The Left Hand of Darkness

Literapedia Book Notes for

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin


  • Genly/Genry Ai (ch 1)— Envoy from the planet Ekumen to the planet Gethen/Winter
  • Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (ch 1)—Prime minister of Karhide
  • Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe (ch 1)—Cousin of the King of Karhide
  • Getheren (ch 2)— Namer of the Hearth Gethen, born of two brothers
  • Lord Berosty rem ir Ipe (ch 4)— a visitor to the Foretellers from Charuthe
  • Goss (ch 5)--- A Foreteller, an Indweller from Otherhord
  • Faxe (ch 5)--- The Weaver, a Foreteller from Otherhord
  • Foreth rem ir Osboth (Ashe) (ch 6)--- Estraven's kemmering
  • Yegey (ch 6)--- an Ortoga commensal, one of the Thirty-Three who rule Orgota, member of the Open Trade faction
  • Obsle (ch 6)--- the Ortoga Commensal of the Sekeve District, one of the Thirty-Three who rule Orgota, member of the Open Trade faction
  • Uth Shusgis (ch 8)--- the First Commensal District Commissioner of Entry-Roads and Ports, resident of Mishnory, Orgota
  • Vanake Slose (ch 8)--- Commensal from Kuwera-Third District, member of the Orgota government
  • Gaum (ch 10)--- handsome Orgota official, a Sarf (secret police of Orgoreyn) agent
  • Humery (ch10)---Orgota official
  • Mersen (ch 10)--- Karhide official, a spy for Tibe
  • Meshe (ch 12)---the Center of Time, a legend on Gethen
  • Asra (ch 13)--- a prisoner on the Farm
  • Thener Benth (ch 14)--- Estraven's false name in Orgota
  • Mavriva (ch 14)--- an Orgota trapper
  • Arek Harth rem ir Estraven (ch 18)--- Estraven's dead older brother
  • Thessicher (ch 19)--- an old friend of Estraven's who lives on a farm near Sassinoth
  • Lang Heo Hew (ch 20)--- a female crew member of the Ekumen Star Ship
  • Esvans Harth rem ir Estraven (Lord of Estre) (ch 20)--- Estraven's father
  • Sorve Harth (ch 20)--- Estraven's son

