Paranoid Empathy

The feelings of distrust and paranoia central to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is built into Rick Deckard’s profession as a bounty-hunter. His job requires that he intuit whether apparent humans are actually androids, which, even though he claims that “A Mercerite sensed evil [in andys] without understanding it,” must be carefully discerned through the use of technology like Voigt-Kampff scale (32). This feature has the interesting and extrapolating effect of casting empathy as something mechanical and legible through technology, as displayed when Rick uses the scale to test Rachael Rosen. Rick describes the test: “This… measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can’t be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration, and cardiac rate” (46). While this description is meant to show the utility of such a machine in detecting “The Killers” or the androids, the mechanisms of the Voigt-Kampff scale reveal a perverse vision of “empathy” in the novel as something invasive and frightening, driven by the paranoia pervading this decaying society left behind on earth. A reader may become unsettled by this redefinition of empathy as a locating a set of standard biological and involuntary reactions that each and every person is meant to have, lest they be shunned or “retired” for being an android.

The problem of the Penfield

“‘My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression,’ Iran said.

‘What? Why did you schedule that?’ It defeated the whole purpose of the mood organ. ‘I didn’t even know you could set it for that,’ [Deckard] said gloomily” (Dick 5)

Although there is plenty more to be uncertain about, Dick sets the scene of the novel with a piece of technology which provokes extremely mixed responses from Deckard and Iran. For Deckard, the Penfield mood organ is a fantastic piece of equipment which allows him to escape the ‘negative’ human emotions and thus lead a more concentrated, efficient, and productive life. For Iran, the mood organ is an interruption of normal, necessarily negative human behavior; since she cannot function outside of the mood organ (thanks in part to her controlling husband) she must manufacture the feelings she believes she would feel without the presence of the Penfield. Interestingly, while the characters certainly have more information about the mood organ and its functions than the reader, this information is far from complete. Deckard does not realize that the mood organ has a range of emotions beyond those he associates as positive; the revelation of this information depresses him. Why is this? Deckard’s relationship with technology is difficult to parse. His job involves ruthless pursuit and destruction of technological ‘life’ forms, but he is dependent on a machine to set the structure of his life and does not dig into the complex workings of the machine. He has a certain faith in the positive effects of certain technology which Iran lacks or feels suspicious towards. There is also a sense of the uncertain progress of technology. The reader must wonder when exactly the Penfield came into being; is this a recent technology, a new model of an older technology, or something that is deeply incorporated into the world? Can we presume that all characters we encounter use a similar system or is Deckard somewhat unique? And the 3 code, a desire to dial something is deeply problematic. It is clear that this world has an inextricable link to technology as a driving force, but the exact limits and reasons are unclear and unavailable. A really fantastic introduction to a delightful and intriguing story.

Suspicion and Appearance in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

“‘But almost. You feel the same doing it; you have to keep your eye on it exactly as you did when it was really alive. Because they break down and then everyone in the building knows. I’ve had it at the repair shop six times, mostly little malfunctions, but if anyone saw them- for instance one time the voice tape broke or anyhow got fouled and it wouldn’t stop baaing- they’d recognize it as a mechanical breakdown.” He added, “The repair outfit’s truck is of course marked ‘animal hospital something.’ And the driver dresses like a vet, completely in white.” (Dick 12).

While this passage is incredibly early on in the book, and thus before a lot of the groudwork of suspicion is really solified in the novel, I found it incredible provocative and pertinent to the discussion of doubt and suspicion. It believe it inspires a lot of questions, particularly concerning the situation we are to encounter in the rest of the novel. Rick communicates, “then everyone in the building knows.” This raises the idea that one is always under suspicion of their neighbors- that it is important to conceal certain things from those around you, because their judgment has a direct effect. “Mechanical” being italicized further offers that it is judged differently than that of some other malfunction- in this context, biologically. Similarly, Rick establishes that the mechanics themeselves are disguised when they come to fix an animal, further suggesting this importance of concealment.

