The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

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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 Estraven refers to his home country as “not a nation but a family quarrel.” Karhide has a longstanding rivalry with its neighbor, the nation of Orgoreyn.

Karhide Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

The The Left Hand of Darkness quotes below are all either spoken by Karhide or refer to Karhide. 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 1  Quotes

“I’m afraid that Argaven also believes you. But he does not trust you. In part because he no longer trusts me. I have made mistakes, been careless. I cannot ask for your trust any longer, either, having put you in jeopardy. I forgot what a king is, forgot that the king in his own eyes is Karhide, forgot what patriotism is and that he is, of necessity, the perfect patriot. Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?”
“No,” I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean the love of one’s homeland, for that I do know.”
“No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year. We’ve followed our road too far. And you, who come from a world that outgrew nations centuries ago, who hardly know what I’m talking about, who show us the new road—” He broke off. After a while he went on, in control again, cool and polite: “It’s because of fear that I refuse to urge your cause with the king, now. But not fear for myself, Mr. Ai. I’m not acting patriotically. There are, after all, other nations on Gethen.”

Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“…if there were anything these Ekumens wanted from us, they wouldn’t have sent you alone. It’s a joke, a hoax. Aliens would be here by the thousand.”
“But it doesn’t take a thousand men to open a door, my lord.”
“It might to keep it open.”
“The Ekumen will wait till you open it, sir. It will force nothing on you. I was sent alone, and remain here alone, in order to make it impossible for you to fear me.”
“Fear you?” said the king, turning his shadow-scarred face, grinning, speaking loud and high. “But I do fear you, Envoy. I fear those who sent you. I fear liars, and I fear tricksters, and worst I fear the bitter truth. And so I rule my country well. Because only fear rules men. Nothing else works. Nothing else lasts long enough. You are what you say you are, yet you’re a joke, a hoax. There’s nothing in between the stars but void and terror and darkness, and you come out of that all alone trying to frighten me. But I am already afraid, and I am the king. Fear is king! Now take your traps and tricks and go, there’s no more needs saying.”

Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“But we in the Handdara don’t want answers. It’s hard to avoid them, but we try to.”
“Faxe, I don’t think I understand.”
“Well, we come here to the Fastness mostly to learn what questions not to ask.”
“But you’re the Answerers!”
“You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?”
“No—”

“To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Faxe (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

“The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomes, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion…. Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable—the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?”

Related Characters: Faxe (speaker), Genly Ai
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Argaven was not sane; the sinister incoherence of his mind darkened the mood of his capital; he fed on fear. All the good of his reign had been done by his ministers and the kyorremy. But he had not done much harm. His wrestles with his own nightmares had not damaged the Kingdom. His cousin Tibe was another kind of fish, for his insanity had logic. Tibe knew when to act, and how to act. Only he did not know when to stop.
Tibe spoke on the radio a good deal. Estraven when in power had never done so, and it was not in the Karhidish vein: their government was not a public performance, normally; it was covert and indirect. Tibe, however, orated. Hearing his voice on the air I saw again the long-toothed smile and the face masked with a net of fine wrinkles. His speeches were long and loud: praises of Karhide, disparagements of Orgoreyn, vilifications of “disloyal factions,” discussions of the “Integrity of the Kingdom’s borders,” lectures in history and ethics and economics, all in a ranting, canting emotional tone that went shrill with vituperation or adulation. He talked much about pride of country and love of parentland, but little about shifgrethor, personal pride or prestige. Had Karhide lost so much prestige in the Sinoth Valley business that the subject could not be brought up? No; for he often talked about the Sinoth Valley. I decided that he was deliberately avoiding talk of shifgrethor because he wished to rouse emotions of a more elemental, uncontrollable kind. He wanted to stir up something that the whole shifgrethor-pattern was a refinement upon, a sublimation of. He wanted his hearers to be frightened and angry. His themes were not pride and love at all, though he used the words perpetually; as he used them they meant self-praise and hate. He talked a great deal about Truth also, for he was, he said, “cutting down beneath the veneer of civilization.”

Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Obsle, speaking to persuade others, had said, “Either Karhide will fear the strength this alliance will give us—and Karhide is always afraid of new ways and new ideas, remember—and so will hang back and be left behind. Or else the Erhenrang Government will get up their courage and come and ask to join, after us, in second place. In either case the shifgrethor of Karhide will be diminished; and in either case, we drive the sledge. If we have the wits to take this advantage now, it will be a permanent advantage and a certain one!” Then turning to me, “But the Ekumen must be willing to help us, Mr. Ai. We have got to have more to show our people than you alone, one man, already known in Erhenrang.”

Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

If you play against your own side you’ll lose the whole game. That’s what these fellows with no patriotism, only self-love, can’t see.

Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
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 14 Quotes

The luck that had turned in Ethwen now turned the world with it under my hand. I never had a gift but one, to know when the great wheel gives to a touch, to know and act. I had thought that foresight lost, last year in Erhenrang, and never to be regained. A great delight it was to feel that certainty again, to know that I could steer my fortune and the world’s chance like a bobsled down the steep, dangerous hour.

Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

“But for what purpose—all this intriguing, this hiding and power-seeking and plotting—what was it all for, Estraven? What were you after?”
“I was after what you’re after: the alliance of my world with your worlds. What did you think?”
We were staring at each other across the glowing stove like a pair of wooden dolls.
“You mean, even if it was Orgoreyn that made the alliance—?”
“Even if it was Orgoreyn. Karhide would soon have followed. Do you think I would play shifgrethor when so much is at stake for all of us, all my fellow men? What does it matter which country wakens first, so long as we waken?”

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

…Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and river and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.

Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”
“Harth.”
“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:
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:
Chapter 20 Quotes

“Why the devil did he cheat me?” he demanded in his high strident voice, and for the first time looked straight at me.
“Who?” I said, sending back his stare.
“Estraven.”
“He saw to it that you didn’t cheat yourself. He got me out of sight when you began to favor a faction unfriendly to me. He brought me back to you when my return would in itself persuade you to receive the Mission of the Ekumen, and the credit for it.”
“Why did he never say anything about this larger ship to me?”
“Because he didn’t know about it: I never spoke to anyone of it until I went to Orgoreyn.”
“And a fine lot you chose to blab to there, you tow. He tried to get the Orgota to receive your Mission. He was working with their Open Traders all along. You’ll tell me that was not betrayal?”
“It was not. He knew that, whichever nation first made alliance with the Ekumen, the other would follow soon: as it will: as Sith and Perunter and the Archipelago will also follow, until you find unity. He loved his country very dearly, sir, but he did not serve it, or you. He served the master I serve.”
“The Ekumen?” said Argaven, startled.
“No. Mankind.”
As I spoke I did not know if what I said was true. True in part; an aspect of the truth. It would be no less true to say that Estraven’s acts had risen out of pure personal loyalty, a sense of responsibility and friendship towards one single human being, myself. Nor would that be the whole truth.

