standards of manliness, of virility, to complicate his pride.
On the other hand, if he could lower all his standards of shifgrethor, as I realized he had done with me, perhaps I could dispense with the more competitive elements of my masculine self-respect, which he certainly understood as little as I understood shifgrethor…

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

There is a frailty about him. He is all unprotected, exposed, vulnerable, even to his sexual organ, which he must carry always outside himself; but he is strong, unbelievably strong. I am not sure he can keep hauling any longer than I can, but he can haul harder and faster than I—twice as hard. He can lift the sledge at front or rear to ease it over an obstacle. I could not lift and hold that weight, unless I was in dothe. To match his frailty and strength, he has a spirit easy to despair and quick to defiance: a fierce impatient courage. This slow, hard, crawling work we have been doing these days wears him out in body and will, so that if he were one of my race I should think him a coward, but he is anything but that; he has a ready bravery I have never seen the like of. He is ready, eager, to stake life on the cruel quick test of the precipice.
“Fire and fear, good servants, bad lords.” He makes fear serve him. I would have let fear lead me around by the long way. Courage and reason are with him. What good seeking the safe course, on a journey such as this? There are senseless courses, which I shall not take; but there is no safe one.

Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

After all he is no more an oddity, a sexual freak, than I am; up here on the Ice each of us is singular, isolate, I as cut off from those like me, from my society and its rules, as he from his. There is no world full of other Gethenians here to explain and support my existence. We are equals at last, equal, alien, alone. He did not laugh, of course. Rather he spoke with a gentleness that I did not know was in him. After a while he too came to speak of isolation, of loneliness.

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

After he had stared a long time at the glowing stove, he shook his head. “Harth,” he said, “I can’t tell you what women are like. I never thought about it much in the abstract, you know, and—God!—by now I’ve practically forgotten. I’ve been here two years….You don’t know. In a sense, women are more alien to me than you are. With you I share one sex, anyhow….” He looked away and laughed, rueful and uneasy. My own feelings were complex, and we let the matter drop.

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he was. Until then I had rejected him, refused him his own reality. He had been quite right to say that he, the only person on Gethen who trusted me, was the only Gethenian I distrusted. For he was the only one who had entirely accepted me as a human being: who had liked me personally and given me entire personal loyalty, and who therefore had demanded of me an equal degree of recognition, of acceptance. I had not been willing to give it. I had been afraid to give it. I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man.

Page Number: 267
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:

We stayed two more days in Kurkurast, getting well fed and rested, waiting for a road-packer that was due in from the south and would give us a lift when it went back again. Our hosts got Estraven to tell them the whole tale of our crossing of the Ice. He told it as only a person of an oral-literature tradition can tell a story, so that it became a saga, full of traditional locutions and even episodes, yet exact and vivid, from the sulphurous fire and dark of the pass between Drumner and Dremegole to the screaming gusts from the mountain-gaps that swept the Bay of Guthen; with comic interludes, such as his fall into the crevasse, and mystical ones, when he spoke of the sounds and silences of the Ice, of the shadowless weather, of the night’s darkness. I listened as fascinated as all the rest, my gaze on my friend’s dark face.

Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Left Hand of Darkness LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Left Hand of Darkness PDF

Gobrin Ice Term Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the term Gobrin Ice appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 15
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...most practical way is overland, traveling off road to the north, and then across the Gobrin Ice. Ai wonders if this is possible, but Estraven believes it could be. He hopes... (full context)
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon Fire Hills. This is a borderland between the mountains they’ve been climbing and the Gobrin Ice, a hotbed of volcanic activity puffing smoke and melting ice into steam. Both Ai... (full context)
Chapter 18
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai’s months on Gobrin are difficult, but in hindsight he sees them as joyful. He and Estraven enter into... (full context)
Chapter 19
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
On the 75th day of their journey, after 51 days on the Gorbin Ice , Ai and Estraven finally leave the glacier to ski across the sea ice of... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Everyone is shocked to hear that the two came over the Gobrin Ice, a journey no one undertakes in the winter. Ai is awed by the generosity... (full context)
Chapter 20
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
...and Estraven’s son. Esvans is eager to hear of Ai and Estraven’s journey across the Gobrin Ice. Sorve asks Ai to tell him how his father died, and about “the other... (full context)