The Left Hand Of Darkness: The Change Of Perspectives
Alien encounters can lead to human characters’ change in becoming more trusted in the different race or acknowledging very distinct perspectives. In “First Contact” by Murray Leinster in 1945, the story starts with the human spaceship Llanvabon alone in the universe, and then they meet other aliens. At first, the crews do not understand about the aliens as well as distrust them and they think the aliens and human are different. After a while, they realize that the aliens are not human but similar to human in some ways and that’s when the Tommy Dort who is one of the crews, and the skipper change to trust the aliens. In The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K.Le Guin in 1969, because of the different perspective in the Gethenians’gender, Genly Ai who is on the mission to bring about an alliance between Gethen and the Ekumen finds it very hard to understand the Gethenians and distrusts Estraven as well as doubts his motives and manners in helping him with the mission. The journey across the Gobrin ice with Estraven helps him to have a better understanding of the Gethenians and realize the reality of the Gethenians’ sexual nature that he has refused. Both texts will be compared for some following factors in this essay. In general, when paired together, after the first contact of the crews of the human spaceship with the alien spaceship in “First Contact” and of Genly Ai with the Gethenians in The Left Hand of Darkness, all of human characters first think that the other races from other worlds are different from human, which leads to the situation that the crews in “First Contact” and Genly Ai in The Left Hand of Darkness do not understand these races and have particular attitudes toward them.
Only until a problem occurs and both sides have to cooperate to overcome that problem, human characters know more about the alien crews and the Gethenians and they no longer think of these races as the way they used to. This changes what human characters have in the first place. In “First Contact”, the Llanvabon is a spaceship from the Earth to “make close-range observations on the smaller component of the double star” at the Crab Nebula’s centre (Leinster 321). At that time, the crews of the ship do not know about the existence of other aliens in the universe. The story begins with Tommy Dort and the skipper are just doing their daily tasks on the Llanvabon when the ship suddenly detects another ship on its radar. Once the skipper knows that the ship is an alien spaceship, the first thing comes to his mind that “things that aren’t human but are up to the level of deep-space travel in their civilization could mean anything” (314). Since the skipper does not know the intentions of the alien spaceship and first think that the aliens are different from human, the skipper immediately develops suspicious and hostile attitudes toward them. Having considered the alien ship as the enemy, the human ship prepares for war between two races and also the crews are afraid of being tracked to their home planet. They stuck in a problem in which neither sides can leave the Nebula’ center. This forces both sides to give proposals and collaborate to overcome the problem.
After an attempt to communicate with the crews of the alien spaceship, the crews come to realize that an alien “was extraordinarily manlike, but he was not human” and in general, “they are not too dissimilar to us in other ways” (Leinster 326). That completely changes what the crews especially Tommy Dort think of the aliens. One example of that change is that at the end of the story, Tommy Dort tells the skipper that “they’re just like us” and even thinks that both sides get “a good start toward friendship” (343). In The Left Hand Of Darkness, the protagonist Genly Ai is sent to Gethen on a ship to invite the nations of Gethen to join the Ekumen, which is a union of three thousand nations on eighty-three humanoid worlds. Through the help of Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, who is the prime minister of the Gethenian kingdom of Karhide or Winter, Genly Ai spends two years trying to convince the government members of the value of the alliance between Gethen and the Ekumen. Though he has been nearly two years on Karhide, he is “still far from being to see the people of the planet through their own eyes” or understand the Gethenians, which is a different race on the planet Karhide (Le Guin 12). For Genly Ai, it’s the difference in perspectives on gender that prevents him from understanding and trusting the double-sexed Gethenians. Having had his prejudice against their ambisexuality, Genly Ai distrusts Estraven as well as doubts his motives and manners in helping him because he “had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man” (267) and whenever Genly Ai thinks of Estraven as a man, he “felt a sense of falseness, of imposture: in him or in my own attitude towards him” (13).
Genly Ai decides to go to Orgoreyn to pursue his mission and ignore Estraven’s warning about not to trust Orgorta leaders. He gets arrested and later saved by Estraven whom Genly Ai still “distrusted and disliked in him”(13). During the time together, Genly Ai reaches the understanding with Estraven as well as develops love and friendship with him, which makes Genly have the other ways to view the Gethenians. Both The Left Hand of Darkness and “First Contact” mention that alien encounters lead to change in the human characters, but the change is expressed in distinctive ways. In “First Contact”, the crews of the spaceship change to become more trusted in people who are different. The illustration for this change is that the skipper goes from deep doubt to trust the aliens. At first, when the skipper knows that the ship detected on the radio is not a human ship, it comes to his mind that he “can’t trust them the fraction of an inch” (Leinster 315). At that time, he does not know the aliens and their intentions when their spaceship is approaching the Llanvabon. As a captain of the ship, he fears of what the aliens can do to the ship so he cannot risk the life of the people on the ship to completely have trust in them and “make friends with a new civilization” (316). Having witnessed the similarities in technologies, weapons and some biological traits between two races when the two ships are swapped and heard about the dirty jokes that Tommy Dort and Buck who is one of the crews in the spaceship has shared for two hours before two ships separate, the skipper is convinced by the thought that human can get along with the aliens. A good friendship between Tommy and Buck at the end of the story is a proof to illustrate that human can trust the different race.
In The Left Hand of Darkness, what Genly Ai has changed is to acknowledge the very different perspectives. From the first time Genly Ai meets the Gethenians including Estraven, Genly Ai is “self-consciously seeing a Gethanian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own”(Le Guin 12) and it takes Genly a really long time to realize that “until then I had rejected him, refused him his own reality” (266) and to accept Estraven for who he really is, not male or female but both at the same time. In order to bring down his prejudice against the ambisexual Gethenians, Ursula K.Le Guin lets the protagonist be on a dangerous eighty-day trip across the Gobrin ice back to Karhide. On this long and arduous road to Karhide, it is not the battle with severe cold weather and difficulties that Genly Ai has to conquer but the struggles within himself to against his general understanding and his bases of assumptions about genders. This journey with Estraven has pushed Genly Ai to see again and overcome what he “had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man” (266). He has to accept the reality of the Gethenians’ sexual nature as well as recognize the different, opposite perspective on gender and that changes what he has. This change is strongly expressed near the end of the novel when Genly Ai meets a male physician from Sassinoth in his room. What he sees now is only a young, serious face, a human face, not a man’s or a woman’s. Both “First Contact” by Murray Leinster and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin express the change of human characters when they meet the aliens. The difference lies in the fact that while Genly Ai becomes to acknowledge very distinct perspectives, the crews of the spaceship have more trust in the different race.
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