Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Politics

By Ursula K. Le Guin


Oh, good. If there's one thing we love at Shmoop, it's discussing politics. Thankfully, The Left Hand of Darkness isn't too concerned with promoting one type of politics over another in a "Communism v. Capitalism" fight to the death, Sunday, Sunday, Sunday"-style. Instead, it wants to explore what these political governments have in common. Although each nation in Gethen has its own political structure, none is entirely the same or entirely different. Similarities and differences exist within each; like the yin yang symbol, it is at the borders where the two connect. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends entirely on how the political systems use their shared traits to promote the good of their citizens. Hint: none of them get it right but some get it more right than others.

Questions About Politics

  1. Why doesn't King Argaven accept the Ekumen's initial offer? Political motivations, or something else? Following up, what changes his mind by the novel's end?
  2. Why are Orgoreyn and Karhide political rivals? At what points in the novel do we get an explanation for their rivalry? What does that suggest about the way Le Guin handles politics?
  3. What characters are at a disadvantage in the political arena? What characters are at an advantage? What does the contrast between these characters suggest about the relationship between politics and the individual?

Chew on This

The Left Hand of Darkness is an anti-political novel. It basically says that there's no truly decent political system. The best we can do is make do.

Le Guin mixes various Earth political systems in both Karhide and Orgoreyn to prevent readers from drawing neat parallels between Karhide-American and Orgoreyn-Russia.