Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Quotes

  • Language and Communication

    The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. (1.1)

    You know it's an important theme when it pops up in the first paragraph. Also, would it have killed her to just write pearl?

    [I]f at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them is false, and it is all one story. (1.2)

    Best thing about communication: it's a two-way street that makes for one journey. Just don't try telling that "choose your own fact" thing to your math teacher.

    "Is there any communication you'd care to make with the Stabiles on Hain, sir?" (3.52)

    Ai's mission is one of diplomacy and communication. Too bad for Ai that kings aren't the best when it comes to communicating fairly. Oh, and don't forget to check out the ansible as a symbol in our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section.

    But had Estraven, in fact, ever lied to me? (3.72)

    Funny how slippery a thing language can be, isn't it? You'd think it would be easy to tell a false statement from a true one, but then again, that might take all the fun out of language.

    "What good would that be? If the asker knew the answer he wouldn't pay our price for it." (5.51)

    But, Faxe, buddy, what if the asker didn't know he knew the answer he already knows. Right? Sometimes we need people to tell us things, so we can realize how much we already know. (Better than realizing how much we don't know, anyway.)

    Goss used the pronoun that designates a male animal, not the pronoun for a human being in the masculine role of kemmer. (5.63)

    Just imagine if someone referred to you as "it," because that's what's going on here. Language can be used to hurt others or place one's self above others. And it can be done with something as seemingly simple as a pronoun. Crazy but true.

    Lacking the Karhidish "human pronoun" used for person in somer, I must say "he," for the same reasons as we used the masculine pronoun in referring to a transcendent god." (7.17)

    Again with the pronouns? But the masculine pronoun really hides the truth of the Gethenians—that they are neither a he nor a she. Here, language just isn't up to the task of representing reality.

    I write to be writing in my own language, perhaps. (11.11)

    We all have our own language, we all use language like no one else. Think of it as a verbal fingerprint. While we're on the subject, try not to leave any verbal fingerprints at any verbal crime scenes, unless you can verbally lawyer up.

    "Teach me your mindspeech," [Estraven] said, trying to speak easily and with no rancor, "your language that has no lies in it." (14.60)

    Whatever. Give us a language, and we can find a way to lie in it. Still, we should point out that the act is more symbolic than anything. The two are learning to communicate on a level beyond the surface and so wouldn't want to lie to each other.

    It's extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones. (16.52)

    Here, Ai is talking about gender, showing how language and gender are connected. It's really hard to separate the innate differences and the learned ones when speaking about men/women. Believe us; we've tried.

  • Gender

    Wiping sweat from his dark forehead the man—man I must say, having said he and his—the man answers. (1.14)

    Gender and language are tightly connected in the novel. Both Ai's language and his views on gender force him to see the Gethenians through a human perspective, which they are not. If this were a sitcom, it'd lead to shenanigans. Since this is a very serious novel, the jokes are notably absent.

    Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. (1.38)

    But will he ever be able to see Gethenians as they see themselves? These are people who change gender more frequently than our college roommates changed clothes. Can Ai ever reach such a goal?

    My landlady, a voluble man, arranged my journey to the East. (5.1)

    Ha. Okay, so there are still some jokes to be had. Notice how Ai calls the man a landlady, suggesting that he even sees people's professions in terms of man's job vs. woman's job.

    No physiological habit is established, and the mother of several children may be the father of several more. (7.4)

    Wow, just wow. Can you even imagine how different this type of society must be? Of course, it might be interesting: women finally making good on their "if you only knew the pain of childbirth" threats. (On the other hand, no more leveraging that particular threat.)

    Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk to run or choice to make. Therefore nobody here is quite so free as a free male anywhere else. (7.12)

    Kemmer is a crapshoot. You may end up a man or woman, and there's no way to know until it happens. The upside? It's taken for granted on Gethen that anyone can do any job and be a mother at the same time.

