The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

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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 they interact with. Shifgrethor comes from the Karhidish word for shadow.

Shifgrethor Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

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

“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

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:
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Shifgrethor Term Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the term Shifgrethor appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai wonders if Estraven’s behavior is related to shifgrethor, in which case he doesn’t hope to understand it. Estraven points out that the King... (full context)
Chapter 5
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
...his landlady on how to leave and where to go. Understanding that Ai has no shifgrethor, his landlady can give him advice without worrying about offending him. Ai thinks of his... (full context)
Chapter 6
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...Envoy (through this Estraven infers Genly Ai has requested permission to enter Orgoreyn). Obsle waives shifgrethor and asks Estraven for the truth. Estraven confirms Ai is an alien being, not a... (full context)
Chapter 8
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...radio much more than Estraven ever did. He talks about pride of country, but not shifgrethor, or personal pride and honor. This seems to be intentional, forcing listeners to become fearful... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...see Ai has no feelings of friendship towards Estraven, and becomes angry. He is playing shifgrethor but Ai is not, which offends him. Ashe feels he has made a mistake in... (full context)
Chapter 10
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...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 boost their personal political status as... (full context)
Chapter 11
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...for months, and had misinterpreted much of what Estraven had told him. Estraven realizes Ai’s shifgrethor is totally different than most Gethenians, a trait that has kept him ignorant. (full context)
Chapter 15
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...didn’t understand how he was offending Ai’s. Ai decides that if Estraven can lower his shifgrethor and personal pride to better get along with Ai, he can work on being less... (full context)