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:
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Karhide Term Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the term Karhide appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
The action begins with Genly Ai walking in a parade in Erhenrang, the capital of Karhide. It is raining, although that has not stopped the celebration. Ai observes the various groups... (full context)
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Ai is bored watching the King work, but he notices the people of Karhide are patient. He is uncomfortable because the sun has come out and he is briefly... (full context)
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...Estraven explains it is his job to know the Domains. The Domains, he continues, are Karhide, and Karhide is “not a nation but a family quarrel.” (full context)
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...his boarding house, known as an island, and eats dinner, the third of four meals Karhidish people eat each day. Ai feels like he is constantly eating, but notes that he... (full context)
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...story about his origin and mission as Envoy, and helped get him recognized by the Karhidish government. Ai is confused as to why now, a day before he is to meet... (full context)
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...he is now out of favor because of his attempt to mitigate a conflict between Karhide and Orgoreyn in the Sinoth Valley. Ai thinks this information irrelevant, and is frustrated that... (full context)
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...threat to his power. Ai is irritated, as Ekumen, whose goal is co-ordination, just wants Karhide to join its alliance, not to absorb and rule it. (full context)
Chapter 2
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This chapter is introduced as a folk-tale recorded from an audio file recorded in Karhide during Argaven VIII’s reign. (full context)
Chapter 3
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...Ai is shocked to hear that Estraven has been exiled for treason, and must leave Karhide within three days. The radio continues, saying that Estraven has been conspiring against the King,... (full context)
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Argaven does not feel obligated to believe or even listen to Ai. He says Karhide is uninterested in worlds of “monsters.” Karhide is on the brink of its own “great... (full context)
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...Orgoreyn and try to work with the government there, but he has more business in Karhide, outside of Erhenrang, first. He will continue to gather information, specifically about the Foretellers. (full context)
Chapter 4
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This chapter is introduced as “The Nineteenth Day,” a Karhidish story recorded by Ai. It begins with Lord Berosty rem ir Ipe paying for a... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...the neighboring country, has become “increasingly mobilizable,” and war could be on the horizon if Karhide becomes more patriotic. (full context)
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Ai has decided not to announce himself as Envoy, and present himself as a native Karhider. Although he is taller and darker than most, with a strange accent, there is enough... (full context)
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Ai enjoys his time in Otherhord. The town and the Handdara help Ai understand Karhide better, especially the “silent…fecund darkness” in its politics and culture. His life is introverted, inactive,... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...ship captain will dare to help him. Instead, he will walk to the Gulf separating Karhide from Orgoreyn.   (full context)
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...rent out their boats to him. He sees that Tibe plans to keep him in Karhide for three days, after which his exile will truly begin, and he can be killed... (full context)
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After some time Estraven is pulled out of the water and onto a Karhidish patrol ship. Estraven is too weak to move or speak, but he can hear the... (full context)
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...that “behind every man in Orgoreyn comes the Inspector.” Estraven tells him he is from Karhide, but has lost his identification papers during his unconsciousness. He is briefly angry, and then... (full context)
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As an “indigent and unregistered alien” without papers, Estraven cannot return to Karhide, and the Inspector threatens to send him to a prison work camp. The physician recognizes... (full context)
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Obsle and Yegey wonder how Estraven, known for his shifgrethor, was evicted from Karhide. Estraven explains that his fear of conflict in the Sinoth Valley outweighed his caution. Obsle... (full context)
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Estraven confesses that he worries that if Karhide grows too powerful it will go to war with Orgoreyn. Obsle fears the same thing,... (full context)
Chapter 7
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During kemmer, Gethenians sometimes present as male, sometimes as female. In Karhide individuals seem to have no preference, but in Orgoreyn sometimes hormones are used to induce... (full context)
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...and ethical, but no legal meaning. Ong Tot Oppong hypothesizes the structure of society in Karhide—which consists of Clan-Hearths and Domains—is made possible through these monogamous family units.  (full context)
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...not see themselves that way. She also justifies her use of the male pronoun. In Karhide there is a “human pronoun,” but in English, Ong Tot Oppong feels that he, him,... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...to blend in more easily. The people he meets are generally warm and welcoming. In Karhide strangers are not your enemy—threats come instead from your neighbors. (full context)
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...pregnant. He finds it funny because he had seen Argaven as a man. People in Karhide also find it funny, but because they think Argaven too old to have a child.  (full context)
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Ai realizes, as he travels, that Karhide is a disjointed nation, made up of “pseudo-feudal tribal economic units,” or small aggressive towns,... (full context)
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...achieved material stability, which allowed it to centralize its government and build up its power. Karhide now has the opportunity to do the same thing, having “got a little ahead of... (full context)
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...has expedited the immigration process. Ai walks to the border, relying on the hospitality of Karhidish townsfolk, who by code must provide three days of lodging, but will often happily provide... (full context)
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At the border, the Karhidish bridge-keeper happily lets Ai cross, whereas the Orgota Inspector reviews his documents for hours. His... (full context)
