Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 3

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Chapter 3

The Mad King

  • Ai sleeps in late. When he wakes up, he goes over his notes to prepare for his audience with King Argaven.
  • At the palace, he's put in an anteroom. There, he hears the news bulletin that King Argaven exiled Estraven from Karhide. His incentive for staying away is, oh, that he's going to be put to death if he returns. 
  • Remember, this is the guy who vouched for Ai. It's not looking too good for our intrepid hero. 
  • Ai's first impulse is to call for help, because death totally wasn't on his to-do list today. But before can panic his way into action, he's called into his audience with the King.
  • King Argaven asks Ai for his message, but Ai is a tad flustered by the threat of death and can't remember it.
  • Argaven informs Ai that Estraven advised him to refuse Ai's audience, which is odd given what we've read beforehand.
  • Ai asks if he's been charged with Estraven's crime as well. But Argaven says he only punishes the criminal not the tool. 
  • If there's ever a time to be happy about being called a tool, this is it. 
  • For some reason, Ai asks Argaven whether he believes that Ai is an alien envoy.
  • Argaven says yes, because Estraven's physicians gave him the data proving Ai to be an alien.
  • Well, says Ai, the Ekumen want the Gethen to join their league of planets. We know that when we say it like that they can come off a bit super-villainy, but they're actually pretty nice guys.
  • Membership perks would be trade of goods as well as communication to trade ideas, techniques, and technologies.
  • During his spiel, Ai drops some hints about the universe, the Ekumen, and the Hainish race. Head on over to the "Setting" section for a more in-depth discussion of these.
  • Argaven basically rolls his eyes at Ai's proposal and instead questions him about Ekumen. Are they are all as dark-skinned as Ai? Is sexual perversion (i.e., the existence of males and females) prevalent? Oh, and what's that device on your wrist?
  • Ai answers the questions. Turns out, the Gethenians' androgyny is unique in the known universe.
  • And the device is an ansible, a communication machine that allows one to instantaneously send messages like "LOL :)" across the vast gulf of space.
  • They give the ansible a whirl. King Argaven asks what makes a man a traitor (3.62). He gets a reply: no one knows what makes a man a traitor, since no man considers himself one (3.64). Gee, King, wonder what's on your mind.
  • Is Argaven tickled pink that he just spoke to an alien light-years away? Nope. Instead, he refuses Ai's offer. He claims that he's afraid: "I fear those who sent you. I fear liars, and I fear tricksters, and worst I fear the bitter truth" (3.69).
  • Okay, well, we're with him right up until the end there. Being afraid of tricksters and liars sounds pretty reasonable.
  • His mission a bust, Ai leaves the castle to think some thoughts, like whether or not Estraven ever lied to him.
  • Ai decides his next action will be to go to the neighboring country Orgoreyn and try to get them on board. But before that, he's going do a little sightseeing and head east to the Fastnesses to get info on the Foretellers.