I think this passage establishes several important … that allow the reader to become situated in this world and understand the environment under which these characters operate. First, that there are many things hidden between those that you know best. The very suggestion that things should be hidden offers that shame inspires action among the population, and that there is more truth residing behind what you see. The very fact that Rick’s sheep is so life-like, and that the mechanic comes dressed as a vet, reveals the depth to which one must now question what they encounter. I simiarly find it intersting that Dick has now opened up a conversation concerning the relationship between what is living and what is mechanical. Throughout the introductory chapters, it is established that biology is favored over a mechanical existence- but what movtivates this, and what problems now arise? What can we know about what we see if what we see conceals a hidden truth?

Philip Dick : 2 Agencies, 1 Confused “Android”?

His cephalic pattern taken, he found himself being led off to an equally familiar room; reflexively he began assembling his valuables for transfer. It makes no sense, he said to himself.  Who are these people? If this place has always existed, why didn’t we know about it? And why don’t they know about us? Two parallel police agencies, he said to himself; ours and this one. but never coming in contact–as far as I know–until now. Hard to believe, he thought, that this wouldn’t have happened long ago. If this is a police apparatus here; if it’s what it asserts itself to be (Dick 113)

As Rick Deckard has the inner workings of his head examined, he loses control of his surroundings and is led into the Mission Street Hall of Justice.  The narrator dives into Deckard’s thoughts through free, indirect discourse and calls to mind how nothing and no one makes sense about where he is, who he is with, and why he is just finding out about another police apparatus. Oddly enough, the room he enters is “equally familiar,” but all of its contents are foreign. He mentions how the “new” agency may not have even know about him and the other police agency, but questions even more so if he has been the only one left in the dark. He finds himself groping for questions he cannot know the answers to, which leaves the reader even more estranged to the expository setting. Also, the narrative estrangement is exciting because we can pinpoint how easily a character can snap and lose control of their reality and wonder what will happen next. The passage seems conspiratorial, but also has a near comedic sense of how limited Deckard’s worldview has been if a whole other police agency exists and he is just finding out. He finishes the passage with the conditional statement, “if it’s what it asserts itself to be” to remind one of Deckard’s deceptive and suspicious interpretation of an organization seemingly popping out of nowhere. Moreover, we are not sure if Deckard is just representing the narrative mind of a possible android with a false memory as Officer Crams jokingly says earlier.

Is Deckard Really Human?

“Then,” Miss Luft said, “you must be an android.”

That stopped him; he stared at her.

“Because,” she continued, “your job is to kill them, isn’t it?  You’re what they call-”  She tried to remember.

“A bounty hunter,” Rick said.  “But I’m not an android.”

…”Maybe there was once a human who looked like you, and somewhere along the line you killed him and took his place.  And your superiors don’t know.”  She smiled.  As if inviting him to agree.

“Let’s get on with the test,” he said, getting out the sheets of questions.

Dick, 101-102

The conversation that Deckard has with Luba Luft at this point in the novel is particularly interesting due to the fact that she so cavalierly brings to the forefront the idea that Deckard could very well be an android himself.  With this, an important question can be asked: would Deckard in fact be able to pass the empathy test even if he was not an android?  Compared to the other humans and androids we have met thus far in the novel, he truly does not seem to possess a remarkable deal of empathy, and the fact that some humans with low empathy scores can be killed in the place of an android is indeed brought up when Deckard is interrogating Rachael.  Does he recognize that he, as human, is not a particularly exemplary example of one?

Further, although his contempt for andys is made quite clear, given the dense aura of paranoia and suspicion that Dick has already so beautifully executed by the time Luft and Deckard converse, it would be foolish for us as readers to ignore the possibility that Deckard may not be what he seems, either- even though it truly does not seem to be the case.  However, through the suspicion of Deckard’s questionable status as human, we can further examine what it means to be human–both as readers today and as people living in a post-World War Terminus San Francisco–and why exactly we choose these certain characteristics to determine whether or not others are deemed worthy of being labeled as “human”.