    I suspect that the distinction between a maternal and a paternal instinct is scarcely worth making; the paternal instinct, the wish to protect, to further, is not a sex-linked characteristic. (8.5)

    Sure, you could argue with this—but it is kind of nice to think that parenting is something everyone can do. And, while we're on the subject, where are all the children in this novel? Nowhere, that's where. Odd, isn't it?

    Among my fellow-prisoners I had also for the first time on Winter a certain feeling of being a man among women, or among eunuchs. (13.32)

    Gender can be a separating factor same as nationality or skin color. Although the prisoners don't mean it, Ai still feels distinctly separated. Extra irony being he sees them as all women (the traditional macho-man's dream).

    "In kemmer all the time…. Is it a place of reward, then? Or a place of punishment?" (13.60)

    Good question, Asra. Are we better off being ready to go all the time—or worse? Wise men will ponder this one for ages to come, especially since it has no answer. Tricky.

    He, after all, had no standards of manliness, of virility, to complicate his pride. (16.137)

    Sometimes we act the way we do because society says men/women should act this way. Naturally, different societies will have different answers to this rule. Save for the Gethenians, obviously, who have shifgrethor (although that's a whole other can-o-problems).

    Estraven had figured these differences into the food-ration calculations, in his scrupulous way, which one could see as either house-wifey or scientific […]. (18.9)

    Ai begins to see traits beyond their gender specific roles. Sort of. We're kind of wondering why a housewife can't also be scientific, but whatevs. The point is, the trait can serve for either job, so it is not a gender matter but a matter of personality.

  • Politics

    "To govern this land is to govern its lords. Not that it's ever done. Do you know the saying, Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel?" (1.17)

    We've never heard that saying, but it seems apt for any political situation. Seriously, have you ever watched C-SPAN? Bickering, bickering, lunch break, and then bickering. (Unless you're a dictatorship, then it's do as daddy says.)

    During the pause I began to think that an inept and undefended alien should not demand reasons from the prime minister of a kingdom, above all when he does not and perhaps never will understand the foundations of power and the workings of government in that kingdom. No doubt this was all a matter of shifgrethor. (1.49)

    A word to the wise: when dealing with someone else's politics, it's best to actually understand their politics as well as their culture and point of view (in this case, shifgrethor). That goes double for people whose country you're in.

    "No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism." (1.77)

    According to Estraven, love and patriotism are not the same thing. Where do you suppose the split comes, and what are the possible dangers of confusing the two? We're leaving this one open for debate.

    "I thought of you as one above politics, free to come and go. I did not stop to think that you have, of course, your own politics." (8.31)

    Well, duh. Everyone has his own politics. And when you don't stop to consider the fact, arguments and miscommunication are in-bound big time.

    In this curious lack of distinction between the general and specific applications of the word [commensals], in the use of it for both the whole and the part, the state and the individual, in this imprecision is its precisest meaning. (8.48)

    The state and the individual do share a common ground, but when the two are confused as one, bad things are going to happen. Just look at Orgoreyn. Yeah, no thank you to that place.

    Therefore those that call upon the darkness are made fools of and spat out from the mouth of Meshe, for they name what is not, calling it Source and End. (12.12)

    Here, religion and politics intertwine, and not in a good way. The Orgoreyn use their religion as a means to drive a wedge between themselves and the people who practice Handdara, namely Karhide.

    "But they are overcautious men, afraid to act. Instead of proclaiming you, they hid you, and so lost their chance, and sold you to the Sarf to save their own pelts." (14.53)

    The problem with politics is that it needs people to run it. And sometimes, those people only have their own interest in mind. And by sometimes, we mean way, way more often than it should happen.

    "What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession…." (15.87)

    The idea here is called globalism or maybe internationalism. It's the view that one should put the interests of all nations above the interest of their own. (And it's the opposite of nationalism.) We'll get into this more in the Duty theme, so keep an eye out for it.

    And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend's voice arises, and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. (19.87)

    Wait, it's not all flag pins and bumper stickers? You sure? As we've seen through history time again, love of one's country and bigotry can sometimes shack up together. And the results are never pleasant.

