Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 1

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Chapter 1

A Parade in Erhenrang

  • As with anything worth your time, this story comes with a warning. Genly Ai, the man writing the report, will be presenting it as if it were a story.
  • Also, it's not his story alone. Others will add to it, but it's still one story.
  • Fair enough; we're here for a story.
  • Right-o. We start in Erhenrang, the capital city of Karhide. 
  • Don't worry; you get use to the names.
  • The people of Karhide are having a parade. Ai gives us some amazing details of the procession, everything from the merchants to the King and even the royal musicians playing their gossiwars. 
  • Gossiwors: the only instrument more embarrassing to play in your high school marching band than the tuba. (Just kidding, guys: the tuba is awesome.)
  • The parade comes to the new arch being built at the Port of Erhenrang. King Argaven XV is there to put in the keystone. 
  • Unlike other kings, Argaven isn't there just for show. He actually puts in the keystone with his own two hands.
  • Ai asks Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, the King's prime minister, why they use red cement. 
  • For the sake of our sanity, he'll be referred to as Estraven from here on in.
  • Anyway, he says it's the tradition to use blood-mixed cement for the keystone.
  • Ai notes how he thinks of Estraven with words like man, he, and him even though the terms don't rightly apply here. Gee, that's funny. Wonder what he means by that?
  • Estraven gives Ai a tour of the clan banners. He's interrupted by Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe, the king's cousin.
  • Yeah, he'll be Tibe from now on.
  • Ai considers how power is different on the planet Gethen. For the Ekumen, a universe-wide United-Nations government-type thingy (to use the official term), power is subtle. But this planet still has that "hey, look at my power" complex going for it.
  • On that note, Ai doesn't trust Estraven because his motives are always obscure and his power seems to influence Ai on a level he can't understand.
  • The sun ducks behind some clouds as the parade ends. Ooooh, we love foreshadowing.
  • Estraven invites Ai to dinner that night.
  • Ai walks back to his lodgings, and Tibe catches up with him. This Ai guy sure is popular around here.
  • They talk about Estraven and his kindness toward foreigners (namely the foreigner Ai), but Ai can't help thinking that Tibe's smiling teeth make his words take on multiple meanings.
  • Through Tibe, we learn that Ai is an alien on Gethen. Like full-blown spaceship, beam-me-up type alien.
  • After the conversation, Ai heads to his apartment and eats dinner, reflecting on the eating habits of the Gethen. 
  • He sure spends a lot of time thinking to himself about the Gethen.
  • Anyway, since their meals are lighter and the weather is frigid (to say the least), the Gethenians eat a bunch of meals during the day, and yet remain fit as a…fiddle? Gossiwor?
  • Oh, and while we're here, you should just get use to these little side discussions on Gethen customs. Ai moonlights as an anthropologist, so he's just doing what he does. We can't cover all these little tidbits of information, so make sure you check out the book.
  • Ai joins Estraven for another dinner. Following another Gethen custom, the two don't talk business during the meal.
  • Instead, Ai thinks about how difficult it is for him to categorize Estraven by Earth categories. Estraven has a womanly way about him, "all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit" (1.38). 
  • Yeah, Ai can be a tad sexist.
  • But Estraven's powerful presence is manly. Not to mention the fact that such categories are meaningless on Gethen, where the whole population is androgynous (neither male nor female).
  • When the business chit-chat finally gets going, Estraven explains to Ai that he can no longer act on his behalf with the king.
  • Since Ai relies on Estraven saying good things about him and his mission, he's a little irritated by this.
  • Estraven warns Ai that some of the king's advisers aren't too thrilled with Ai's mission. Gee, wonder if that's Tibe. 
  • Ai takes this to mean Estraven's selling him out.
  • Actually, Estraven claims to have gotten into trouble with the king. He forgot that a king "does not see things rationally, but as a king" (1.70). Whoops.
  • Basically, this means the King doesn't trust Estraven anymore, and he doesn't trust Ai either.
  • As Ai leaves, Estraven asks what the Ekumen call his planet, Gethen. Ai says they call it "Winter." Gee, wonder how they came up with that name?