Ms. Le Guin,
I am a 33 year old school teacher in Edinburg, IL. I teach English to middle school students. I occasionally teach college composition classes as an adjunct faculty member. I am also an avid reader and a struggling writer. I have always believed that in order to write good fiction one has to read a lot of good fiction and a lot of bad fiction. I have done both. I began a quest to read all of the Hugo Award winners to give myself an impression of what many consider to be good writing. That is when I discovered your novel THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. It was sitting quietly in a used bookstore with a tattered cover and a well-read spine.
As I began to read it, I have to admit that at first I wasn't particularly impressed. It seemed an odd world, and I was having a hard time getting into the story. This did not last long. The greatness of the book began to emerge. I began to read at a quicker pace. I became so enthralled with the culture you had created that I could think of little else. You took me to the places that you had fashioned and made me live as one of your characters. I remember your descriptions of the snow and ice. I actually felt cold most of the time I read your novel. Perhaps this degree of identification is unusual, but your work moved me so much that I can only describe it as awe-inspiring. I truly felt that I was in the presence of a true master. I cannot say for certain why the book is so wondrous. I have tried to analyze it many times in my mind. I am a huge fan of writing reviews but have put off writing one for this novel because I honestly do not know what to say. Long after the last page was read, I kept thinking about it. I am still thinking about it today. It is everything I want to accomplish in a book of my own one day. It has a timeless quality, and a sort of class that sets it apart from many other works. The magic of it is that I cannot put my finger on why I like it so much. I have wasted many hours reading bad books, and I have spent many hours reading books that can only be described as wonders. Yours is among the wondrous. Yours is beyond them. The experience of the novel touched my life, and it truly taught me what good character development is. It taught me what good setting is. It taught me that no matter what we write about it comes down to humanity. The problems we all face each day are paramount in our minds. The solutions, though sometimes out of reach, are what we all strive for.
I am sure you have received many letters about your works over the course of your career, but I humbly submit mine. I felt that I could never put to rest the feelings that THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS evoked from me unless I wrote to thank you personally. I am glad for the opportunity. I hope that it does you good to know that you have encouraged a humble teacher to continue to strive to create a story as great and wondrous as yours. Perhaps one day you will read something of mine and be able to know that you had a hand in my inspiration. Thank you so very much.
Through androgeny, Le Guin shows that although male and female are opposites, they complement each other to make one. Protagonist Genly Ai has difficulty seeing the Gethenians as either man or woman, instead of what they really are - a union of both. And in return, the androgynes see Ai, a human, as a pervert - a division of the two sexes. Indeed, the androgeny in 'The Left Hand of Darkness' creates a world in which sexual discrimination and exploitation are not possible. Le Guin uses androgyny in order to make us conscious of the way our stereotypes can be destructive. One major stereotype that is brought to light is how female traits usually have weak connotations, whereas male traits are strong and more desirable.
In using androgyny, Le Guin poses the question of personal identity in a strange new world. Genly Ai, a black envoy from Earth, is suddenly catapulted into a unisex society and is forced to question who he really is.
Moreover, Le Guin displays a journey in which the protagonist moves from ignorance, to the polar opposite of truth. In the novel, he realizes who the people are, who he can trust, and what really matters in life. Genly's transition can only take place through his friend, Estraven, one of the androgynes:
"And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see [...]: that he was a woman as well as a man. [...] Until then, I had rejected him, refused him his own reality. [...] I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man" (248-9).
To go back to the Taoist theme that is ever-prevalent, Le Guin calls upon a 'Handdara prayer' called, 'Tormer's Lay,' in which her title was taken from:
Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end of the way.
Each line shows part of the Taoist belief in opposites, similar to the Yin-Yang, which is a symbol that embodies the idea. In the Yin-Yang, black symbolizes female, while white is a symbol for the male. In this perfect circle, both are one. On Earth, it symbolizes man and woman. On Gethen, it symbolizes one person, the union of both man and woman. Simply in existence, the androgyne of Gethen is in fact the true essence of the Yin and Yang.
Also, Le Guin's intricate combination of viewpoints truly brings balance to the story. Throughout the novel, Le Guin uses various points of view. These range from a third person, which is used to tell stories or give a historic view of Gethen, to a first person narrative in the voice of Estraven, to a first person narrative in the voice of Ai, and finally to a first person narrative of an Earth woman. The voice of Genly and the random voice of the woman contribute to the balance because man and woman complement each other. And finally, Estraven's voice is not only a change of viewpoint, but also unity itself because he is the union of man and woman.
'The Left Hand of Darkness' is a prime example of Le Guin's Taoist beliefs worked into her writing. Her novel, in fact, proves her Taoist image of the Yin and Yang. Le Guin's proposal suggests that all things in the universe, whether that be in idea, thought, action, or material, has an opposite complement that is necessary for the world to function properly. Easy to understand, one can look to the title of the book, 'The Left Hand of Darkness.' Even the title delineates upon the Way. Light and darkness go hand in hand. If there is not one, there cannot be the other. It is not possible for either of them to be separated. This is exactly the same with everything else in life. Not only does Le Guin prove her point, but at the same time, creates an elegant piece of art. And until all people realize the need for complements and the necessity of an opposite, there can never be peace on Earth. Perfect unity and ideal peace will never be achieved unless we acknowledge differences in each other, all things, and most importantly, ourselves.
Overall, Le Guin presents a thought-provoking novel, even for those not normally warm to science fiction. Her work is much deeper than meets the eye, and most definitely, her Taoist ideas shine through.
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