How Rejection of Gender in The Left Hand of Darkness Affect the Construction of Civil Society

Published: 2021-06-22
2035 words
8 pages
17 min to read
Wesleyan University
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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The society consists of cultures that people are expected to abide by and conform to in their daily activities. The decisions that people make on issues that affect their lives on a daily basis are represented in a binary choice system. Consequently, the societal worldview is informed by binary oppositional pairs; for example, male or female, life or death. However, the choices that people make often represent one of the binary oppositional pairs highlighted above to the exclusion of the other. While making decisions, people are caught in a pull-push situation where they are expected to choose between two ideas or things. However, the question may emerge in a situation where one breaks from the binary pairs and begin to consider another possibility. This is the same question that Ursula K. Le Guin explores in her novel The Left Hand of Darkness. In this paper, I will examine how the rejection of gender in the novel affects the construction of a civil society, and how it might help us better understand the contours and limits of gender.

Pennington, John in Exorcizing Gender: Resisting Readers in Ursula K. Le Guin's" Left Hand of Darkness," argues that in every individual, there are two sides of powers that reside; one male and another female. However, this androgynous mind is resonant and porous that is created naturally and exists undivided. According to Benjamin Gleason in The rhetoric of androgyny: gender and boundaries in Le Guin's, the left hand of darkness the androgynous mind does not exist in or of itself, but it is created and attained by the individual. Le Guin recounts the story of Genly Ai, the protagonist in the story who is sent to a planet of winter to convince the government to join the federation of Ekumen. The novel presents the xenophobic, imperialists, patriarchal, and the inner quest of the protagonist, Genly Ai. Additionally, the novel tries to depict the reconciliation of gender sides or ideas; Ai tries to reconcile his divided feminine side, with Estraven. Genly finds himself on a journey that he cannot even comprehend. He is a stranger to the people and societal norms and values of the planet he is sent to. However, this does not discourage him from pursuing his quest. The fact that he is a total stranger to the political, social and economic systems of the new planet facilitates his attempts to take cover in his bias that his home planet has imposed on him. At first, he finds it difficult to understand the people of this planet.

Le Guins explores the concept of social relations in a society where gender is not considered a significant or important thing. Gender is regarded irrelevant in this society where Genly finds himself. As Pita Mirianne in "Gender Bending: Ursula Le Guins The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) notes, the social relations issues presented in the novel contribute significantly to the changes that the protagonist, Genly Ai faces. Ai is faced with a compromise situation when he is forced to acknowledge and accept the values and practices of the new society that he has found himself in. The values he has learnt and acquired in Earthly society is compromised and exposed to extinction threat by the new planet that he went to on a quest to convince the government to join the Ekumen (Cornell 317). Genlys prejudiced discourse is perceived as a mirror and extension of his character that can be manifested through his xenophobic, imperial, and patriarchal identity. The first reflection of this mirror can be seen through his sense of fear and loneliness in the new planet where everything is quite opposite to Earthly society. Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism explains that culture plays a significant role in the development of the self-identity of an individual (5). The novel explains the concept of us and them in her novel (Le Guin & Susan 13). Through the journey of Genly, it is easy to note the sides of gender issues in the society. Through the characters like Genly Ai and Estraven, Le Guin intends to show her audience or readers the possibility of looking at the gender issue from every side, not one side. She emphasizes that there is need to look at all the sides of the coin and not a single or just two sides. Ai finds himself in an unknown world and his fear and loneliness are associated with the new cultural practices and values that he has found on the new planet. Said explains that culture is something that differentiates the us and them concepts in a society or a country (5).

Ai encounters fear and the sense of loneliness because of the new culture that he is bound to support and conform to if he has to fulfill his mission. The narrator narrates that it is safe to say that his (Ais) feeling cold, unconfident, obsessed by perfidy, and solitude, and fear (Le Guin 21). Ai fears that he might lose his male identity to the Earthly society where he came from if he must accept this new and unknown culture. This, as a result, makes him feel the sense of vulnerability because he might lose his manliness. Ai is confused by the new and unknown culture of the Gethenians whose values and norms are shaped by their androgynous nature. Le Guis elimination of the boundaries that separates the female and male genders makes the protagonist confused about where he belongs to in that society. Ai feels that he does not fit anywhere in this society; thus, he feels like a monster (Le Guin 13). Although he tries to identify with the manliness side, but he forgets that the Karhider he is with is not a man but a man-woman (Le Guin 95). Ai keeps referring to Estraven with the masculine pronoun he because of the gender side that he tries to embrace.

