The reader experiences Ai's time on Gethen through a series of transcribed communications sent to the Ekumen– including his first-person narrative observations, ethnological reports, myths of the native cultures, and Estraven's personal journal. This form is known as an epistolary narrative mode, and is clear evidence that Le Guin's anthropological background informs her writing. The interpolation of cultural myths and practices with traditional narrative creates a more fragmented and complex reading experience. For a 21st-century reader, this innovation may be hard to appreciate, but the style markedly contrasted the (primarily male-authored) science fiction of the time, which was straightforward and linear.
Ai's first-person narration reflects his slowly developing view, and the reader's knowledge and understanding of the Gethens evolves with Ai's awareness. He begins in naivety, gradually discovering his profound errors in judgement. In this sense, the novel can be thought of as a Bildungsroman, or coming of age story, as the reader experiences the central character's growth.