I really enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness. It was a pretty entertaining novel for me - the journey across the Ice was a bit of a bummer because too much of it was devoted to purely describing them pulling the sledge across various areas, but other than that, it was good. I liked the political intrigue, the numerous backstabbings and the excitement that comes from following two characters who are running for their lives. However, after reading this novel as an action/adventure sort of story, I realized that I had not really thought about the impact that the androgynous nature of the Gethenians has on the meaning of the story. During my reading of the novel, I felt like this did not have that great of an effect on the overall story. After all, the biggest issue in the story was Genly Ai and Estraven's efforts in securing an alliance between Gethenians and the Ekumen. The androgynous nature of Gethenians was mentioned throughout the story, but it seemed more like a side note than anything else, as if it was briefly touched upon during breaks in action before being forgotten again. Now, after reconsidering the story after having read it, I realized that the androgynous nature of Gethenians does have a great effect on some aspects of the story. I guess ultimately the effect of having androgynous characters is to shock readers out of creating gender roles for genders. In my opinion, Le Guin accomplishes this specifically by continually referring to Gethenians as "he". By doing this, she can lull readers into thinking of all Gethenians as men before writing about some feminine characteristic of a character that will contrast greatly with the image that the reader has built up to that point. This effect happens notably throughout the story. In one memorable instance, the king becomes pregnant. So, not only are Gethenians mainly referred to as "he," but the ruler of the country is also referred to as a king, as a male. Thus, when strongly masculine characters, like the king, suddenly become pregnant, the reader is presented with an extremely strong dichotomy that really forces the reader to think about the dual nature of the characters. If Le Guin had constantly switched between referring to characters as "she" and "he" and frequently reminded the reader of the dual characteristics of the character, I think the characters would not have been as shocking. She decided to use the technique of establishing a singular firm image in the readers' minds and then completely twisting it to get the maximum shock value. Another instance of feminine characteristics suddenly appearing to disrupt a masculine image is when Genly Ai and Estraven have a heart-to-heart conversation while traversing the ice. According to Genly Ai, "â€¦I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he wasâ€¦I had not been willing to give it. I had been afraid to give it. I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man" (248). Thus, even the Genly Ai had fallen into the trap of seeing the Gethenians as simply men instead of dual beings. This passage was sort of mind bending for me because I kept wanting to think of Estraven as a man who, well, occasionally turns into a woman from time to time instead of him being both man and woman all the time. Now, since Estraven is both man and woman all the time, it puts a very different spin on his character. I could no longer peg him as a certain gender; instead, I just had to see Estraven as a living being. Ultimately, I feel that this was one of Le Guin's goals â€“ once we remove the issue of gender from people, how do we feel about them? I think the conclusion reached is that they really are still the same as us.
By Its_Knucklepuck_Time - Posted on 20 February 2008 - 10:27am.