Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 13

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Chapter 13

Down on the Farm

  • Ai is a little freaked out that Estraven has suddenly reappeared knowing such much about him, so he hails a cab and rushes over to Obsle's place. Dude's not home. On to Yegey's house. No one's there. How about Slose? Nope.
  • Snow begins to fall, and the taxi driver refuses to go any farther.
  • Ai returns to Shusgis's house just in time for dinner. Shusgis tells him everyone is at the Yomesh festival of Solemnity, so they'll be out all night.
  • Ai passes up supper and goes to bed. He awakens to strangers telling him he's under arrest.
  • Oh, man, who hasn't been there, right?
  • He has the right to have no rights and just come with them.
  • On account of having no rights, Ai does what he's told.
  • At Kundershaden Prison, Ai tries to tell the guards that Obsle will vouch for him. The guards more or less inform him that, actually, no one's going to vouch for him, because they've all betrayed him.
  • After a good old-fashioned drugging, Ai is interrogated to the point of unconsciousness and wakes up in a truck heading…somewhere probably unpleasant.
  • He's naked with twenty-six Gethenians, who are equally naked. They have no provisions, and no one talks.
  • In the night, one of the prisoners bleeds to death. Ai keeps the man's head on his lap to ease his suffering.
  • When the truck stops the next day, everyone starts yelling that, hey, there's a body in here, and could you please remove it? Instead, the truck just sets off again.
  • Like we said, this is going to be unpleasant.
  • The group forms an interesting dynamic. No one asks for help or even says anything. But when water is finally supplied, no one takes more than his fair share.
  • During the cold nights, they huddle together for warmth and instinctively give those weak to the cold, like Ai, the center section—like penguins.
  • One of the Gethenians enters kemmer and is drawn to Ai, wanting comfort. Ai says it is "[t]he one time any one of them asked anything of me, and I couldn't give it" (13.20).
  • It's a super depressing scene.
  • On the fifth morning, the truck stops, and the prisoners are herded out. They're lead to a camp where they are given breakfast and clothes and then sent to work.
  • Ai gets a job at a sawmill, moving lumber from the mill to the storage shed.
  • The place is called Pulefen Commensality Third Voluntary Farm and Resettlement Agency. Evidently the Orgoreyn government has a sick sense of humor.
  • History FTW: Like most science fiction writers, Le Guin draws her inspiration from actual events. In the case of the Voluntary farms, she's working from the model of gulags, forced labor camps created during Russia's Soviet Union era.
  • Everything runs smoothly, in party because the Gethenians are given drugs to eliminate their kemmer cycles. They're basically eunuchs.
  • Ai and other prisoners undergo examinations where they are given drugs for questioning and anti-kemmer shots. Ai's human body doesn't take so well to the drugs on account of he's, well, human.
  • Eventually, the guards just leave him on the sleeping-shelf with an infirm Gethenian named Asra. Asra is slowly dying from a kidney infection, so obviously he's great company.
  • The two talk to keep their minds off the fact that they're in a prison camp.
  • Ai asks Asra to tell him Gethen myths and tales. Maybe this is where all the non-story chapters came from?
  • Asra asks Ai for stories as well. Ai tells him of far-off planets where the inhabitants have learned to fly. Crazy, right?
  • Actually, for a Gethenian, yeah it is.
  • He also talks about when the Hainish came to Earth and taught humanity how to travel to other worlds. This is also pretty hard for Asra to imagine.
  • When he gets to the part where people are in kemmer 24/7, Asra laughs like its an old joke. On Gethen, it is. He wonders if such a world would be a punishment or a reward.
  • Ai asks him what world this one is, and Asra says it's neither. You just get born into it.
  • Well, no Ai. A little regretfully, Ai says that he chose this world.
  • A few nights later, Asra dies.
  • The next day, the guards carry Ai into his examination.