In addition to the central theme of androgyny, Le Guin deals with the large issues of war, politics, and religion, as well as the more personal ones of love, friendship, and integrity. One of the most striking features of life on Gethen is the total absence of war. Their languages do not even have a word for war. Since war as ultimate aggression is likened to rape, the absence of war is attributed in part to the fact that men and women are not separate. The absence of war also affects politics. Political behavior on Gethen is a sophisticated code called "shifgrethor," based on subtleties of language and gesture. The complexities of this code serve as a substitute for overt aggression.
Two major religions are found on Gethen, opposites in belief and ritual. One is mystical and inspired while the other is rational and philosophical. The contrast between them is explored in the imagery of light and darkness, including an explanation of the title, taken from a line of poetry, "Light is the left hand of darkness."
On the personal level the themes of love and friendship are developed through the relationship of the protagonist-narrator with a Gethenian politician. Their relationship moves from an initial antagonism, resulting from the Gethenian's apparent femininity of manner, to a friendship based on trust, and, eventually, through the hardships of an epic journey across a glacier, to a profound but not sexual love. The role of gender and its...
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