    "He knew that, whichever nation first made alliance with the Ekumen, the other would follow soon: as it will: as Sith and Perunter and the Archipelago will also follow, until you find unity." (20.52)

    Monkey see, monkey do. In this case, conformity will be a good thing since they are conforming toward an ideal of peace and open communication. Sometimes, it can actually be good to go with the crowd.

  • Religion

    Though the technique is the exact opposite of most discipline, tending toward the experience of Immanence; but I can't categorize any practice of the Handdarata with certainty. (5.28)

    It is almost impossible to judge a religion from the outside looking in—especially when you're bringing in a bunch of preconceived notions about what religion is supposed to look like.

    "Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion…." (5.113)

    Wow, deep stuff here. The basic idea is that religion can't have proof. If you've proved something, there's no room for faith. So, you have to stay in a state of "unproof."

    [God's] existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: […]. (11.21)

    We're not touching this one with a 43 and ¾ foot pole. Feel free to draw your own conclusions here. (Hint: it probably has something to do with the Handdara's ideas about light and dark.)

    And in the Center there is no time past and no time to come. In all time past it is. In all time to come it is. It has not been nor yet will it be. It is. It is all. (12.1)

    Sneaky, Le Guin, very sneaky. Remember at the beginning of the novel how Ai mentions that the Gethenian calendar is always at Year One, counting forward and backward accordingly (1.3)? Well, this quote slyly points out just how much religion paints the way we view the world. Sometimes the smallest details have vast religious histories (see our own A.D. and B.C. timeline).

    The life of every man is in the Center of Time, for all were seen in the Seeing of Meshe, and are in his Eye. We are the pupils of his Eye. Our doing is his Seeing: our being his Knowing. (12.5)

    Hmm, there seems to be a lot of stress on the word "eye" when read aloud. Could there be a possible connection between the "Eye" here and the pronunciation of Ai's name? Is there any way that Ai can be seen as a type of Messiah-figure?

    "There used to be an old Sanovy crazy-priest would come by my Hearth when I was little and tell us children all about that, where the liars go when they die, and where the suicides go, and where the thieves go—that's where we're going, me and you, eh, one of those places?" (13.51)

    Here, Asra notes how religion is sometimes used to explain the unexplainable. In this case, the use of all those planets seen in the night sky.

    "No, this I'm telling of isn't a spirit-world. A real one. The people that live on it are real people, alive, just like here." (13.52)

    Of course, religion will have to make way for new evidence and insights, as Ai's follow-up comment suggest. Wonder what else will change for the Gethenian religions with the Ekumen's arrival?

    "The Yomeshta would say that man's singularity is his divinity."

    "Lords of the Earth, yes. Other cults on other worlds have come to the same conclusion. They tend to be the cults of dynamic, aggressive, ecology-breaking cultures." (16.42-34)

    The novel suggests the religious view of man's singularity might not be such a great thing. If we view ourselves as separate, distinct from nature, then we might fall in line with Ai's cults and become ecology-breaking ourselves. Yeah…might. (You get the sense that Le Guin isn't a huge fan of religion.)

    "Well, in the Handdara…you know, there's no theory, no dogma…. Maybe they are less aware of the gap between men and beasts, being more occupied with the likenesses, the links, the whole of which living things are a part." (16.44)

    Okay, so here's the novel's alterative to singularity: if we realize how much we're like everything else in the world, we'll consider ourselves a part of the whole ecology of the world.

    "It's found on Earth, and on Hain-Davenant, and on Chiffewar. It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness…how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male." (19.28)

    The yin yang represents the idea of unity: not just of black and white but of religions as well. Although separated by the vast emptiness of space, both the Handdara and the Tao have reach the same conclusion, suggesting a possible link to all religions. (We're thinking maybe because the Hain seeded all these planets.)

