The Left Hand of Darkness

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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What is one of the central conflicts in the story?

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Numerous conflicts come to mind in Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, but the one in particular that dominates the novel centers on cultural proficiency. Cultural proficiency goes beyond cultural awareness and the “allowances” we make for those different from ourselves. One who is culturally proficient is one who not only recognizes but also embraces the worldview that each culture brings to the community on a personal level and at large.

In applying this concept to the novel, frame your thoughts on these key questions:

  • How does Genly Ai respond to the androgynous residents of Gethen when he arrives?
  • How does Ai’s relationship with Estraven change over the course of novel?

To bring the concept of cultural proficiency into context, think about how it might feel to change schools midterm. At your old school, you have friends, acquaintances, teachers, classes, coaches, even physical elements such as lockers, bathrooms, and hallways with which you’re familiar. You may be an athlete, a musician, a club member, a member of ROTC, an editor for the school newspaper, or any number of other individuals who comprise the “culture” of the school. But what are you to your new school? First and foremost, you are a stranger in a strange land, the proverbial fish out of water. There’s nothing about the people, activities, or physical appearance of this setting with which you’ve had any experience. Ideally, in time, the situation changes as you adapt to your new environment. How proficient you become depends on how well you’re able to blend your individual culture with that of others to broaden the proficiency of the school’s community.

Good luck with your assignment!

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