Review Wednesday: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

I wanted to talk about gender this month because I keep getting in this argument about what it means to be a woman with a particular gentleman. Now, I know why I keep getting in the argument, but I’m not really sure why he does. And yet . . .

One of his favorite books is The Left Hand of Darkness. One of his favorite authors is Ursula Le Guin. I came across this essay by her about being a man, and I sent it to him. And then we got in the argument again. I’m not even sure exactly what the argument is about, but it feels like it’s important to both of us.

So then I read The Left Hand of Darkness and I knew I had to talk about it on here. Because it says something that I think we all need to deeply feel when we’re thinking about gender. Whether masculine or feminine.


A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.


I think this is an important book for teens and adults to read. Le Guin has a fascinating introduction to this book. She says that science fiction isn’t predictive. It’s descriptive. She says, “Yes, indeed, the people in [this book] are androgynous. That doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millenium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think that we damned well ought to be androgynous. I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are.”

And then Spoiler Alert at one point in the book the emissary looks over at the Gethenian who has become his particular friend and he sees what he was unwilling to all along: that his friend is also a woman. And he says that all along he had been denying him his own reality. That really struck me. Actually, I started crying. I’m not sure why.

But maybe it’s that gender is so complicated. And we have come up with so many words to describe it and ways to change it and subvert it. But really, how we all interact with our own gender is so particular and so deeply felt. Or maybe that’s just me. But either way, when we try to shoehorn ourselves and each other into a prescribed gender role OR when we try to pretend that it doesn’t matter at all and we’ve progressed beyond it, something vital is lost.

I think this book does an amazing job of honestly exploring these questions. Thanks for stopping by!


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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One Response to Review Wednesday: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

  1. Pingback: Gender Book list | Strong in the Broken Places

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