  • Duty

    "Yes indeed, yes indeed! And gratitude's a noble, rare emotion, much praised by the poets. Rare above all here in Erhenrang, no doubt because it's impracticable." (1.31)

    One would think gratitude would almost be a duty. Someone does you a favor, hey, be a little grateful. But Tibe finds the practice impractical. What can you say; he's a politician through and through.

    There is only one First Mobile. The first news from the Ekumen on any world is spoken by one voice, one man present in the flesh, present and alone. […] One voice speaking truth is a greater force than fleets and armies, given time; plenty of time […]. (3.1)

    Here, we get a nice little glimpse at Ai's duty and just how much responsibility is on his shoulders. Also, can you imagine how lonely he is?

    It is hard, I found, to be called traitor. Strange how hard it is, for it's an easy name to call another man; a name that sticks, that fits, that convinces. I was half convinced myself. (6.7)

    Estraven was only doing what he felt his duty was, but he was dubbed a traitor. We also find it interesting at how one man's traitor is another's dutiful hero. It's weird how the two mix. How do you know who's right?

    "What the devil, I know what you were exiled for my dear: for liking Karhide better than its king."

    "Rather for liking the king better than his cousin, perhaps."

    "Or for liking Karhide better than Orgoreyn," said Yegey. "Am I wrong, Lord Estraven?" (6.58-60)

    The idea that duty is perhaps multilayered. After all, Estraven must be dutiful to Karhide, the King, himself, and mankind in general. All those duties have to conflict at some point, right?

    [Tibe] talked much about pride of country and love of the parentland, but little about shifgrethor, personal pride or prestige. […] I decided that he was deliberately avoiding talk of shifgrethor because he wished to rouse emotions of a more elemental, uncontrollable kind. (8.10)

    "Duty" is sometimes a hot topic word. Tell people it's their duty to love their country while hating another, and they'll do so because they don't want to be seen as lacking in duty/patriotism. And is it just us, or does that quote above basically describe every election year ever?

    "Well, in a sense. However, the mission I am on overrides all personal debts and loyalties."

    "If so," said [Ashe], "it is an immoral mission." (8.28-29)

    Sometimes we can take duty too far. Ai initially sees his duty as beyond personal loyalty, but it's only when he rediscovers loyalty with Estraven that his mission ultimately succeeds.

    "If you play against your own side you'll lose the whole game. That's what these fellows with no patriotism, only self-love, can't see." (10.86)

    Shugis mistakes duty with playing a sport, as if one side's got to lose for the other to win. Has this guy been watching our political channels in his spare time? Cause that sounds familiar.

    We did not struggle for the warm place, we simply were in it each night. It is a terrible thing, this kindness that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. (13.18)

    With nothing to lose, the Gethenians put away duty to country and focus on their duty for the benefit of mankind. Funny how the worst situation brings out the best in people.

    [Estraven] was not proud of his exploit, and not able to laugh at it. Stealing is a vile crime on Winter; indeed the only man more despised than the thief is the suicide. (15.44)

    Poor Estraven. One duty forcing him to turn away from another. On the one hand, the people he stole those goods from will not be happy. On the other hand, he could prevent a war that would take much more from those people. All we can say is glad we aren't in his shoes.

    "[…] [Estraven] served the master I serve."

    "The Ekumen?" said Argaven, startled.

    "No. Mankind." (20.52-54)

    The ultimate duty quote in the novel. Seriously, just let that one sink in and then give yourself a few minutes to contemplate it. It's a great scene. It totally blows Argaven's mind that anyone could see himself as having a duty to something beyond a partisan group—like the good of mankind.

  • The Other

    I'm not much taller than the Gethenian norm, but the difference is most noticeable in a crowd. That's him, look, there's the Envoy. Of course that was part of my job, but it was the part that got harder not easier as time went on; more and more often I longed for anonymity, for sameness. (1.20)

    We all play the Other at some point in our life: that moment when we represent the opposite of everyone around us. Most of us don't stay in those situations for too long, but poor Ai must live continuously as the Other thanks to his job as the Envoy.