So Close yet So Far

“Eventually, of course, the Voigt-Kampff scale will become obsolete,” Rachael agreed. “But not now. Were satisfied ourselves that it will delineate the Nexus-6 types and we’d like you to proceed on that basis in your own particular, peculiar work” (474)

At this moment in the novel, Rick is trying to figure out whether Rachael is an andy or a human using the Voigt-Kampff test. At this moment, the readers are also trying to figure out Rachael’s identity. At this point, the test seems to have failed, but there are moments like this one that makes us suspicious of Rachael. Just a few pages before the Rosens were angry and disappointed with Rick, calling him “bad morally” because of the risk the test has on humans who are not emphatically mature. They are mad that Rachael could have been tested by this method and killed by accident in a random checkpoint. However, Rachael gives the suggestion that Rick should continue using the test even though it can accidentally cause the death of humans mistaken for andys. She also doesn’t want him to go back and report his findings so they can stop the usage of the test, stopping the hunt for androids until they develop a more accurate test. Therefore, she puts other androids in danger by not giving them the chance to run away during the new test development and encourage him to hunt more while he still has the chance. It’s later stated that Androids don’t care what happens to other androids and she doesn’t care about innocent humans stuck in the crossfire so this may be an indication to whether she is an android or not. Also, she suggests this because keeping the test is the only way Rick can keep going and bounty hunt androids immediately. She only thinks of his livelihood and his need for money instead of the consequences he would face if his work found out he knew the test would fail and still used it and even killing innocent humans while using a test he knows may fail. Rachael goes to an immediate reaction without thinking deeply. A picture of a naked woman means whether she’s sexually attracted to it than any other circumstance such as confusion that a woman would show her body for a magazine. Her reactions are meant to show her care for another person by suggesting he keep conducting the test, yet it shows how heartless she is to the people involved.

The Empathy Box

“How long that part of the cycle lasted he did not know; nothing had happened, generally, so it had been measureless. But at last the bones had regained flesh; the empty eyepits had filled up and the new eyes had seen, while meantime the restored beaks and mouths had cackled, barked, and caterwauled. Possibly he had done it; perhaps the extrasensory node of his brain had finally grown back. Or maybe he hadn’t accomplished it; very likely it could have been a natural process.”

At this point, Isadore is connected to something called an empathy box and is climbing a hill all alone and with countless others at the same time.  The way this passage is written is completely disorienting.  The narrator and the characters have, at times, no sense of what is happening to them, which makes understanding the narration difficult.  Isadore, who is alone in the beginning of his chapter, is then surrounded by people who have some apparent mental connection with him, other “specials” with abilities similar to his perhaps, or he’s insane. This special connection is doubtful because Isadore, in scattered flashbacks that make little to no sense, suggests that his abilities were somehow taken away.  He was able to bring animals back to life which is against the law.  Something that is interesting in this book is that it seems to surround a single important sentence or half sentence in delirium so that the important sentence is ignored or misread.   “Possibly he had done it; perhaps the extrasensory node of his brain had finally grown back” is a sentence that suggests someone had forcibly taken his abilities away from him, but it is easily missed because the surrounding sentences are contradictions and random animal noises.  Maybe the author is trying to distract and disorient his readers.

What can we depend on!?

“There are no owls, he started to say. Or so we’ve been told. Sidney’s, he thought; they list it in their catalogue as extinct: the tiny, precise type, the E, again and again throughout the catalogue. As the girl walked ahead of him he checked to see, and he was right. Sidney’s never makes a mistake, he said to himself. We know that, too. What else can we depend on?” (41).

