The Assumptions We Place…

Genly’s reports and, in chapter 7, Ong Tot Oppong of Chiffewar’s field notes tell us that the Gethenians don’t have a word for war because they know nothing of it. To which I respond that they’re damn lucky…The interesting part is not the fact that the Gethenians differ from others in that respect, but the issue is that when Oppong wonders ‘why’ the Gethenians do not have wars, she immediately answers not with an objective view but with the ideals and opinions she has developed from her own life. (I would point out the times that Genly does this, but essays are forbidden). When I saw the trope “Perfect Pacifist People”, I thought of this connection immediately and the fact that Le Guin is creating a parallel between what Oppong is doing and what we of the West have been doing to other cultures unlike our own for years. 

To elaborate, while Oppong is exploring why the Ancient Hainish might have created androgynous people and why they do not have wars, she assumes that not only did they take away the male-female/dominant-submissive binary that wars emulate, but they have another enemy to worry about: the cold. Immediately when I read this assumption, I shook my head in disagreement. I mean, didn’t Genly make a point to say that Estroven felt like he was in a normal spring night in an early chapter? So I thought “that’s not an accurate assessment. How do you assume that?” To my response, Le Guin might say “exactly”. The point Le Guin may be trying to make is “why assume that certain conditions that are disagreeable for us are just as disagreeable for the culture living in it?” Another important binary she is trying to end besides the male-female binary could be the “us versus them” assumptions we are guilty of projecting on others unlike ourselves.

 

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