Characters in Left Hand of Darkness

Here are some of the characters encountered by Genly Ai during his stay on Gethen.  Ai, of course, is an Earth normal male who has been dropped on the surface of Gethen as an emissary for the Ekumen, the organization of 83 worlds and some 3,000 nations seeking new members for purpose of trade.  Most readers assume that Genly Ai is African American because of the reference to his skin color by King Argaven:  "Are they all as black as you?" [35].  Assuming that Ai is the most familiar character in the novel, I will present the characters under the headings "Karhiders" and "Orgota" so that their national allegiances will be clear. 



Therem Harth rem ir Estraven--The King's Ear who is exiled for his "kindness to foreigners."  Estraven befriends Ai and genuinely supports his mission, but Ai is unable to understand this until much later in the novel. Estraven is perhaps the only Gethenian to fully appreciate the significance of Ai's presence on the planet and even goes so far as to jeopardize his own status and life to help Ai to succeed.

Commensal Yegey[81]--Described by Ai as a "dapper, drawling fellow"; he is a member of the Open Trade Party--which, of course, does not promote open trade [136-137].


King Argaven XV--He doesn't believe that Ai is really from another planet and instead has been convinced by his court that Ai is simply a "pervert," an anomalous Gethenian who is always in kemmer.  He feels betrayed by Estraven and banishes him both because Estraven supports Ai and because Estraven has suggested that Karhide return the Sinoth Valley to the Orgota.  These behaviors offend the King's "shifgrethor," his status and place.  See the preliminary definition of  "shifgrethor" [13] and somewhat expanded definition [33]. Commensal Obsle [82]--"a needle hidden in a heap of grease" according to Estraven.  Implicitly compared to Tibe's teeth.  Described by Ai as "fat-faced...gross, genial, and inquisitive" [119].  Attempts to ingratiate himself with Ai by outing others as SARF [secret police] spies [132].  Open Trade Party.


Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe--Tibe is the King's cousin.  His duplicity and his dangerous qualities are metaphorically represented through the description of his teeth [8].  He becomes the King's Ear upon Estraven's exile and probably urged the King both to exile Estraven and to refuse Ai. See 48. Mr. Uth Shusgis [111]--First Commensal District Commissioner for Roads and Ports.  His two-fisted handshake upon meeting Ai [114] betrays his lack of sincerity.  Ultimately, he is revealed to be a SARF agent.
Ashe[72-73]--Estraven's ex-kemmering who is now a celibate foreteller at the Orgny Fastness.  He and Estraven had two sons, both of Ashe's flesh.  He always caused Estraven to "act against [his] heart" [73].  Ashe [102-105] comes to Ai, declares Estraven Ai's "friend," and suggests that any mission that overrides "personal debts and loyalties" is "an immoral mission" [104].  Ashe implicitly connects Hadarrata values to Ekumen values. Vanake Slose [119]--The Commensal from Kuwera in the third district of Orgoreyn.  Ai calls him "frail" and "youngish" with the appearance of an "idealist."  He is Open Trade party.


Faxe [58]--He is a Foreteller of the Otherhord Fastness.  Faxe is the Foreteller when Genly Ai asks his question of the group [62-67].  Faxe is crucial to our understanding of the Handarrata religion and to the history of religions on Gethen.  He attempts to mindspeak with Ai and does his best to explain the importance of ignorance.  He also plays a crucial role later in the novel. Gaum [132]--Accused by Obsle of being a SARF agent, he is skeptical and ridicules Ai at the Yegey luncheon.  He attempts to seduce Estraven and thinks that Estraven is perpetrating a hoax through Ai, an attempt to undermine Orgoreyn.


  Mersen--Accused by Obsle [132] and by Shusgis [144] of being a Karhidish spy.
  Commensal Ithapen [147]--SARF agent who might, ironically, support Ai.  He is in charge of censoring all Karhide broadcasts about Ai.