42 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1969

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Symbols & Motifs

The Eternal Winter of Gethen

On Gethen, the first snows come in the beginning of fall, eventually burying the planet in several feet of snow. The Ekumen scouts visiting the world call it Winter (a possibly pejorative name), defining it solely by is climate. The central struggle in the book is represented by a trek across a vast, 600-mile sheet of ice. The winter motif runs strongly throughout the book, standing as a powerful metaphor for the difficulty of cross-cultural exchange. As Genly is ill-suited to survive the frozen Gethen wilderness, he is ill-prepared to navigate the court politics and nuances social dynamics of the Gethen people. At the beginning of the novel, the cold and inhospitable climate also references the slow progress of Genly as he attempts to convince the leaders of Gethen to join the Ekumen.

The Pace of the Land Barge

On Gethen, technological change comes slowly. “Winter hasn’t achieved in 30 centuries what Terra once achieved in thirty decades,” Genly muses (98). This indifference to the pace of technological change on Gethen represents a profound cultural difference between the Ekumen and themselves: The Gethen are in no hurry to be anywhere. When Genly transports himself by Landbarge from place to place, the rate of travel is barely twice that of going by foot.