Genly and Estraven characters from The Left Hand of Darkness by Le Guin

Image result for left hand of darkness imagesFor students studying Mainstream English in VCE Year 12, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is from the VCAA List 1 of Texts.  You will be required to write an analytical interpretation of the text in AOS1, Unit 3: Reading and Creating Texts in a SAC and the final English exam.

Look carefully at the similarities and differences between the two main characters Genly Ai and Therem Harth Rem Ir Estraven in The Left Hand of Darkness.  The list of differences and similarities between the two characters is from my interpretation only and therefore could be added to by students who develop their own interpretation of Genly and Estraven.

Read my previous post on ‘Characters in Texts’ for in depth details as to the importance of interpreting a character in a text and the relationships between them.

For ease of writing I call Genly Ai (Genly) and Therem Harth Rem Ir Estraven (Estraven) in the notes below.

Genly Ai

Genly’s Differences from Estraven

  • Genly Ai is from Terra (Earth), almost 30 years old
  • 1st Envoy from the Ekumen to recruit the planet Gethen to the Ekumen to become part of a universal and mystical trade venture of planets
  • Different physical characteristics – tall, black skin, strong, less hair, large hands, not built for cold
  • Stereotypical male – heterosexual, sexually active all the time considered a ‘pervert’ by Gethenians
  • Has been in Karhide for 2 years in an attempt to gain favour with King Argaven and convince him and Karhide to join the Ekumen
  • Inability to trust and uncertainty factors influence his decisions & fear of the unknown
  • Gender fear of difference especially the feminine traits of Gethenians which he sees as negative traits
  • Non believer in androgynous Gethenians, can’t comprehend their reactions or faces that he sees as not human but like animals – cat, seal, an otter
  • Often is impatient, quick to despair and then to rejoice
  • Lacks insight to understand and seen as an alien in Gethen is not to be trusted
  • Has trouble communicating and understanding the intricate subtleties of ‘shifgrethor’
  • Unaware of other people’s motives especially Estraven
  • Does not have the qualities of the Handdara in regards to intuition or ‘nusuth’
  • Struggles with too much yang in order to create harmony at the beginning of the novel
  • Effectively in terms of dualism, Genly is the ‘right hand’ of Estraven (Le Guin stresses that each yang contains it’s yin, each yin contains it’s yang)

Genly’s Similarities with Estraven

  • Believes in the mission to persuade the inhabitants of Gethen to join the Ekumen for the purpose of expanding trade and interplanetary alliance
  • Even though Genly has been on Gethen for 2 years he does not give up trying to carry out his mission
  • This is similar to Estraven in his continued mission to join Gethen with the Ekumen as he believes in the benefits of uniting his planet with other worlds even if it means exile
  • Genly is loyal, honourable and idealistic like Estraven
  • They both have sacrificed a lot for their ambitions but see the big picture of helping humanity
  • Both are in exile, Genly from his planet and Estraven from his home of Estre
  • On the Gobrin Ice they both pull together for survival
  • On the Gobrin Ice Genly transforms and understands the significance of the yin and yang in Estraven and the importance of harmony as a whole person
  • Therefore Genly finally accepts Estraven as an androgynous person not as male/female but as one
  • The relationship of Genly with Estraven is described by Le Guin as ‘profound love’ and one that changes Genly

Therem Harth Rem Ir Estraven

Estraven’s Differences from Genly

  • Estraven is from the Domain of Estre in Kerm land, a southern end of Karhide on the planet Gethen (age not sure)
  • Prime Minister of Karhide at the start of the novel
  • Different physical characteristics – stocky, dark, with a layer of fat to protect against the cold, black eyes and sleek hair
  • He is an androgyne, neither male nor female but both, as are all Gethenians
  • Typical androgyne goes into kemmer
  • Had a son Sorve to his brother Arek and swore a ‘vow of faithfulness’ to Arek
  • He had a kemmering with Ashe and they had 2 sons
  • His personal life has been steeped in profound and tumultuous human emotions, involving love and death, which feed his soul
  • He is honest, quick minded, wise, versatile and adaptable, courageous, creative in responding to new situations, a shrewd politician, powerful, aggressive when needed & constantly pushing forward
  • He has a strength of character and diplomacy by preventing Karhide and Orgoreyn from going to war over the Sinnoth Valley dispute
  • Has highly trained skills of the Handdara which makes him respond intuitively doing no more or no less than what is required
  • His spiritualism is an important part of his character
  • He praises ‘darkness’ when it comes and it’s counterpart ‘light’
  • He is not moved by personal desire, interest or advantage and acts spontaneously in accordance with his true nature as the quality of the Handdara teaches
  • He uses his feminine intuition as a good quality and has perfected the balance of yin and yang in his harmonious actions which demonstrates that both male and female characteristics are necessary for survival
  • Effectively Estraven is the ‘left hand’ of Genly and without Estraven, Genly would not have been able to undertake his transformation of character that leads him to a deeper understanding of Gethenians and himself
  • Estraven is willing to sacrifice his life to achieve the success of the mission and the good of the whole world

Estraven’s Similarities with Genly

  • Believes in Genly’s mission to persuade the inhabitants of Gethen to join the Ekumen for the purpose of expanding trade and interplanetary alliance
  • Estraven continues his belief in the mission to join Gethen with the Ekumen as he believes in the benefits of uniting his planet with other worlds even if it means his exile
  • Both are in exile, Genly from his planet and Estraven from his home of Estre
  • Estraven is loyal, honourable and idealistic like Genly
  • They both have sacrificed a lot for their ambitions but see the big picture of helping humanity
  • On the Gobrin Ice they both pull together for survival
  • Accepts Genly as different, but it is the likeness, the wholeness that he understands and the importance of harmony
  • The relationship of Estraven with Genly is described by Le Guin as ‘profound love’ and one that embodies Genly’s physical as well as spiritual journey to greater self knowledge and understanding

 

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