Ursula LeGuin presents us a world that is in perfect balance. It is this balance that makes the planet’s inhabitants almost impossible to understand for an Earth man. Genly Ai is used to see and interact with people with fix genders, people whose duality is somewhat externalized, while the Gethenians’ is internalized. From a psychological point of view, in humans, when speaking about Jung’s animus and anima, one dominates the other. In Gethenians, they are in perfect harmony. Their male and female aspects are complimenting each other, instead of fighting for dominance. “And I saw then (…) that he was a woman as well as a man.” – says Genly, finally understanding Estraven, but only when the latter “chooses” a gender.
All aspects of Gethenian civilization reflect this equilibrium. Seeing the Handarra religion as being reminiscent of Taoism, we can interpret the nation of Karhide as representing the Yin principle, with Orgoreyn being Yang. The Karhidians, the “female” side of the planet, are extremely diplomatic, developing a style of addressing (shifgrethor) that mind-boggles Genly, while the Orgoreynians, the “male” side, have a straightforward manner. But, in true Yin-Yang tradition, there is a black dot in the white portion and a white dot in the black one. The Karhidians, even if they have a way of expressing themselves that hides their thoughts, are, most of them, well-intentioned. The Orgoreynians, quite the opposite: They act directly, but with a hidden agenda.
But although the Gethenians know not of war, and despite their seemingly angelic, well-balanced androgynous nature, LeGuin shows us that they are not above cunning plots, treachery, and deception. They are not saints, nor angels. Just people. And by understanding them, by understanding other people, other cultures, maybe we can understand better ourselves, reaching higher levels of wisdom, just like Genly Ai.
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