The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
A classic, groundbreaking science fiction novel, which explores issues of gender role, honor, trust and suspicion, against a background of survival in a cruelly harsh wintry climate.
1) Some critics question whether the androgynous nature of the Gethenians is central to the story or not. For some, the idea of androgyny exists independent from the story. Others find it essential. Do you agree with either of these assessments? Something in the middle? Don't forget to explain your reasoning.
2) LeGuin has said that the question "What is a woman?" provoked her to write The Left Hand of Darkness. In what way does or does not the book answer this question? What are the arguments that the book suggests for a possible answer to the question: What are the differences between men and women?
3) Do you consider the society of Karhide on Gethen to be a utopian society? Look up one or more definitions of utopia and discuss them in view of the novel.
4) In her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin maintains that science fiction is not about the future but about the present. Critics have mentioned that both Karhide and Orgoreyn are meant as criticism of present societies. In what ways is her novel critical of our contemporary society?
5) Gethen is named "Winter" by the Ekumen Investigators (1.87). Why do you imagine Le Guin added this little detail? What significance does this name have?
6) In her introduction to her book, LeGuin says that when we read a good novel, we may find "that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little." Think about some novels you have read that influenced you to change, even if just a little. What must a novel have in order to be able to change you? Is The Left Hand of Darkness in this category? Explain your answer.
7) Many critics claim that LeGuin's journey to outer space is in fact an inner journey into the unconscious. Discuss this double journey in view of the novel. How does LeGuin achieve this double journey?
8) Which society do you find more "alien" - Karhide or Oergereyn?
9) As he reminds us often, Genly Ai thinks himself a manly, macho man. Do you think his views on the Gethenians would be different if he were Gina Ai, sensual flower of womanhood? Would the story change? For example, would Estraven and Ai have a different relationship?
10) Estraven never tells Ai about his child with Arek, his brother. We don't discover this factoid until the final pages of the novel. Why do you suppose Estraven never divulged the information? Also, why would Le Guin wait until the end of the novel to make the big reveal? What purpose do you think it serves?
11) How are the past and the future related in The Left Hand of Darkness?
12) What role does each play in Gethenian society and where do you see certain characters siding with either? Does one hinder or help the Gethenians more than the other?
13) Do you think Gethen should have joined the Ekumen?
14) Would you want to be a Gethenian?
15) Casting call! Time to lay out those head shots and make some choices. Imagine you're producing a film adaptation of Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Whom would you cast in the various roles? Does a sullen Don Cheadle portray a more compelling Genly Ai than a stoic Denzel Washington? Why? Also, how would you cast the androgynous Gethenians? Would you cast men to play all the roles? Women? Would you use computer graphics to allow Tilda Swinton to play all of the Gethenians?
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