The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Group Members:
Emily S
Adrian C
Andy B
Steve S.*

Discussion Time:
Thursday January 7th 5W 12:55-2:25

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Perhaps we could all share a quote or passage that we found interesting? Or make a comment about one of the characters? OR we could ask: "Would you, if given the option, become a First Envoy? Why or why not?"

Talking points:

Clarifying Questions:
What is shifgrethor?
What is/are the Yomeshta?
What are the significance of "shadows"? IS there a significance?
Do any of the governments in the book--Orgoreyn, Ekumen, Handaratas, and Karhide--represent a Utopian or Dystopian society?

Was it necessary for Le Guin to spend a large amount of time describing the interaction and resulting relationship between Genly and Estraven on the Ice, or could she have made it a quick summary and brought them straight to Karhide?
Did Estraven have to become a "traitor" to Karhide and loose his position, power, money, and home so that Genly's message would be accepted?

How does the differing point of view between Genly and Estraven effect one’s understanding of the plot?
What purpose do the Gethenian myths and notes from Investigators that are inserted between chapters serve?

Were Estraven and his brother romantically involved/kemmer partners? If so, how do you think this relationship warped Estraven’s views on new relationships or the world in general?
Would Genly Ai have succeed in his task as the First Envoy in bringing Gethen into the Ekumen if Estraven hadn’t been there to assist him?
Is King Agraven truly as mad as everyone says? Does he have a reason to be?
In what ways did Genly's more passionate and blunt nature put him at odds with the Gethenians?
In what ways does Genly change and mature while living on Gethen? What might have caused him to change, and where can you see these changes?

In what ways did the climate and the land of Gethen affect the civilizations that were formed?
How has Gethen similar to Earth, and how is it different? Is Gethen more comparable to modern day Earth or some time period in the past?

Is the Handdara a religion, a way of life, or a just a group of people like a tribe?
How do the Foretellers tell the future, and how accurate can they be? Why is their group comprised of Zanies, a kemmerer, and a Pervert?
How might the Haddara idea of "the only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next" relate to other philosophies or religions on Earth?

Style of Writing:
Does the lack of explanation of several terms or customs of the Gethens by the author limit one from fully comprehending the text?

Male vs Female (vs Hermaphrodite)
Wholeness vs Duality
Yin and Yang
Influences of gender/sex on society
"Ignorance" vs "Enlightment"
Government/ Politics
Development and Growth
Survival in Nature

Significant Passages/Quotes:
- "You don't see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?"
"To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question" (70).
- "A man who doesn't detest a bad government is a fool. And if there were such a thing as a good government on earth, it would be a great joy to serve it" (212).
- " is not human to be without shame and without desire...This was the first case I had seen of the social purpose running counter to the sexual drive. Being a suppression, not merely a repression, it produced not frustration, but something more ominous, perhaps, in the long run: passivity" (177-178). (Concerning the drugs given to prisoners are sent to farms in Northern Orgoreyn)
-"Light is the left hand of darkness
and the darkness the right hand of the light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way." (233/234)
-"The First Envoy to a world always comes alone. One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion" (209).

Other Resources:
An in depth analysis of The Left Hand of Darkness as well as an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin can be found here This site also includes more ideas for discussion.
This site compares the role gender plays in the Gethenian and our society.