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The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness


by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness Theme of Language and Communication

Can't we all just get along? Maybe if we could actually talk to each other, we could. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ai's task is communication. He needs to open communications with the Gethenians to get them to join the Ekumen. Thing is, he doesn't have the language skills to communicate his goal. He knows the language, he understands the words, but the meaning of the words in relation to the culture is lost on him. Like he's using a Hungarian dictionary or something. Ai's quest becomes one of discovering the relationship between language and culture. Only then can he complete his mission and get paid. He does get paid for all this, right?

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What character do you feel has the most difficultly communicating with others? What character has it the easiest? What does a comparison between the two suggest?
  2. Where do you see language failing Ai in the novel? How does language fail him, and do you see this change at any point in the novel?
  3. Ai ultimately loses the ansible but is still able to complete his mission. How does he accomplish this and what does this tell us about communication regarding the ansible as a symbol?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although Gethenian androgyny has drawn critics' attention, Le Guin was most interested in considering the use of language in society.

Faxe is The Left Hand of Darkness's language expert. His use of language surpasses cultural boundaries.