The Left Hand of Darkness and "otherness"

Ursula K. LeGuin is an author that I admire, even if I found some of her work inaccessible as a teen.  Maybe that was because I started reading her through her Earthsea books, and was expecting the magic of Earthsea (Powells Books) to be present in the The Left Hand of Darkness (Powell's Books).  Regardless, I hung on to my copy of The Left Hand of Darkness for years, and now thanks to a class I had encouragement to read it again.  I'm glad I did.

One thing that I hadn't quite realized was exactly how accomplished she was.  She is responsible for the first use of the term "ansible" as a device for FTL communication, which is now widely used in Science Fiction and as a theoretical device in real life.  The Left Hand of Darkness was the second book ever to win both a Hugo and a Nebula (first was Dune), and it was not her last book to win both awards.  Take a look at her honors and awards.  She also gives a great interview on Wired about her writing, interactions with other authors, publishers, pressure to write books more like Harry Potter, and more.

As for this week's essay, it was hard to settle on a topic.  With such a rich book how do you choose one topic and write just 300 words on it?  Dozens of tiny paper scraps mark pages with significant passages on different concepts and topics.  So ultimately I went with a quote to ground the essay, as a compromise for the varied and shifting concepts floating around in my head.

Some notes on content and form:
The opening quote is the central idea of my essay, I use it to highlight the otherness that we experience in our daily lives contrasted to the society in the book.  Does this mean I never clearly develop a thesis?  So be it.  I also maintain that my commentary linking this book to the real world is not "irrelevant" but each to their own.  Also, "paradigm" is a bizarre looking word.

Without any further meandering, here's what I submitted for my mini-essay.
"In a sense, women are more alien to me than you are."

The Left Hand of Darkness explores otherness, how it shapes cultures and interactions.  On Gethen,  Genly Ai is both familiar and other, as the Gethenians are both familiar and other to us.  Most of us go through life with an explicit and innate sense of gender and sexuality, something we may not even have to think about, it just is. These are so much a part of us that young children are often aware of when their gender does not match their biology, that teens and adults risk banishment from their families and communities (or worse) for what is a part of them.  The otherness that we experience based on innate attributes has caused violence, mistrust, and misunderstandings.

The Gethenians never experience this.  The do not experience the otherness of race or gender or even sexuality. They have minimal variations of skin tone.  Residents are not heterosexual or homosexual, rather sexual or asexual, lacking the fear of intimate otherness.  Every Gethenian is connected by experiences.  They still have conflict, have lines drawn, but by geographic boundaries and political ideologies, the enemy more familiar than foreign.

Genly is other, and he is feared for it by those with power.  He represents a shift in both power and cultural paradigm.  As Estraven asks, what sane man thinks of flying?  We live with otherness around us regularly, and war over it within our cultures and across our cultures.  Genly is one man alone, but his presence represents over 80 worlds of other existence that is outside their entire frame of reference. 

FORM (2)
peer 1 → I find the form of your essay a little confusing. Like disjointed sentences thrown one after the other. Nevertheless, you manage to make your point. Sort of. Have a 2, I am in a generous mood.
peer 2 → Your essay is clean, clear and well written. There is a typo “paradgim” should be “Paradigm.”
peer 3 → Essay structure rather weak. No topic declared.
peer 4 → The essay discusses otherness as a factor in this novel. The sentence structure is appropriate for the purpose of this essay. Words are well used within the structure and the grammar is good. The author states their argument of "otherness" clearly and directly. It is substantiated by details from the book.
peer 1 → You have an idea. An interesting idea. But you don't develop it fully, you get lost (as the other students I reviewed did) in the surface aspects of the novel and don't get as deep as your thesis (and the novel) would lead you. Maybe I feel this because I know a little more about anthropology than the common person and so I read this book a little more deeper than the common person. I don´t know. But what is sure is that your thesis deserved a little bit more depth than it actually had. But, don't worry, you have a 2 anyway. I am in a good mood, I told you ;-)
peer 2 → Your argument and thesis are clear and to the point. You bring out an important point and so fulfill the assignment very well. Thank you
peer 3 → The commentary about situation in real world seems irrelevant. The author seems to have an idea to discuss but it was never declared nor provided as such. This is the biggest problem of this essay.
peer 4 → I believe this author has good insight into the concept of this novel. They state the idea of "otherness" as being the behind the scenes issue covered in "The Left Hand of Darkness". The student author did a good job of bringing out that issue in their essay. There were many references to the issues that were mentioned in the book.

peer 3 → State what is your topic. Why it's special? Write in one topic sentence: What is your opinion on the matter.


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