    Brought up in the wide-open, free-wheeling society of Earth, I would never master the protocol, or the impassivity, so valued by Karhiders. (1.67)

    Things only get worse. Not only does Ai's otherness separate him from everyone around him, but it's also getting in the way of his mission. Guy just can't win.

    "The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression." (1.77)

    Here, war and politics both seem to be based around fear of the Other. The book seems written for its time, since the Vietnam War was going in full force then. Or maybe our time? Huh, is that funny or sad?

    I was born to live in exile, it appeared, and my one way home was by way of dying. So I went on westward and turned back no more. (6.4)

    Estraven shares a sense of the Other with Ai. Like the Envoy, Estraven's otherness comes from his worldview and his desire to perform his duty. They're a match made in outcast heaven.

    I did not ask him his [name]. I must learn to live without shadows as they do in Orgoreyn; not to take offense; not to offend uselessly. (6.30)

    In Orgoreyn, Estraven must change his shifgrethor or else he'll be labeled an Other (or at least more of an Other than he already is). And that won't help Ai any.

    A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience. (7.18)

    Okay, setting aside the maybe outdated ideas about what men and women want, the Investigator points out the problem with being an Other in Gethen society. No one treats you as you would expect to be treated. This can be especially frustrating when you're at the bar looking for a date.

    […] so I had nothing with me except the ship and ansible, my box of pictures, the indubitable peculiarity of my body, and the unprovable singularity of my mind. The pictures passed around the table, and were examined with the noncommittal expression you see on the faces of people looking at pictures of somebody else's family. (10.29)

    As if to prove the above quote, Orgoreyn Commensals seems to look at Ai as if he's a specimen in a jar. You even get the sense they wouldn't mind sticking him in a cage and charging admission fees.

    He gave me Ashe's money as one would give a hired assassin his fee. I have not often been so angry, and I insulted him deliberately. (11.8)

    Not only are Ai and Estraven Others in Gethen society, but they're Others to each other…yeah that made sense. Anyway, if they're going to accomplish their mission, that's going to have to change.

    But where there is no desire and no shame no one, however anomalous, is singled out; and I think Asra made no connection of this notion with myself and my peculiarities. (13.60)

    Although Ai is different from everybody, the prison is a place of a hard and painful life. This trumps any differences as the prisoners must work together to survive.

    But they all looked strange to me, men and women, well as I knew them. Their voices sounded strange: too deep, too shrill. They were like a troupe of great, strange animals, of two different species […]. (20.79)

    Ai changes so much by his experience on Gethen that his fellow humans look like Others to him. This has to stink for him: he's an Other with the Gethenians, and now he's an Other with his own kind.

  • Man and the Natural World

    The driver named the thirteen for me, and told me stories of avalanches, and landboats blown off the road by mountain winds, and snowplow crews marooned for weeks in inaccessible heights, and so on, in a friendly effort to terrify me. He described having seen the truck ahead of his skid and go over a thousand-foot precipice […]. (5.6)

    Technology helps mankind survive the ravages of nature. But sometimes, it doesn't rise to meet the challenge. This is especially true on Gethen, where nature can be quite the beast.

    There are no streets in Rer. There are covered walks, tunnel-like, which in summer one may walk through or on top of as one pleases. (5.16)

    Sometimes we can take the design and look of cities for granted. We forget that they are designed to meet the specific demands nature has made on our survival. (With the exception of Dubai. That place is just a thumb in the eye of nature.)

    We have NAFAL ships and instantaneous transmission and mindspeech, but we haven't yet tamed hunch to run in harness; for that trick we must go to Gethen. (6.73)

    Just because the Ekumen have reached a pretty awesome level of tech savvy doesn't mean they can't learn a thing or two from others. Hence why they want Gethen in their space club.

    But I really don't see how anyone could put much stock in victory or glory after he had spent a winter on Winter, and seen the face of the Ice. (7.24)

    As the theory goes, if you're too busy fighting nature, you've got no time for the whole war thing. (But we have to say, we suspect that people are always going to find a way to wage war.)

