Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Religion

By Ursula K. Le Guin


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, especially on Gethen, where they never had one. But they do have religion, and a bit of turmoil to go with it. The Left Hand of Darkness's two religions, Handdara and Yomeshta, have some major differences about the proper use of knowledge. Handdara promotes wholeness from opposites, seeing both light and shadow as necessary and useful. Yomeshta, on the other hand, sees one path as worthy (the light one) and the other as unworthy (shadow). These differences might not be much to fuss over, except when religions get used toward political ends. Now that could be a problem.

Questions About Religion

  1. Faxe is sometimes called the Weaver. What does this name suggest about his relationship with religion? Does it suggest anything about religion in the novel as a whole?
  2. Where do we see religion aiding Ai in his mission? Where do we see religion hindering Ai? Given the nature of Ai's mission, what does this tell us about religion's role in the novel?
  3. Why do you suppose Le Guin chose to have two religious characters, Estraven and Faxe, serve in politics? How do these two characters differ from the other politicians in the novel? What does this tell us?

Chew on This

Le Guin is less concerned with an individual's relationship to religion than with religion's role in society.

Le Guin used Taoism as the basis for Handdara, because it can serve as both philosophy and religion.