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...and the economy, worlds away from Tibe’s ranting. He is happy to be out of Karhide, which he now considers “an incoherent” and irrational land. It takes Ai two days to... (full context)
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...also recognizes Ai as Envoy, the first in Orgota to acknowledge his origin. Ai suspects Karhide has kept his presence as a national secret. Shusgis reveals he expected Ai to look... (full context)
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As they talk and tour his home, Shusgis tells Ai that Karhide was afraid of him, and afraid that if they mishandled him there would be celestial... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...recorded by Genly Ai called “Estraven the Traitor.” It begins a long time ago, in Karhide before it was unified. The story concerns two Domains, Stok and Estre, which have been... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...cautions that the radio in Orgoreyn can lie, and offers Ai advice, switching from speaking Karhidish to Orgota, which he feels in its sweetness “suits a traitor better.” As compensation for... (full context)
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...himself, his mission, and the Ekumen. Ai remembers Faxe’s stance on questions and answers. In Karhide he was primarily questioned by experts asking questions limited to their areas of expertise. Only... (full context)
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...prove him to be a fraud. This is a new experience, as most people in Karhide believed him—even Tibe, who distrusted him. Ai’s spaceship is still in Karhide, so he has... (full context)
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Gaum, the Sarf, who Ai finds very attractive, wonders where Ai’s ship is. It’s in Karhide, but Ai could have a ship sent from the closest planet, 17 light-years away, or... (full context)
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...can be threatening, but he feels the Orgota are less ruled by fear than the Karhidish, and more ready to accept him. Slose promises he will be able to bring down... (full context)
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...and others think that by joining with the Ekumen they can demonstrate their superiority to Karhide, thus diminishing the other nation’s shifgrethor permanently. Additionally, they know this national political victory would... (full context)
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Ai feels that his mission is suddenly as complicated in Orgoreyn as it was in Karhide. He blames Estraven, and wonders what Estraven is doing in Mishnory. He also realizes Estraven... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...Ai’s mission seriously. One man, Commensal Ithepen of the Enyen District, wants to join with Karhide to invite Ai’s spaceship down, but Estraven knows Orgoreyn will not collaborate with Karhide. Estraven,... (full context)
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...to write in his diary. He thinks maybe it is just nice to write in Karhidish, his native language. (full context)
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...if Ai understands that the Orgoreyn government is full of secrets. Yesterday Orgoreyn attacked a Karhidish granary, and Estraven reflects this is what Tibe and the Sarf want. (full context)
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...awes” him. He sees that Ai has become a better speaker since his time in Karhide, and notes his task is profound and immense, difficult for a man to carry. Throughout... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...blackmails Shusgis into telling him what has happened to Ai. He then goes to the Karhidish Embassy and sends a message to Argaven informing him that Ai is imprisoned. Estraven’s visits... (full context)
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...wake up. He speaks in his native language, and also a mixture of Orgota and Karhidish. Estraven worries he has been permanently changed by the Farm, and regrets saving him. Luckily,... (full context)
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...derivative, or else trying to mindchange him. Ai wonders if there are secret Farms in Karhide, but Estraven asserts that Karhide is not sophisticated enough for this kind of prison system. (full context)
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...Estraven hoped the Thirty-Three would see the Envoy as a way to become superior to Karhide and break free from the Sarf’s control.  Instead, Estraven’s contacts were too timid, and his... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...He has stolen it, but is not proud, and will not discuss it further. In Karhide the stigma attached to stealing is second only to suicide. (full context)
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...the eight hundred miles across the arching glacier connecting the northernmost point of Orgoreyn to Karhide. They will first travel north onto the glacier, then east across the glacier for six... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...their journey, Estraven begins to feel more confident about their chances of making it to Karhide. Unfortunately, he is entering kemmer, and being close to Ai is difficult for him. He... (full context)
Chapter 18
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As they consider the future and their eventual arrival in Karhide, Estraven predicts what will happen to Ai. He suspects the Orgota will claim he has... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...across the sea ice of the Guthen Bay. Two days later they finally see the Karhidish coast. From here Ai’s recollection of the journey begins to fall apart. He and Estraven... (full context)
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...by Estraven’s impending departure, and so commits to asking Argaven to revoke Estraven’s banishment before Karhide is inducted into the Ekumen. Estraven appreciates the gesture, but says he has been exiled... (full context)
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...Instead of camping, as they did all winter, the pair relies upon the hospitality of Karhiders. Although the terrain is easy, Ai is joyless. He feels the true journey is over.... (full context)
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...in the College that houses the radio station. He feels secure and welcome, confident in Karhide’s kindness to strangers. In this moment he feels Karhide to be superior to Orgoreyn.  (full context)
Chapter 20
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News of Ai’s escape from Orgoreyn is broadcast, as is news of his arrival in Karhide. However, news of his spaceship, and Estraven’s role in his rescue, are omitted. Within ten... (full context)
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...Estraven’s attempt to get the Orgota government to join the Ekumen as an affront to Karhide and to himself, as its King. (full context)
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...the ship to ensure he will be able to fulfill his mission. Argaven is happy Karhide will be the first nation to greet the Ekumen. Argaven is also happy Ai has... (full context)