    Winter is an inimical world; its punishment for doing things wrong is sure and prompt: death from cold or death from hunger. (8.3)

    What more can we say than that? You watch where you step on Gethen, or Gethen might step on you.

    The time was ripe, perhaps. Slow as their material and technological advance had been, little as they valued "progress" in itself, they had finally, in the last five or ten or fifteen centuries, got a little ahead of Nature. They weren't absolute at the mercy of their merciless climate any longer […]. (8.12)

    Since the Gethenians have finally gotten ahead of nature, is war destined to come? Guess we'll have to wait for another novel to find out.

    Even the wilderness is carefully husbanded there, and though that forest had been logged for centuries there were no waste places in it, no desolations of stumps, no eroded slopes. It seemed that every tree in it was accounted for, and that not one grain of sawdust from our mill went unused. (13.31)

    When nature gives you so little, you make full use of what it does give you. When nature gives you a lot, you should probably do the same. Just to be safe.

    Being so strictly defined and limited by nature, the sexual urge of Gethenians is really not much interfered with by society: there is less coding, channeling, and repressing of sex there than in any bisexual society I know of. (13.36)

    Nature not only defines technology like houses and cars in a civilization. It also defines the way people act in society, even when it comes to picking up dates.

    The sledge was heavy loaded; Estraven guessed the total weight to pull at something over 300 pounds. It was hard to pull in the fluffy snow, though it was as handy as a well-designed little boat […]. (15.73)

    When life gives you lemons, you make sledges. No, wait. When your world consists of permanent winter, you develop really, really good sledges. Yeah, that's right.

    We seldom talked while on the march or at lunch, for our lips were sore, and when one's mouth was open the cold got inside, hurting teeth and throat and lungs; it was necessary to keep the mouth closed and breathe through the nose, at least when the air was forty or fifty degrees below freezing. (18.12)

    Curious has to how extreme that Gethen weather can get? Because that's pretty extreme. No wonder these guys haven't gotten around to inventing planes.

  • Warfare

    This is a parade with no soldiers, not even imitation soldiers. (1.5)

    No soldiers means no wars, but what do they fill that empty parade space with? Girl scouts selling cookies? Ba-dum-tish.

    By the litter walk eight guards armed with "foray guns," also relics of a more barbaric past but not empty ones, being loaded with pellets of soft iron. Death walks behind the king. (1.9)

    So no warfare, but fear enough of violence to have developed guns? It's really just a hop, skip, and a jump away then.

    Such a man as Estraven must have guards about him somewhere, for assassination is a lively institution in Karhide, but I had seen no guard, heard none. (1.72)

    It seems that politicians still have a use for violence. You know, in a way, that might actually be preferable if politicians just fought among themselves.

    "[…] Forays are worth no one's trouble across space." I did not speak of war, for good reason; there's no word for it in Karhidish. (3.34)

    No word for war…yet. But that doesn't mean they can't create one. Hey, language changes.

    But on Gethen nothing led to war. Quarrels, murders, feuds, forays, vendettas, assassinations, tortures, and abominations, all these were in their repertory of human accomplishments; but they did not go to war. They lacked it seemed, the capacity to mobilize. They behaved like animals, in that respect; or like women. (5.3)

    Okay, that's Ai talking there, not us. Ladies, don't shoot the messenger. The idea here is that Gethenians get ticked off, but they can't organize well enough to launch all-out war. (Seriously, Le Guin? Women can't organize? Tell that to a working mom.) With that said, there may be no war, but that's an impressive list of violence all the same.

    "[…] Our shadow grows too long. It will cover Karhide too. A feud between two Clans, yes; a foray between two towns, yes; a border-dispute and a few barn-burnings and murders, yes; but a feud between two nations? a foray involving fifty million souls?" (6.66)

    This makes us ask: is war especially bad because of the scope of its violence or is violence equally bad regardless of how many it involves? Something to consider.

