The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


Ursula K. Le Guin

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Themes and Colors
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Left Hand of Darkness, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Truth and Storytelling

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is written using many different voices and styles. Ai Genly, an alien envoy sent to Gethen, and Estraven, a native of Gethen, are the primary narrators, and together the two of them present a fairly conventional, chronological story. Other chapters, however, make use of documents such as field reports, religious texts, and folktales to help tell the story. Individually, each of these texts…

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Sex, Gender, and Behavior

In the 1976 introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin describes her story as a “thought-experiment,” intended not as “predictive,” but rather as “descriptive” of gender roles on earth at the time of writing. Le Guin wrote her novel in the midst of the Second Wave of feminism, a time when American women were fighting for legal protection for equal rights and equal pay. She saw the ways in which women were…

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Duty and Loyalty

Loyalty and duty are the glue that holds Gethenian society together. In a world that is hostile to human life, the bonds of lovers, families, and nations help everyone survive. However, some bonds of loyalty are seen as more honorable than others. Generally, selfless obligations are regarded as admirable and worthy of aspiring to, whereas loyalty to oneself, or loyalty to one group of people at the expense of another group, is reproachable. Estraven and…

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Otherness and Connectedness

A central conflict in The Left Hand of Darkness is the enormous divide between Ai and the people of Gethen. Each is alien to the other, and must learn to practice empathy in order to fully collaborate and communicate. Ai’s mission is one of connectedness, but it first requires convincing the people of Gethen to join an interplanetary organization they’ve just heard of and do not understand. This requires Ai to understand the…

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Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality

On Gethen, there are two dominant religions. The first is Yomeshta, which follows the teaching of Meshe and resembles a Judeo-Christian religion. The second is Handdara, a spiritual practice closer to Taoism. Yomeshta is centered around the idea of light, and unity. In contrast, Handdara is interested in the interaction of light and dark, and in the way opposites can come together and complement each other.  Although both religions are described in…

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