Home » Fantasy and the human mind » Ursula Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkeness.

Ursula Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkeness.

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Coursera, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World  by Eric Rabkin.

This was may favorite read so far. An introduction to a new author that I will definitely read more of.  The author is Ursula LeGuin and the novel is The Left Hand of Darkness One of my classmates said that “LeGuin is articulate and poetic in equal measure”, wonderfully put. There were so many themes. I loved the oriental aspect and her beautifully written prose, In the end I chose to write my essay on the use of names. This poem reminded me of Genly Ai and Estraven.

In the world I am
Always a stranger
I do not understand its language
It does not understand my silence

Bei Dao

Please write an essay that aims to enrich the reading of a fellow student who is both intelligent and attentive to the readings and to the course. Each essay should be between 270 and 320 words.

Here is the essay that I submitted which received a 5. I am very pleased with this score.


 Yet his name is a cry of pain. For that I first sought him out […] I asked his name, and heard for answer a cry of pain from a human throat across the night.  [1].

Le Guin uses characters’ names to tell us more about people and culture.

Ai is not in physical pain but needs help and guidance. The novel is written in the first person “I” and unfolds mostly through his “eyes”. These plays on the sound of his name ground him into the story as the main narrator and a solitary observer.

The Karhiders, like the Japanese, can’t pronounce the ‘l’ in Genly. Ai has problems understanding Karhider culture particularly with diplomacy and politics. Le Guin emphasises cultural differences by mirroring problems that westerners have understanding Oriental Asian cultures.  

Thieves who steal a man’s hearth and name from him and send him out ashamed and exiled. [2]

Estraven is often called by his middle name Harth. This is pronounced like “hearth”, the centre of family life and symbol of home. Le Guin frequently demonstrates the importance of the Hearth to Karhiders, on this cold planet people centre around communities called Hearths.  Here they tell stories called “hearth tales”. We hear of banishment as being driven “out of Hearth and Domain” [3]. Estraven craves his home and hearth even though to return would mean death.  

During the nomadic journey across the ice, Estraven becomes a symbolic representation of home for Ai. During his first journey into town without Harth, he comments that he “constantly missed Estraven’s presence beside” him.  He feels, once again, ungrounded without the stabilising force of his friend.

Estraven’s kemmering is Ashe. Ash is the burnt remains found in a hearth. “As I spoke my anger and bitterness turned from Ashe against myself and my own life, which lay behind me like a broken promise”. [4]. Estraven is talking of the remains – the ashes of his past.

The use of names to link characters with the story, home, culture and each other have been craftily and deeply woven.


Works cited:

Please note that this essay is written in British English.

Quotations from – The Left Hand of Darkness  by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

[1] Estraven – Chapter 16. Also – From Ursula Guin’s website. – Pronunciation of characters. Genly Ai – Ai pronounced like I or eye or Aiieee!  http://ursulakleguin.com/FAQ_Questionnaire5_01.html#EkumenBooks

[2] Estraven – Chapter 16.

[3] A Hearth Tale – Chapter 2

[4] Estraven  – Chapter 6


Peer Review 

The review process is split into three parts.

Part one FORM

Please indicate in 30-150 words your judgment of the FORM of the essay you have just read.  FORM here refers to matters of grammar, usage, and structure. Are the sentences grammatically correct?  Are the words properly used?  Is the exposition and argument laid out clearly?  An ideal response would note one aspect of Form that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Form that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

peer 1 → Grammar, usage, and structure are all good. The first quote and the paragraph about Ai should be together.
peer 2 → This needs revising for flow. It includes all of the elements you need for a great short essay, but it lacks transitions. Finally, the central thesis (the meaning of names in the novel) could be further developed if you edited out extraneous material.
peer 3 → It’s written well, my only real suggestion is to integrate your paragraph structure a little more (I think it would make your observations more poignant).
peer 4 → You make no grammatical or spelling errors, and your essay is relatively well structured. I’m giving your form a 3.
peer 5 → The essay was well organized, and there were no visible grammatical errors.