    Or, like Tumass Song Angot, did [the Hainish] consider war to be a purely masculine displacement-activity, a vast Rape, and therefore in their experiment eliminate the masculinity that rapes and the femininity that is raped? (7.22)

    The Hainish experiment here leads to a thought experiment of our own: is war a man-only exercise? It's not pretty to think about, but sexual violence has historically been a key element of warfare. (And sadly still is, in some parts of the world.) Just one more thing to consider.

    Of course there is no veneer, the process is one of growth, and primitiveness and civilization are degrees of the same thing. If civilization has an opposite, it is war. (8.11)

    Is there any better definition for war than that?

    [Edondurath] saw the others stirring and awakening, and was afraid of them when they moved, so he killed one after another with a blow of his fist. Thirty-sex of them he killed. (17.5)

    Okay, this is odd. The whole book they say the Gethen have no concept of war. But, here, a well-known creation story has Edondurath killing everyone around him. Gee, that sounds a lot like war.

    To say that an Orgota government fell means, of course, only that one group of Commensals replaced another group of Commensals in the controlling offices of the Thirty-Three. Some shadows got shorter and some longer, as they say in Karhide. (20.15)

    Add to this the fact that Tibe stepped down, and it looks like Gethen will not be having its first war. Man, guess we lost that bet.

  • Love

    "But you broke your vow, throwing it away with your life. And now you cannot say my name." This was true. Hode moved his white lips, but could not say his brother's name. (2.10-11)

    This is our first hint as to why suicide is so offensive on Gethen society. It's betrayal of those who love you. Keep the words "betrayal" and "love" in mind, here. They're going to be popping up a lot together as you read.

    I was angry; for Ashe's love had always forced me to act against my heart. (6.9)

    Notice how Estraven doesn't say "my love for Ashe." What's that tell you about the guy?

    The furthest extreme from this practice is the custom of vowing kemmering (Karh. oskyommer), which is to all intents and purposes monogamous marriage. It has no legal status, but socially and ethically is an ancient and vigorous institution. (7.6)

    Love and marriage, love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage—even on a planet without horses…or carriages.

    What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession…. (15.87)

    Love, politics, duty: we're sure packing in a lot of themes here. But this quote does raise a good question: is love always borne out of hate for something else?

    Maybe we have learned to pull together. (16.9)

    This is the moment Ai and Estraven begin to fall for each other. From here on out, keep your eyes sharp for their ever-changing relationship.

    We must compromise as to the heating of the tent. He would keep it hot, I cold, and either's comfort is the other's pneumonia. We strike a medium, and he shivers outside his bag, while I swelter in mine […]. (16.13)

    Now that's love. Until you've had to share a sleeping space with someone who has a totally different internal temperature than you, you don't know what love is.

    I was not paying my debt to him. Such debts remain owing. Estraven and I had simply arrived at the point where we shared whatever we had that was worth sharing. (18.22)

    Compromise is the keystone to both love and survival on the Ice. Without it, you won't be going far in either.

    I expect it will turn out that sexual intercourse is possible between Gethenian double-sexed and Hainishnorm one-sexed human beings, though such intercourse will inevitably be sterile. It remains to be proved; Estraven and I proved nothing except perhaps a rather subtler point. (18.23)

    Ai and Estraven fall in love, but they keep the physical relationship separate. Okay, but does the same go for male/female relationships? Would we all really be better off without sex?

    To those fisherman-villagers who live on the edge of the edge, on the extreme habitable limit of a barely habitable continent, honesty is as essential as food. They must play fair with one another; there's not enough to cheat with. (19.55)

    Love, meet society. Estraven and Ai had to learn to share everything they had, but this whole community has been doing it since forever. Almost like it's not really that hard.

    Even I betrayed him. I had said I would not bring the ship down till his banishment was ended, his name cleared. I could not throw away what he had died for, by insisting on the condition.

    Love and betrayal, we welcome you back. For Ai to love Estraven, he must complete his mission. To do that, he must betray Estraven. It's complicated but it makes sense. In a complicated kind of way.