Reading the TVTropes page for Left Hand of Darkness surprised me a couple times because some of the observations listed hadn’t occurred to me when reading the book. For example under Deliberate Values Dissonance a troper remarks on how, despite Genly’s disparaging manner in regards to feminine things, he doesn’t come off as a Straw Misogynist. It wasn’t the observation that surprised me (we’ve of course touched on Genly’s sexism in class) but rather the possibility of Genly being a Straw Misogynist. I guess the phrase gave me pause because this may be the first time I’ve come across reference to such a character; I’m more used to Straw Feminists! Another phrasing that surprised me, or I should say, caught my attention, was how the discrimination against the ‘perverts’ was shelved under Fantastic Sexism. I was thinking of their attitudes more along the lines of transphobia to be honest because the sex dichotomy doesn’t exist on Gethen, so the idea to regard the discrimination as sexism somehow never occurred to me. One thing which amused me was the parallel drawn between Gethen and Siberia, and more clearly the Gulag and Pulefin Farm.
While all of these tropes were fascinating, this is what I found the most interesting on The Left Hand of Darkness page: “Info Dump”. The tropes page writes “the expository chapters may feel like one”, and describes the trope as “particularly long or wordy”; I feel as if they add to the story and to note, not all of them are long. The stories and notes in the chapters might be an overload of information, but they add to understand why some of the reactions and situations happen in the novel itself. The chapters say what it needs to say in Le Guin’s poetic style of writing, whether it’s a report from a character or a myth from Gethen lore.
For example, in chapter seven, it is lengthy field notes on Gethenian sexuality, but it gives insight about how the people of Gethen are, from another outside view other than Genly. The way it is written explains why Genly reacts the way he does and has assumptions about the people who live on that planet. In the chapter, Ong Tot Oppong uses the term he, because “it is less defined, less specific, than the neuter or the feminine.” (Le Guin 101) This is the start of human interaction with Gethen, which clearly affects future generations.
So, the tropes that stuck out to me as issues or just as interesting:
- Gender Neutral Writing – I’m kind of conflicted about this. I spent a little while angrily googling things like le guin interview pronouns, and found out that she herself advocates for the use of singular ‘they.’ So I’m inclined to think that the weird, annoying retrofitting into the ‘he’/’she’ linguistic gender binary was intended as a way in which none of the non-Gethenian narrators are fully reliable narrators – they’re imposing their own structures of understanding onto a people to whom those structures don’t apply. But on the other hand… there was nothing I can think of in the text that discussed the issues of doing that, and because I’m really invested in getting singular ‘they’ more widely accepted, it makes me uncomfortable to think that readers are coming away without ever questioning why a reliance on binary pronouns might be problematic.
- Medieval Stasis – I just really question the actual importance of what the reasoning for the super slow technological development is, in the sense that the in-universe explanation could be basically anything. It seems a little handwavey to me: yeah, it’s cold, we’re busy surviving, whatever… Really it’s had the technology it does for as long as it has, in the end, because le Guin wanted it to. (And I’m not saying that as a criticism! I like the setting. I think what I mean is that excessive musing or worldbuilding on How This Came To Be would actually detract from the fact that it is.)
- UST – Yeah, I definitely thought they were going to kiss.