Please grade the FORM of the essay you have just read on a scale of 1 to 3. FORM here refers to matters of grammar, usage, and structure. Are the sentences grammatically correct? Are the words properly used? Is the exposition and argument laid out clearly? An ideal response would note one aspect of Form that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Form that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

Since everyone can learn to write better, at least 10% but no more than 30% of the grades should be 1. Everyone should strive for perfect grammar. However, if someone writes in ways that are particularly vivid or uses particularly incisive key terms to focus the argument or in some other way is outstanding in usage or structure, that essay should be awarded a 3 but no more than 20% of the grades should be a 3 because, by definition, “outstanding” is comparatively rare. Most grades should be 2.

Score from your peers: 2


Part two CONTENT

Please indicate in 30-150 words your judgment of the CONTENT of the essay you have just read. CONTENT here refers to matters of insight, argument, and example. Does the essay show a deep understanding of some aspect of the work or of a pattern that one can see in the work? Does the argument make sense, feel persuasive, and reveal the significance of the insight or insights? Are there concrete details from the text that support the argument and that we come to understand more powerfully because of the argument? An ideal response would note one aspect of Content that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Content that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

peer 1 → Great essay and subject. You’ve definitely enhanced the reading. FYI – Genly Ai’s name, as ai means indigo blue in Japanese, as I learned from another essay that I reviewed about the colors in the novel.
peer 2 → I love the content of the essay. It seems like you have a sharp critical ability; the name motif is powerful and you’ve chosen some effective textual support to illustrate and develop on your discussion of that motif. You did give me some insights into the naming that I really appreciate. I think you fell off a bit when you included the material about pronunciation, since that took up space and didn’t directly help you develop on your discussion of the interpretation of names.
peer 3 → Very interesting observations! By the end I can see why you hit on so many different wordplays rather than focusing on a single one for development. That said, my suggestion is that you introduce your thesis earlier in your essays to help the reader know exactly what it is they are about be reading about.
peer 4 → This is a very good analysis of the characters and point of view. I like it very much. I’m giving your content a 3.
peer 5 → Starting the essay off with with a quote could be risky business, but you pulled it off. It shaped the theme of the essay, and it was well supported.

Please grade the CONTENT of the essay you have just read on a scale of 1 to 3. CONTENT here refers to matters of insight, argument, and example. Does the essay show a deep understanding of some aspect of the work or of a pattern that one can see in the work? Does the argument make sense, feel persuasive, and reveal the significance of the insight or insights? Are there concrete details from the text that support the argument and that we come to understand more powerfully because of the argument? An ideal response would note one aspect of Content that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Content that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

Since everyone can learn to write better, at least 10% but no more than 30% of the grades should be 1. Most people will offer their readers a new insight and some detailed reference to the text that argues for the significance of that insight and for an appreciation of how that detail functions, so most essays will enrich our reading and earn a 2. Some essays will be astonishingly new or persuasive or useful by making the story much richer and even by helping you understand better how to read stories in general. Such essays earn a 3 in Content, but no more than 20% of the grades should be a 3 because, by definition, “outstanding” is comparatively rare. Most grades should be 2.

Score from your peers: 3


Part three COMMENTS 

Please write here any other comments which you feel might be of use to you or the writer of this essay.
peer 1 → Good job and good luck in the class
peer 4 → This is (at least) my idea of ​​a good essay.

What I will take forward. 

Very fair comments I felt this week. I think my writing is getting better. I disagree with peer 1 that my first quote should be in the same paragraph as the one about Ai. I wanted that quote to stand alone as a heading. I think I need to focus more sharply and not fall into digressions. I tend to do this when I speak as well.

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4 Comments

  1. I really like these observations about the names.

  2. Sean says:

    Yes, I like this, it made Ai very much the self-interested egotist and Estraven the community spirited romantic traditionalist. The names are very evocativeand woven in by myth and story (although I did think she was a little heavy handed at times 🙂

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Now you mention it yes in places. I guess she was going for the average IQ reader. I wouldn’t have noticed unless you pointed it out. Things like that tend to wash over me and I don’t notice unless they are very very obvious.

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