Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Language and Communication

By Ursula K. Le Guin

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.