Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Man and the Natural World

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Man and the Natural World

The Gethenians have a heck of a nature to contend with. If you can imagine Siberia in the middle of February, then you can imagine the Gethen equivalent of beachfront Malibu property. Seriously cold ice age they've got going for them on that planet. This exceptionally dangerous form of nature has had a major impact on the development of the Gethen society for centuries. Their technology has grown considerably slower than ours, and their cities are designed for extremely close quarters to share warmth and other necessities. And on a planet where every step could be a death sentence, you tend to get where you're going slowly. In The Left Hand of Darkness, it's all just one more hurdle for Ai to leap over before he can appreciate what it means to be a Gethenian.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What areas of Gethenian life are affected by the natural world of Winter? What does this tell us about the Gethenian relationship with the natural world? Can we draw parallels with our world?
  2. What purpose does the natural world serve in Ai and Estraven's relationship? How does the natural world affect their relationship?
  3. Why do you suppose Le Guin spends so much time describing the natural state of Gethen? Check out some specific passages to think about this question.

Chew on This

The slow pace of the Gethenian industrial revolution is not simply the result of the fierce Gethen weather. Social conflicts, minor scuffles, and the Gethenians' androgynous nature also played a part.

War breeds technology innovation faster than response to the natural world. If the Gethenian really want airplanes, a war would be just the ticket.