Chapter Summaries

  1. A Parade in Erhenrang --- Genly Ai participates in a parade to commemorate the completion of the Arch of River Gate. Ai accepts an invitation to supper with Estraven, and while dining together, Estraven tells Genly he can no longer act on Genly's behalf with the king.
  2. The Place Inside the Blizzard --- The story of Getheren, and how his death lifted the curse on his namesake domain, Gethen.
  3. The Mad King --- Estraven is exiled for Treason, since he argued in favor of Karhide giving up sovereignity to the Ekumen. Genly Ai has an audience with King Argaven. Ai shares his purpose for coming to Gethen: to form an alliance for Ekumen. The king feels Ai is a hoax and fears him.
  4. The Nineteenth Day --- Berosty visits the Foretellers in Thangering Fastness, who correctly predict when he will die.
  5. The Domestication of Hunch --- Tibe becomes the new King's Ear. Genly Ai joins a trade caravan in Karhide. He travels with them to Otherhord and visits the Handdarata, observing the phenomenon of dothe. He watches the foretellers gather the answer to his question. They respond in the affirmative, that Gethen will unite with Ekumen of the Known Worlds within 5 years, and refuse to learn mindspeaking from Ai in return.
  6. One Way into Orgoreyn --- Estraven visits his former kemmering, Ashe. He then steals a rowboat, but is caught by Ortoga officials. Estraven works in an ice-house while waiting to register in Orgoreyn. He speaks well of Ai to Obsle.
  7. The Question of Sex --- Kemmer is described in detail.
  8. Another Way into Orgoreyn --- Tibe is named Regent when King Argaven announces his pregnancy. Ai is granted permission to enter Orgoreyn. Ashe gives him money to pass on to Estraven. After a rough journey into Orgoreyn, where Ai is caught in a violent raid, he is treated by the Ortoga government as a distinguished person. He is placed under the care of Commissioner Shusgis, and dines with high government personnel in Mishnory.
  9. Estraven the Traitor --- The story of Estraven the traitor, who murdered his hearth-brothers and gave up land to the neighboring Domain of Stok.
  10. Conversations in Mishnory --- Estraven visits Ai at Shusgi's mansion, and advises him against being taken for a ride by enemy factions. Ai gives Estraven Ashe's money in a manner that offends Estraven. The policital and societal functions of Ekumen are explained to Obsle. Ai struggled to gigure out the factions of Gaum and Obsle. Ai discusses his Ekumen ship, waiting to touchdown at his command, which is greeted with much excitement and intrigue.
  11. Soliloquies in Mishnory --- Estraven believes the Orgota think Ai is a liar, much like themselves. Ai's meetings with the Orgota government are not known to the public, and in fact, his visit is not made public at all. Gaum tries to seduce Estraven while both are in kemmer. Much of the corruption in Orgoreyn is revealed. Ai delays calling his ship.
  12. On Time and Darkness --- A fable describing Meshe, the Center of Time, and his watchful Eye.
  13. Down on the Farm --- Ai is arrested. He is placed in a truck with other prisoners and given little to eat. After 5 days, they arrive at the Pulefen Commensality Third Voluntary Farm and Resettlement Agency and are put to moderate work. Ai is severly debilitated by anti-kemmer drugs given to him during interegation.
  14. The Escape --- Estraven sends a message to Argaven of Ai's imprisonment. Estraven travels to the prison, and, in disguise, rescues Ai. They spend days recuperating, Ai weak from the drugs and Estraven in the recovery-period of dothe. Estraven is a Handdarata, and used voluntary dothe to gather the strength to save Ai. Estraven says he wants the unification of his world and Ai's and asks Ai to teach him mindspeech.
  15. To the Ice --- Estraven and Ai begin their 800 mile journey over ice to Karhide. They bond, and work together to stay alive.
  16. Between Drumner and Dremegole --- The journey continues. Estraven is amazed at Ai's eagerness and strength. "Light is the left hand of darkness". Ai tries to explain women to Estraven.
  17. An Orgota Creation Myth --- The story of how the Orgotas were born from a house of flesh.
  18. On the Ice --- The pair forage on. Ai tries to teach Estraven mindspeech, the act of paraverbal communication where one cannot lie. Estraven learns, but is disturbed that Ai's voice appears to him as his Arek's. Estraven advises Ai to send for his ship immediately upon his arrival in Karhide,and to use temporary hero status to accomplish his mission.
  19. Homecoming --- The two encounter treacherous terrain, the Esherhoth Crags. Ai's fear forces them to take a longer, safer route. Their arrival in a small Karhide border village is greeted with kindness. They move on, hiding in the care of Thessicher. Ai uses a transmitter in Sassinoth to send a message to his ship. Thessicher betrays Estraven's location to Tibe, and Estraven and Ai try to escape. Estraven is shot by border patrol, and Ai cradles him as his dies. Estraven's body is removed, and Ai is taken to prison.
  20. A Fool's Errand --- Ai is cared for by a physician and brought to Erhenrang, the capital of Karhide. Over the next 10 days, the Orgota and Karhide governments fall. In Orgoreyn, Obsle's faction, the Open Trade party, take over, after it is revealed that the Star Ship is coming. Tibe resigns as Prime Minister, the factor that leads to the "fall" of the government, as it was on his orders that Estraven was killed, and Estrevan is now regarded well for bringing Ai back to the nation. The Star Ship lands, and the eleven men and women from Ekumen scatter to convert the other nations on the planet Gethen. King Argaven agrees to an alliance with Ekumen, but will not yet clear Estraven's name. Ai visits Estraven's childhood home, and the novel ends with Estraven's son asking Ai, "Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars - the other kinds of men, the other lives?"

Student Contributors

Heather Jaros