42 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1969

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Character Analysis

Genly Ai

Genly Ai is a diplomatic envoy tasked with convincing the nations of Gethen to join the Ekumen, a cooperative, interplanetary collective. He is the protagonist of the novel and originates from the planet Terra, a version of Earth.

A generic trope of science and speculative fiction is the “visitor from another planet,” a character who points out the strange folly of the irrational aliens they’ve come to visit. In early science fiction, this often looked like an earthling visiting the next star over, shooting their way through two-fisted adventures which resembled narratives of the old west. As the genre progressed into the nuclear era, the aliens in turn visited Earth, commenting like old philosophers on mankind’s cruelty to one another. Genly Ai represents a further evolution of this character trope. He is in every way like the second interloper, attempting to thread his way through the turmoil of Karhide’s political situation. However, Genly’s arrogance and confidence in his superiority over the less technologically advanced Gethenians prevents him from recognizing their complex social nuances, and his strict notion of binary gender prevents him from appreciating the full humanity of the people he is supposed to welcome into the Ekumen.