Anarchy and Loyalty

A society creates rules and regulations to guide the people’s engagement such that the system of instructions forms the norm for each community. Anarchy is a state of disorder because of the absence of authority (Wittel). The anarchist system exists in some communities as exhibited in literature and films (Crowder 5). On the other hand, trust and understanding between two parties can lead to loyalty in their relations (Kinneging). Betrayal is the deliberate severing of trust between two parties and makes it difficult for the two groups or individuals to work together in the future with a common understanding and focus (Rachman 304). The aspects of anarchy and loyalty are highlighted and explored among the various relationships in the book Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

From the novel, Ai struggles to form a bond with Estraven who had dual sexuality.  Ai states “It is hard, I found, to be called a traitor. Strange how hard it is… I was half convinced myself” (Le Guin 39). The barrier is broken later on during their journey to the Ice after Ai accepts him as a bi-sexual. The ultimate change in Ai’s perception creates a strong and trusting relationship between him and Estraven (Bloom 21). Anarchy and loyalty are the main themes under discussion in this particular analysis as per Le Guin’s depiction of the same in the book Left Hand of Darkness.

The Gethenian community exhibits a unique disposition in their cultural practices. They believe in ‘simmering’ where a person can experience both genders perennially. Ai says, “The furthest extreme from this practice is the custom of vowing kemmering …no legal status, but socially and ethically is an ancient and vigorous institution” (Le Guin 48).  Ai, an envoy of Ekumen is sent to Gethen with a mission to learn about the Gethenians bisexuality. The envoy was also supposed to convince them that association with other people will not destroy their traditions or social identity. Ai asks the Gethan nation to integrate with the people of Ekumen and create a relationship that would mutually benefit both parties economically, culturally and politically.  Initially, the emissary finds it difficult to complete his mission since he treats the ambisexual Gethenians with prejudice. Case in point, Ai states, “I will make my report as if I told a story… Truth is a matter of imagination” (Le Guin 5). Ai finds it challenging to establish a bond with Gethenians. He has the preconceived ideas of how men should behave and thus distrusts Estraven when they meet (Le Guin 14). As soon as the two meet, he labels Estraven ‘womanly’ because he exhibits feminine characteristics.

The book highlights the conflict between the Orgoreyn and Karhide, which depicts nationalism. The heightened conflict makes the two parties view themselves as being citizens of different planets. The conflict is evident when Ai says, “Such a man as Estraven must have guards about him somewhere, for assassination is a vital institution in Karhide ” (Le Guin 13).  He feels Estraven is endangered because of the on-going war and political status in Karhide. Despite the existence of combat, the Gethenian society is glued together through loyalty and duty. The strong bonds between, families, lovers, and nations help the people survive the hostility of human life. In the novel, Genly and Estraven serve the whole humanity nobly and sacrifice their lives willingly for others. There is a border dispute with Orgoreyn, where Estraven calms the tempers by moving the Karhidish farmers from the hostile territory. Estraven believes that ending the dispute would save the lives of the involved parties as well as foster loyal to the country. King Agraven disagrees with Estraven on this issue as he terms it a betrayal to the Karhidish farmers and their society when he states, “If there are … worlds full of monsters … what of it? We want nothing from them” (Le Guin 23). He rejects the invitation to join Ekumen because of the fear of differences (Le Guin 18). It is reproachable to be loyal to one group of people at the expense of others. On the other hand, having selfless obligations is regarded as worthy and admirable.

The book highlights the struggle of being loyal and at the same time carrying out the public duties and service to humanity. Ai promises to clear Estravens name before pulling down the ship. However, he was unable to fulfill his promise as he formalizes the Gethens joining the Ekumen. Estraven declares; “He is ignorant of us: we of him” (Le Guin 75).  Estraven wonders why they misunderstood each other after receiving money from Ai.

The foundation of much of the Gethenian society is a monogamous and loving relationship. The marriage institution in the Gethenian culture is not legally recognized, but the partners bear the duty and responsibility for the children and in the long run, create a community held together with familial bonds. Through the Gethens folktales, the book highlights the loving partnership between people, which catalyzes the broader peace in the society. Estraven and Ai both recognize that the love of a country could be a positive thing. However, unbridled xenophobic patriotism leads to segregation in society. Nationalism and patriotism are viewed negatively because they can lead to bigotry and the lack of understanding between nations (Fetherston 26). The small-scale loyalties between the lovers and grand loyalties to humanity is encouraged. “To govern this land is to govern its lords…Do you know the saying, Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel?” states King Agraven (Le Guin 7). The lack of understanding among the nations can lead to violence, a situation that the Gethens had managed to avoid for centuries.

