Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" contains an exploration of the meaning of truth. Before beginning his tale, Mr. Ai says that truth "is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling." This is why when Ai invited the kingdom of Karhide to join the Ekumen the king was afraid. The facts were the same for Ai and king Argaven: the Ekumen had 83 habitable planets and 3,000 nations, but their interpretations were radically different. The king saw his joining as making Karhide "one against three thousand," whereas Ai saw the other nations as partners in "a clearinghouse for trade and knowledge," not antagonists. To Ai the facts were good, to Argaven they were bad.

Truth is also explored by looking at Estraven, thought by some to be a traitor, by others to be loyal. Again, truth is not fixed, but in the imagination, for "no man considers himself a traitor." When Estraven told Ai that the king of Karhide would not be pleased with his message but that Orgoryen might appreciate it, Ai thought that "Estraven had no loyalties at all." In Ai's imagination, the primitive people of Gethen could not possibly have higher loyalties than to their own country, so when Estraven seemed to betray Karhide, Ai believed him to be a spineless traitor. But when Ai was rescued by Estraven (much to his surprise) he learned that Estraven had loyalty to his "fellow men" on Gethen, not just to his own country. Although Estraven was exiled from Karhide, the plan he told to Ai soon brought Karhide into the Ekumen, which both Ai and Estraven thought was good. "Two governments fell" because of Ai and the Ekumen. To some this was good, to others it was bad. The facts can be same, but the truth may still differ.