Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Warfare

By Ursula K. Le Guin


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.