Light in the Left Hand of Darkness

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Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was one of the best science fiction authors in America who has written hundreds of short stories besides poems, children’s books, and novels. She is frequently referred to as the author of science fiction and among her literary texts are The Left Hand of Darkness and She Unnamed Them. The goal of this essay is to analyze the two texts and finding ways in which they are similar as well as determining why the shared aspects are vital to understanding the author’s work in general. 

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Le Guin was known from time to time to challenge many conventions of science fiction in her literary works by portraying characters that redefine the human understanding of gender and race as well as forming plots that have clear political subtexts. Among the most constant themes in her works was her continuous effort to reconceptualize gender (Cadden 8). In that process of redefining gender, Le Guin was never once afraid of considering and reconsidering her position. In The Left Hand of Darkness, the aspect of gender is challenged and it calls for people to reconsider their understanding and definition of what gender is. Planet Gethen natives are neither identified as male nor female but are rather androgynous, which means that they are partly male and partly female in appearance. Each month, the Gethenians would go into Kemmer where they would develop their sex organs, experience sexual desire, and conceive during that brief period (Le Guin 42). This genderless society makes sex or gender a non-factor in their lives but rather things such as the cold environment are the dominant factor (Le Guin 122). Unlike Terran society, which represents humans, the Gethenian society is not segregated according to gender. Because of this, only women in Terran society can bear children, something that brings about inequality that leads to women not being equally represented in government. This eventually means that men are the ones left to rule the world because women are too busy bearing and rearing children at home. Genly Ai finds it hard to understand the Gethenian culture because of his fixed sense of masculinity, he only sees the world through a man's eyes, which is something very irrelevant where he is. Because he is too stuck in living like a male, the Gethenians see him as a pervert (Le Guin 200). He is put in a situation where he will have to change his view and perception of gender for him to adapt to the Gethenian world.

In She Unnamed Them, the story's main focus is on the unnamed process women take towards every animal on earth. When the story ends, the reader realizes that the whole events are based on the book of Genesis in the Bible. The woman in the book is Eve even though it is not mentioned and she is married to Adam just as it is in the Bible. Eve tells of how Adam had given the animals names. However, she takes away the names in an effort of achieving a neutral language and existence with the animals where no creature was defined or distinguished by its name. Rather, she wanted to achieve equality with the animals. In renaming them, she also is undoing what men did, which is a feminist strategy. When naming the animals, the names were generally man-centered, something that did not sit well with the woman. When she started renaming the animals, the barrier which existed between her and them started narrowing. She even goes ahead to question her name, given to her by God and Adam. She tells Adam that the name has “been really useful, but it doesn’t exactly seem to fit very well latterly” (Le Guin 2). compare

Another similarity in both texts is that the author employs the narration style, and mostly takes on the first-person central narrator style. For most parts of The Left Hand of Darkness, it has a first-person central narrator who is Genly Ai which means that this is a personal story being told by him. For example, he says “I almost let go of the sled-bar to go look for [Estraven]. It was pure luck that I did not,” (Le Guin 3) Here it is evident the narrator is using the “I” voice, therefore the reader can feel whatever the narrator is feeling and also knows what the narrator sees. Because Ai is central to every action, the reader can tell that he is a central narrator. The reader knows that Ai is traveling on the ice and if he lets go of the sled, then he will probably fall and get hurt. However, in other parts such as in chapters 6 and 11, a different narrative voice takes on, and in chapter 4, the story shifts to being told in a third-person style.

In She Unnamed Them, the story at first is told in a third-person account where it explains how animals react to the unnamed process done by the woman. However, in the second section, the narrative voice changes to a first-person account, who is the woman. She tells the reader how the unnamed affected the animals as well as herself. She says that after the names had been taken away “my fear of them and their fear of me became one is same fear,” (Le Guin 2) The author uses these styles of narration in both texts as a way of letting the characters own their story and take the reader step by step through what they experienced.

Lastly, the power struggle is a recurring issue in both texts. She Unnamed them happened during the time of Adam and Eve as the only humans on earth. God gave Adam the power to name all animals as he pleased, however, this kind of power made Eve alienated from the animals (Le Guin 1). She felt that first the names did not suit the animals and by Adam labeling, each one of them was a way of determining the animals' sacredness. Eve, therefore, takes away Adam's power making the hierarchy of man nonexistent because she was now equal to him. She claims the power of language which was initially denied of her by defying the social class put on animals and humans by God. She does not want to feel close to others by the association of names but rather by their existence on earth and how they come together to connect with nature. She rejects the uneven distribution of power where Adam controls everything and every creature (Le Guin 2). In The Left Hand of Darkness, there are no men and women and therefore one group cannot be stereotypically stronger and domineering or the other gentle and submissive. There everyone can get pregnant and bear children, therefore, meaning that all are equal. The aspect of male tendency to be dominant towards others is seen in Genly Ai just as in Adam. As Estraven observes, Ai sees crying as either shameful and evil to the extent of turning his face from Estraven when crying (Le Guin 189). On his part Ai says that “most Karhiders cry easily, being no more ashamed of tears than of laughter,” (Le Guin 86). While in a world that has two genders, one gender will eventually be subjugated, in Gethen all people are given equal power and opportunities for success and failure only basing on their merit.

Le Guin’s feminist ideals are what drove her to write She Unnamed Them short story and The Left Hand of Darkness. She wrote the latter during the mid-second wave of feminism. During this period, most women in America were fighting for equal pay, equal rights, and legal; protection. However, they were all being treated unfairly and dismissed off. This made her uncomfortable especially how the society was so divided between the strong and the weak and women belonged on the weaker side (Molony & Jennifer 3). As a way of trying to show the world how society could be if gender was not a dominating factor, she wrote The Left Hand of Darkness. Through this story, she explored the different ways society could be influenced if gender was not its primary factor. Gender was majorly the central theme of the two texts. She brings out just how much negative power is in labeling things by giving them names. Through Eve, Le Guin transforms the world by renaming and getting rid of any social classes man might have created through names. This at the same time addresses the same issue of how classes defined people during the second wave of feminism where there was the submissive versus the dominant and the weak versus the strong. When the characters are the ones to tell the story, Le Guin gives the readers a chance of seeing the world in the story through the characters’ eyes. Her character fluidly narrates the events, how they feel. She understood who people are and how the world perceives them. If the story of Eve was told by Adam, maybe the reader could have had a different and biased impression of Eve, but Le Guin gives her character the freedom of telling their own stories. In some way, through her stories, Le Guin tells all that are oppressed and denied the choice to walk away from the oppressive society and their cruel systems even though their homes might be built there to make the world better. Although she might not be alive to this day, Le Guin will forever remain immortalized in her works. She was a great writer and her texts continue to be central in the world of literature, science fiction, and fantasy. She Unnamed Them and The Left Hand of Darkness depict themes that were central to her life both as a woman in a patriarchal society and an author who was ready to defy the norm and provoke the world to think differently, especially during the wave of feminism period.    

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