Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 18

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Chapter 18

On the Ice

  • Ai thinks back to his time on the Ice. Okay, so maybe he wasn't exactly happy, but he considers it a joyful turning point nonetheless.
  • Their days basically go like this: Ai wakes up first and cooks their breakfast of the gichy-michy "hyper-food." Doesn't it just sound delicious? Mmm.
  • They eat, pack up, and fold the tent, and then they're off for another day of traipsing across the giant glacier.
  • Some things to watch out for: (1) sunlight reflecting off the snow and causing snow-blindness; (2) wind that feels like razor blades to breathe; (3) their nostrils and eyes freezing shut.
  • They pull all day in these conditions. Can you even imagine it? Most of us get frustrated when we have to leave our cars to pick up dinner.
  • Sometimes, Ai is so tired that he doesn't even want to go to the effort of setting up camp. You get the sense that Ai would have survived, like, three days on his own.
  • Thankfully, Estraven makes sure everything is done properly, so they can avoid the whole freezing-to-death thing.
  • Inside the tend, they forget the day's travels, cuddle up (not literally), and talk.
  • Fifty days of this. Wow.
  • Important point: they never tried to have sex. Ai really emphasizes this, so let's assume it's important and not a case of too much information.
  • During Estraven's kemmer, Ai sees his friend as "a woman as well as a man" (18.28). But the two are careful not to touch, since Ai believes sex would only lead them to be aliens to each other once again.
  • Instead, Ai teaches Estraven mindspeech.
  • Ai tries to communicate with his friend for a few days using only his mind, but there is nothing. Estraven seems mindspeech deaf.
  • But when asleep, Ai connects with him. What's weird is that Estraven doesn't hear Ai's voice but the voice of Arek, his brother.
  • Ai can't explain this.
  • Estraven tries to contact Ai using mindspeech and manages to say "Genry" (even in his mind, he can't hit the "r" of Genly's name).
  • Inside Information: Ai mentions the "first Educers" centuries back on "Rokanon's World" (18.76). He's alluding to the events of Rocannon's World, Le Guin's first novel and the first novel in her Hainish Cycle.
  • We've got a "Brain Snack" connecting all the Hainish Cycle books together, so check that out if you're interested.
  • The mindspeech helps bond Ai and Estraven further, although it is an "obscure and austere" bond (18.76).
  • Appropriate given how obscure that comment is.
  • Estraven begins eating less and less of the food. Ai argues against this, but his friend tells him he's been practicing starvation since he was a child. It's the Gethenian way.
  • A blizzard comes, so bad that Ai can't see Estraven, who's a mere six feet away. For two days the storm bellows. The food supply dwindles dangerously low.
  • Estraven lets Ai know he contacted King Argaven before the rescue. He tells Ai that for their plan to work he must contact his spaceship as soon as he possibly can. Anything else will give the tables a chance to turn.
  • The next day, the two head out of their tent and into nothing. Seriously, nothing: just dull light and no shadow.
  • This is actually a problem. Without shadows, the travelers are effectively blind and can't tell where the crevasses are.
  • So, the journey's immense physical toll takes on an immense mental toll, because every step could be a death drop.
  • One day, black tentacles creep out of the void and toward them. They turn out to be the shadows from Esherhoth Crages. They are miles away, but Ai thought them right beside him. That's pretty creepy.
  • The map shows them to be "somewhat north of [their] shortest course" (18.109). But then again, can they even trust the map?