The Left Hand of Darkness Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How do gender stereotypes influence Genly Ai's interpretation of Gethenians?

    Since Genly Ai interacts chiefly with powerful and influential Gethenians, and he associates masculinity with power and influence, he instinctively uses male pronouns when speaking about Gethenians. The ruler of Karhide, Argaven, is therefore a "king" as opposed to a "queen".

    When Gethenians deviate from expected male behavior or traits, Genly feels a subtle loss of respect for them since they violate his expectations. Examples of this deviation include Argaven's pregnancy and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven's unwillingness to give direct advice, attempting to rely instead on nonverbal communication based on shared understanding. Genly Ai also associates Gethenians' negative traits with femininity. Whenever a Examples of this include Agraven's sarcastic, insincere behavior and fake laughter.

  2. 2

    What is the significance of kemmer in Gethenian society?

    Kemmer is a reproductive cycle wherein Gethenians take on either male or female sexual characteristics, and mate with others who are in their kemmer cycle. Many Gethenians have permanent or semi-permanent partners who are the fathers of their children (and with whom they father children). Those who do not generally go to public kemmer-houses where they can seek a partner. While a Gethenian is in kemmer, that individual is not expected to work or to participate in public society, and is expected and permitted to withdraw and return to duty later. In the meantime, other responsibilities must wait.

    A Gethenian does not get to choose whether to become male or female during kemmer, and being in the company of a Gethenian of one gender who is farther along in the kemmer cycle can stimulate the Gethenian's progress toward the other gender. Being around Genly Ai, a Terran male, causes Estraven to assume female characteristics during kemmer.

  3. 3

    Why does Genly Ai initially feel superior to the Gethenians? What changes his perspective?

    As a diplomat representing the Ekumen, Ai represents a confederation of planets comprising many cultures and races, and has knowledge of many different kinds of worlds and societies. He is cultured and sophisticated, in contrast to the Gethenians who have little to no knowledge of their own world.

    The Gethenian emphasis on religion, particularly the Yomesh cult, and the religious and political conflicts between Gethenian principalities and rulers, strike Ai as childish and primitive. They lack knowledge of mindspeech techniques, which Ai at first believes means that they must rely solely on words and explicit gestures to communicate. As Ai gets to know one Gethenian, specifically Estraven, he eventually develops enough of a shared understanding to appreciate the nonverbal aspects of Gethenian communication.

  4. 4

    How does the climate on Gethen influence the story?

    Gethen, or Winter as it is sometimes called, is exceptionally cold. The Gethenian humanoids who live there tend to congregate in cities and wear thick, well insulated clothing that incidentally makes it difficult to distinguish the physical characteristics or features of the wearer from a distance.

    The physical cold is also a metaphor for social intolerance and rigidity: Gethenian cultures are conservative and hidebound in many ways, and this is one reason Argaven is disinclined to join the Ekumen: many Gethenians believe they will lose their cultural distinction and uniqueness as a result of intermingling socially with people from other planets. The cold becomes immediately relevant to the plot when it creates a physical challenge and threat for Genly Ai and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, who are escaping from a prison camp and who must physically cross a glacier. This is a task requiring strength, endurance, and dexterity and during the trek Ai and Estraven have no choice but to be in close physical proximity to one another.

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