In form as well as content, Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel emphasizes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Ai’s mission asks the Gethenians to look beyond their personal interests, to join in solidarity with other lives and other worlds. Estraven is the only Gethenian capable of such large-mindedness, and even so, Ai initially thinks him disloyal or unpatriotic, because he does not care whether Karhide or Orgoreyn is the first to join the Ekumen. By the end of the novel, however, Ai understands the selflessness of Estraven’s motives. He tells Argaven XV that Estraven had served neither Karhide nor its king, but the same master that he himself served. When the king asks suspiciously whether that master is the Ekumen, Ai answers that it is humankind. Similarly, The Left Hand of Darkness asks readers to look beyond gender roles and sexual identities, and to focus instead on the common humanity that all people share.
The novel’s title emphasizes this theme. “Light is the left hand of darkness/ and darkness the right hand of light,” according to a poem of the Handdarata that Estraven recites to Ai as they cross the Gobrin Ice. The novel consistently acknowledges dualities such as light and dark, left and right, but emphasizes that they are complementary rather than opposed. Together, they make up something greater than either alone, as the poem’s ending suggests:
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