Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Science Fiction, 304 pages

FTC Disclosure: Library Book

Cross Posted over at Culinary Carnivale..

I read this book a while ago, but have been trying to formulate my thoughts about it.

Impacting this thought process has been recent articles regarding a growing phenomena in America regarding gender roles, specifically in regards to men.

What really caught my eye, and made me think of the society portrayed in this book is the following from the article by Romano and Dokoupil:

It’s clear that we’ve arrived at another crossroads—only today the prevailing codes of manhood have yet to adjust to the changing demands on men. We’re not advocating a genderless society, a world in which men are “just like women.” . . . If today’s men want to be hunters, or metrosexuals, or metrosexuals dressed in hunting clothes, they should feel free.

So, in light of the above, what if there were a world or society where gender does not exist?

Le Guin’s protagonist is an outsider who comes to the world of Winter to establish contact and offer inclusion into The League of All Worlds. He’s been informed of the uniqueness of the population as they are ambisexual. Yet it still takes adjusting.

“It was one of the little jolts I was always getting. Cultural shock was nothing compared to the biological shock I suffered as a human male among human beings who were, five-sixths of the time, hermaphroditic neuters.”

There is no division based on a segment of society being strong or weak, dominant or submissive, active or passive.

The most beneficial aspect of this type of society is that there has never been a war. Interesting to consider the implications. No gender equals no conflict? Well, not exactly. It’s just that the conflicts never escalate to such an extreme.

How the evolution of a genderless society occurs along with the corresponding results are what make this a challenging read. It makes you constantly compare and evaluate our reality. On Winter, respect as well as prejudice is based on how you are and behave as a “human”, not a “sex”. Physically gender exists for a short time each month, but socially it does not.

Is the fact that there are no judgments made, no roles forced to play, no power plays other than political, a strong argument for a world or society being considered a utopia?

After reading this, I think not. Belief systems of any kind inherently possess flaws. Even if the duality of gender does not exist, duality does remain at the core of any society: there is good, and there is evil.

This is a great book for those who are intrigued and interested in this kind of subject matter. But it is not a light read by any stretch of the imagination. Besides vocabulary such as: obdurate, adventitious, obviate, perfidy, and pertinacious, the plot bogs down in places and I found myself skipping over several passages.

However the story and its protagonist always brought me back. I wanted to learn more about how this society worked and how they would deal with being asked to join a larger, universal community where many of its members are considered deviants because their gender was a permanent condition.

Ultimately, this is what I walked away with after reading this book: gender is just part of an overall problem. Having it, or not having it, makes little difference in the bigger picture.

I can’t say that this is a book for everyone. Would I read this again? I’m not sure I would. As a recommendation, it would be to those who are social science fiction fans.

If you’ve read this book, let me know what you thought in the comments.

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I tried SO HARD to get through this. It has everything I like: a detailed and completely alien culture, a gigantic universe, social commentary, a totally intellectual focus, extreme weather. I couldn’t do it.

I can’t put my finger on why, either I shouldn’t read about ice planets in winter, or– I don’t know what the “or” is.

I should have eaten it up. But I couldn’t. :/