Ai is surprised with a number of things that makes him more confused with the new planet and the no longer he has to stay while pursuing his quest drives him crazier. The fact that the Gethenian society does not embrace war is something that he cannot comprehend. He almost makes assumptions that these people lack the capacity and capability of mobilization (Le Guin 49). Since the Gethenians does not embrace what he has known for almost the rest of his life on Earthly society, he likens them to animals or women who lack mobilization factor (Le Guin 49). This is quite different with what he has grown to know that men represent the superiority and puritan work ethics. This is something that he cannot see in the Gethenian society.

As Welser Melanie explains in In her novel The Left Hand of Darkness , does Ursula K. LE Guin succeed in depicting a completely non-gendered society?, the author eliminated the concept of gender to find out what is left in the society. Ais rejection and humiliation of the feminine figure or female roles in Gethenian society is an attempt to prove the male dominance, utilitarian, and imperialistic attitude of the Earthly society where he comes from. Changing and adapting into the Gethenians society is not easy for him. He has been on the new planet for over two years and he still cannot see them through their eyes (Le Guin 18). This can be seen with the fact that he cannot form a real communication with the Gethenians. However, it is not that he is incapable of forming a real communication with the Gethenians; the truth is that Ai is not interested in anything other than the material gains. His intention is to manipulate everything and everyone in Gethen to help him achieve his mission. This creates a rift between him and Estraven who has dedicated everything to help him in his quest by agreeing to help him meet the king. He is in dilemma on whether he should accept or trust his friend; however, he does not trust Estraven. Although he cannot trust Estraven, but he acknowledges his importance in his quest here in Gethen; trust him or not, I might still get some use out of him (Le Guin 16).

Essentially, the author presents the portrait of Ais mission and quest in Gethen as friendly and about the greater good of the two worlds. Ai is sent to convince Gethen to join Ekumen so that they can form community worlds that serve the interest of their people. However, with the conflict in terms of cultural practices between the two worlds through the characters, Genly Ai from Earthy society and Ir Estraven from Gethen, we can note how things change and no longer reflects the initial purpose or objective of creating a close relationship between their people. After being in Gethen for over two years, Ai does not seem to advocate for peaceful coexistence between the two worlds. After the two years, he has been in Gethen without being able to create a real and clear communication with the natives, Ai seems to begin to uncover the mask of his missionary works that we see in the beginning and all that can be seen now is his manipulation of the natives to serve his interests (Lam & Diana 226). He is no longer viewed as a person who brought enlightenment to the uncivilized Gethenians.

Le Guin eliminates the gender necessity in Gethen; however, as she depicts through the protagonist, it is not easy to live in a society where gender is no longer recognized. We can see this through the character, Ai who struggles with the new planet and trying to understand the people with their values (Plater-Zyberk 3). Gethen is a total opposite to what Ai has known for many years. In his Earthly society, the government or authority imposes the sexuality on people. This is quite different with what he has found in Gethen. Le Guin tries to create a new understanding that is different with what we have grown to know. The earthly society represented by the features like the authority entirely controlling the individuals personality. On the other hand, Le Guin presents her readers or audience with another option or point of view that majority have not considered as an alternative. She achieves this by giving the new planet, Gethen where the entire individuals personality is controlled by the sexual drive. However, with the absence of gender issues (Lamb & Dian 227), there is still conflict in the process of transition as the male will still want to maintain and embrace his virility while the woman or female also wants to maintain and appreciate her femininity.

Le Guin tries to compel her audience to accept the fact that in the new planet the indirect and subtle indicators of gender regard and appreciation do not exist. As she comments, Le Guin states that the new plant represented by Gethen or winter people will be judged not by the gender features but as a human being (Le Guin 95). The equality issues depicted from the presentation of the new planet or society can help us understand the contours and limits of gender as a whole. Le Guins new world advocates for equality of everyone including everyone bearing children and not the women alone as it happens on an Earthly society where Ai comes from. In the new world, the gender issues such as psycho-sexual relations with the parents will not be witnessed. There will be no rape and division of humanity; therefore, Le Guin aims at deconstructing the gender roles. The king is said to be pregnant (Le Guin 100); something that does not happen on Earthly society.

Ai finds it difficult to accept the femininity of his friend Estraven. This is one of the things that trouble him since he arrived in Gothen over two years ago. The darkness of Estraven has not been used in this text to depict the immorality of the Gotheans but to show the perception of Genly Ai (Bickman 45). Estravens darkness reflects Ais suppressed feminine side that he no does not want to recognize with anymore. Ai is separated from his self-identity. We can understand that this alienation is a detachment of Ai from his people that he used to identify with. Therefore, to comprehensive understand the personality of an indiv...

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