Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Man and the Natural World

By Ursula K. Le Guin

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.