LeGuin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness
Review Instructional Materials
Perform ONE of the following activities upon the novel:
- Outline the central conflicts of the two primary plot threads—Genly’s and Estraven’s. Identify the climaxes and identify who wins and who loses OR
- Describe and identify the primary settings (setting includes period), and identify the effect the settings have on the outcome of the story OR
- List the significant characters, categorize them as flat or round, identify the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s), and show why they are necessary for this story OR
- Classify the tones and styles employed in the novel and identify their effects upon the reader OR
- Identify any 1st person narrators, classify the points of view, and demonstrate why they are necessary in the places they are used
In addition to the two primary plot threads following Genly Ai and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, Le Guin includes five Gethenian tales, short stories within the novel (Chapters 2, 4, 9, 12, and 17). Yet, in the second paragraph of Chapter 1, Genly Ai tells us that “it is all one story.” Evaluate his assertion and support or reject it. Provide details showing how each one connects to the main threads or provide support of the counterclaim that they are not all part of a single story.
Critical Essay 5
In her Introduction, Le Guin tells us that, in her novel, she is describing US:
Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think that we damned well ought to be androgynous. I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are…I am describing certain aspects of psychological reality in the novelist’s way, which is by inventing elaborately circumstantial lies.
Le Guin, U. (1967). Left hand of darkness. New York, NY: Penguin, p. xvii.
Examine the circumstantial lies she tells to determine what metaphorical times of days and which metaphorical weathers she is talking about. In what ways and in what situations is she claiming humans are androgynous?
Understand that metaphorical means NON-literal, so she is not talking about time by the clock or weather in the sky. Weather, in this comparison (metaphor) is circumstances we find ourselves in, such as work/careers, parenthood, interpersonal relationships, and so forth. Times would be specific situations in those contexts. She is saying that, in certain situations and circumstances, our genders do not matter: we (re)act as humans, not as men or women.
Your job is to identify what those situations and circumstances might be by identifying parallels in the lives of the people of Gethen. Name them and show the parallels. Note carefully that she is NOT talking about attire or medical gender manipulation but rather psychological phenomena.
You ARE free to argue that no such times exist, but you’ll have to still use the lives of the people of Gethen and show that no parallels actually exist.
The essay asks you to do one of two things:
- Look for examples of things the Gethenians do that are like the parenthood illustration I used above to prove that she is correct, that there are times when OUR genders don’t matter. She puts these (re)actions into the form of the androgynous Gethenians to tell a good story, but she is really talking about us.
- Show that she is wrong by explaining why there are not any times when our genders are irrelevant by demonstrating that the Gethenians are really just male or female despite her claims OR that such a (re)action cannot exist.
Either way, the issue is whether or not we, today, here on Terra, sometimes find ourselves (re)acting as if our genders do not matter.
This essay will require analysis. Don’t bother retelling the novel: your readers have read it. Instead, take the novel apart to see how the pieces interact. Show us cause-and-effect relationships. The causes are the elements, the effects are the readers’ reactions, and the relationships are the means by which the reactions were evoked. Identify the general effect in a thesis statement.
You will need to make use of frequent references to the story (and perhaps information in the readings) in order to support your thesis. These references will need to be cited and documented. (See the Lecture “On the Citation of Sources” in the Content Area of the class). The references themselves will not be sufficient; you have to draw the connections for us.