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578 Ursula K. Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness

“The Left Hand of Darkness” explores the journey of a diplomat to a genderless world, challenging notions of identity and society.



"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a groundbreaking science fiction novel set on the distant planet of Gethen, also known as Winter. The story follows Genly Ai, an envoy from the Ekumen, a coalition of planets, who is sent to Gethen to convince its people to join the interstellar community. What makes Gethen unique is that its inhabitants are ambisexual, possessing both male and female sexual characteristics and spending most of their lives in a state of sexual neutrality. Genly's mission becomes a fascinating exploration of cultural differences, gender identity, and the complexities of human (and non-human) relationships. As he navigates the intricacies of Gethenian society, he must come to terms with his own preconceptions and biases, leading to a profound understanding of humanity's shared struggles.


  1. Title: The Left Hand of Darkness 
  2. Author: Ursula K. Le Guin 
  3. Publishing Year: 1969 
  4. Publisher: Ace Books 
  5. Length in Hours: 10 hours and 39 minutes 

5 main ideas

  1. Ambisexuality and Gender Identity: The novel explores the implications of a society without fixed gender identities and how it shapes the culture and interactions of Gethenians.
  2. Cultural Diplomacy: Genly Ai's diplomatic mission becomes an exercise in understanding and adapting to the unique customs and beliefs of Gethenians.
  3. Themes of Isolation and Unity: The narrative delves into the struggle to bridge the gap between isolated worlds and foster cooperation within a diverse interstellar community.
  4. Alien-Human Relations: The encounter between Genly Ai and the Gethenians highlights the complexities of communication and the challenges of comprehending fundamentally different cultures.
  5. Self-Discovery and Empathy: Genly's journey on Gethen leads to personal growth, as he learns to empathize with the Gethenians and question his own cultural assumptions.

5 funny quotes

  1. "Do you know that I am very glad to see you?" "Thank you, Estraven. I'm glad to see you too, you old goat."
  2. "When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep."
  3. "We will call you what you wish to be called." "Are you sure you'll pronounce it right?" "As sure as I am that I'll pronounce anything right, which is to say, not sure at all."
  4. "What you most need to learn about me is this: no more lies. Trust is the only thing without which you can't make a human society."
  5. "What he saw in his dream was being, not doing."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next."
  2. "Light is the left hand of darkness, and darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way."
  3. "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end."
  4. "No single hurt nor any solitary pain suffered in our lives is ever sterile; it always grows, bears offspring."
  5. "The unknown, the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on."

5 dilemmas

  1. The challenge of cultural understanding and acceptance, as Genly Ai grapples with the complexities of Gethenian society and customs.
  2. The impact of gender neutrality on interpersonal relationships and the formation of emotional bonds.
  3. The struggle to bridge the gap between different worlds and societies, fostering cooperation amid deep-rooted cultural differences.
  4. The moral dilemma of loyalty and betrayal, as Estraven takes risks to support Genly Ai's mission while dealing with personal sacrifices.
  5. The philosophical exploration of identity and the concept of self, considering how individual and collective identities shape human experience.

5 examples

  1. Genly Ai, the envoy from the Ekumen, tasked with persuading the Gethenians to join the interstellar community.
  2. Estraven, a Gethenian politician and diplomat who becomes Genly Ai's close ally and confidant.
  3. Karhide and Orgoreyn, the two major nations on the planet Gethen, with contrasting political systems and cultures.
  4. The Fastness of Ariskostor, a remote location where Estraven is exiled, and where he faces challenges and undergoes personal transformation.
  5. Tibe, the Prime Minister of Karhide, who opposes Genly Ai's mission and plays a significant role in the political tensions on Gethen.

Referenced books

  1. "King Argaven's Laws" - The legal code governing the kingdom of Karhide, referenced in the novel.
  2. "The Karhider: Their Truth and Their Tales" - A book mentioned in the novel that provides insight into the culture and history of Karhide.
  3. "Handdara" - The philosophical and religious system of the Handdara sect, influential on Gethenian society.
  4. "The Book of the Orgota" - A historical work mentioned in the novel that is highly regarded in Gethenian culture.
  5. "The Copperhead" - A fictitious literary work in Gethenian culture, used metaphorically in the narrative.

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"When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep."

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