The Left Hand of Darkness criticizes patriarchy. The author embraces anarcho-communism where state and private properties are destroyed in favor of common ownership, work volunteerism, and direct democracy. The book promotes horizontal work organization as opposed to the hierarchical system (Gunn 33). The parallel management approach encourages consultation and collective responsibility in decision making and task execution.

The Gethenians are loyal to their social hierarchy where they accept fluid genders. In the contemporary world, many individuals claim to be genderless or gender fluid as seen in Jo Walton’s article “Gender and glaciers: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness” (Walton). During Kemmering, the two partners exhibit physical changes to accommodate their pairing in a pseudo-heterosexual elation. The Kemmering forms an essential part of the Gethen folklore. Goss refers to kemmering by pointing out Ai’s statement where “Goss used the pronoun that designates a male animal, not the pronoun for a human being in the masculine role of kemmer” (Le Guin 7).

In the book, we notice Karhide move from a perilous balance between dissension and cohesion with a state of mobilization, which is a bogus type of union. Therem and Genly create a relationship that balances between diversity and unity established on a basis more solid and vital than depicted at the beginning of the book (Le Guin 34). Karhide succumbs to the demagogues who unite the country by creating the fear and hatred of others, which is referred to as patriotism by some factions. The passiveness and formlessness of the culture help Tibe win over his ambitions. Ai struggles with his sense of masculine identity, which made him experience difficulty to understand the Gethenian culture (Le Guin 38). The Gethenians viewed Ai as a pervert because he is permanently stuck with a male model of perspective and living.

Shifgrethor is a personal honor, pride, prestige or self-worth. The Gethenian principles maintain equality and respect to all so that one does not offend others. Ai struggled to understand this principle because it served as a motivation to the Gethenians. Following the policy makes it easier for him to convince them to join the Ekumen.  The Shifgrethor principle affects how the Gethenians conduct power dynamics and negotiations. One of their rules is that the Gethenians do not receive or give direct advice. In the beginning, Ai does not understand the concept and rules in place on the new planet and thus engages in a linear engagement with the Gethenians, which is in sync with his personality and character. In this instance, there is a variance in the culture of the two communities and the need for accommodation of others’ unique views and principles for mutual understanding. Ironically, most of the Getheanians did not understand the shifgrethor concept fully as they exhibit vague concepts that inform their social interactions (Le Guin 39). The children get to learn the rules of the community as they grow and interact with others in society.

Trust is essential in building lasting or robust bonds in any relationship. Ai struggles to trust Estraven as he finds it difficult to categorize him as a male person. However, he still mentally labels him as a man. There exists social friction when Estraven does things that Ai does not perceive to be masculine (Le Guin 37). The conflicting loyalty over the respective cultures affects the trust between the two characters of Ai and Estraven.

As a diplomat, Ai possesses a unique skill of communication and mind speech. Mind speech requires a deep connection with another person for one to understand and read his or her mind. Mind speech entails a telepathic communication whereby people can exchange nonverbal communication.  Ai explains, “I was … moved … to try to reach him with the mind-speech … There was no response” (Le Guin 31). Communication is key to understanding one another and vital in maintaining trust and loyalty. Estraven experiences difficulty when he communicates with Ai (Le Guin 42). Estraven sens messages using the shifgrethor, a Gethenian way of advice. When one does not understand the language, he feels like an alien on the planet.


In conclusion, the book Left Hand of Darkness depicts the varied cultures and norms of society. Two communities have to understand each other’s culture for them to communicate and bridge their differences and work together. The novel highlights the anarchy in the Gethenian community, which believes in ambisexuality. Kemmering is a shocking concept to Ai who has a different perception regarding sexuality. The two conflicting parties get to understand each other through various communication channels. In the long run, they both agree that service to humanity is outstanding and at times might interfere with the individual responsibility to loyalty.


Work Cited

Bloom, Harold. Ursula K. Le Guins the Left Hand of Darkness. Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Crowder, George. “Anarchism.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-s003-1.

Fetherston, Rachel. Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Insight Publications, 2016.

Gunn, James E. The Road to Science Fiction. White Wolf Publishing, 1979.

Kinneging, A. “Loyalty in the Modern World.” Modern Age Conservative Review, vol. 46, no. 1-2, 2004. Le Guin Ursula. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Books, 2010.

Rachman, S. “Betrayal: A Psychological Analysis.” Behaviour Research and Therapy, vol. 48, no. 4, 2010, pp. 304–311., doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.12.002.

Walton, Jo. “Gender and Glaciers: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.”, 18 Sept. 2018,

Wittel, Andreas. “What Is Anarchism All about?” The Conversation, 18 Sept. 2018,