Critical Overview

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539

Since the 1960s Ursula K. Le Guin has been respected by critics both inside and outside of the science fiction genre and by the general reading audience. She was the first female writer to build her reputation within the science fiction world, although other women, notably Doris Lessing had crossed over into the genre before her. Philippa Maddern credited Le Guin as "the one writer who did the most" to take science fiction "away from adventure stories and the cerebral solutions of physical problems and toward the contemplation of anthropological, ethnological and psychological truths." The Left Hand of Darkness is the book that caught critics' attention. As thought-provoking as most reviewers found it to be, many still confined the book and its author in the narrow category of her gender even as they admitted that the importance of her work went beyond the narrow category of science fiction. Perhaps because of her pioneer status, coupled with the ambisexuality of the Gethenians in her book, critics have tended to categorize Le Guin as a feminist. As Barbara J. Bucknall pointed out in her 1981 book, however, the feminism in Le Guin's works is not the driving force: it is always secondary to her examination of politics. Keith N. Hull, writing in Modern Fiction Studies in 1986, made the point that The Left Hand of Darkness is simply too well-written to focus on one aspect and act as if it has no more purpose or significance than that: his long examination asserts that the book "integrates its lesson so thoroughly with Gethenian culture, biology and geography that ... the main theme is too rich to be sentimental, no matter how uplifting it may sound when abstracted." Le Guin herself does not categorize herself as a feminist, but as a theorist. In the famous Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness she describes the androgyny of the characters as a "thought-experiment," not as a policy or a statement about what the world will eventually come to. "Science fiction is not predictive," she explains, "it is descriptive." It is this kind of dedication to human matters over matters...

(The entire section contains 539 words.)

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