Essay on Sex in Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness

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Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is the story of Genly Ai’s travels to a strange planet called Gethen, or Winter. His mission there is to persuade the nations of Gethen to join an alliance Genly Ai represents called the “Ekumen”. However, his journey is rather difficult due to the great difference in societies from Genly Ai’s home planet, Earth, and this new one. In Gethen, he learns that the people are completely unsexed for the majority of their days. When they are sexed, it is only for a few days and each person is either male or female during this time. The different governments use Genly Ai as a pawn, but in the end they join the alliance. Unfortunately, it comes with the price of his friend’s life. …show more content…

LeGuin does this to reinforce the notion that Genly Ai is completely unassimilated to Gethen culture. She does this by having Genly Ai describe him as a woman, but calling him by the male title “King” where LeGuin could have had Genly Ai call Argaven “monarch”, a sexless title that still holds as much accuracy. The best show of Genly Ai’s awkward understanding of sex in this manner is, perhaps, when LeGuin has Genly Ai describe the owner of his apartment building when he says, “I though of him as my landlady, for he has a fat buttocks that wagged as he walked, and a soft fat face, and a prying, spying, ignoble, kindly nature” (48). LeGuin has Genly Ai describe his landowner as a woman simply because of some of his physical features. LeGuin, using adjectives that describe exclusively females, has shown that Genly Ai is completely unable to assimilate to Gethen by giving up his perceptions of people and their sex.
As the novel progresses, LeGuin has Genly Ai’s descriptions become a little less sexed to show him adjusting to Gethen’s sexual culture. Later in the novel, LeGuin has Genly Ai meet a character named Faxe, she has him describe Faxe as having “one of the most beautiful human faces [he] ever saw” (68). Here, LeGuin uses the absence of sexed description to show that Genly Ai has adjusted to the Gethenian culture. Then, when LeGuin has Genly Ai discuss the issue of parenting he simply states, “that the distinction between a maternal and a paternal instinct is

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