This moment in the text emphasizes the suspicious effect of the discourse in the way that the reader is exposed to this new world after W.W.T. through two internally focalized characters (Rick and John), and neither is completely aware of exactly how their world functions around them: they are only knowledgable of their own lives. With the introduction of Rachel, Rick’s own perception of the world is thrown off balance, and the reader cannot help but follow along with the way that he is required to assimilate anomalous information. In this way, the truth is exposed only through the characters experiences with incongruences to what they’ve established as reality; but this cycle continues until the point where we really don’t know what is real or what is not. “What else can we depend on?” — Well I really just don’t know Mr. Dick.

Hint of Doubt

“In addition, no one today remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won” (Dick 15).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick immerses the reader into a typical day in Rick Deckard’s life from the beginning of the story which may distract the reader from subtle hints of doubt. One such hint is evident in the above passage in which Rick mentions WWT. To begin with “In addition” suggests that this may be an afterthought of Rick’s which in turn can become an afterthought for the reader that can easily be forgotten. This creates a sense that this “addition” may not be that important which allows the sentence to creep in one’s mind and become just a subtle hint of doubt. Then, the narrator inserts his own thought with “if anyone” which casts the doubt that can be easily overlooked. The passage suggests that everyone, except the narrator, has accepted the fact that there was a war and that there is no need to know anything further.

Pris Stratton’s Identity

“I’m Rachael Rosen.”
“Of the Rosen Association?” [John] asked.
…”No…I never heard of them; I don’t know anything about it…My name…is Pris Stratton. That’s my married name; I always use it. I never use any other name but Pris.”

(Dick, 67-8).

Suspicion and doubt is immediately cast onto this scene as we are given little indication of what the truth is regarding Pris’ real identity. There are a few factors at play here regarding the doubt. The more obvious factor is her swift disregard that she had ever used the name Rachael Rosen before, or even knew the implications of using that name. This can only lead us to speculate that she’s hiding something regarding the Rosen Association (particularly as she says, “I don’t know anything about it. More of your chickenhead imagination, I suppose” [68]–using John’s “special” status as a way to divert the conversation away from her) and her association with it. Is she really Rachael Rosen, on the run now that she knows she’s an android? Or is this a different person (android?), and what is she hiding from?

The other factor at play here is John himself, as he takes on the role as narrator in this chapter. While he is perceptive to Pris’ strange nature (not knowing about Buster Friendly, being nonchalant about the empathy box, etc.), he doesn’t immediately question these qualities. He does say that she’s “out of touch” (69) and “may need help” (70), but he otherwise seems unbothered by her strangeness, even offering to teach her how to cook. This can be in part due to his “special” designation, which in turn leaves him to be much by his lonesome and without the example of other human beings to compare Pris to. It seems to be a matter of how much we can trust his perception and insight, as well as what we can gain from his observations in order to come to our own conclusions.

Animal Welfare, Empathy, and Doubt

‘This cat,’ Sloat said finally, ‘isn’t false. I knew sometime this would happen. And it’s dead…. The chickenhead,’ Sloat said, ‘brought it in.’

‘If it was still alive,’ Milt said, ‘we could take it to a real animal vet. I wonder what it’s worth. Anybody got a copy of Sidney’s?’

‘D-Doesn’t y-y-your insurance c-c-cover this?’ Isidore asked Mr. Sloat….

‘Yes,’ Sloat said finally, half snarling. ‘But it’s the waste that gets me. The loss of one more living creature. Couldn’t you tell Isidore? Didn’t you notice the difference?’

(Dick, 77)

While this moment in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? does describe a sense of doubt that recurs throughout the novel, the difficulty of differentiating between artificial and organic lifeforms, it implies much more regarding such doubt, furthering it. Throughout the novel, characters posit empathy as the deciding factor between humans and androids; humans possess empathy, androids do not. The empathy that humans possess not only extends to other humans, but more importantly, animals. Animals are to be treated with the utmost respect, cared for by their human owners. Though characters in the novel figure empathy as such, their actions are completely contrarian, this moment a prime example. Sloat berates Isidore, calling him a “chickenhead” (77). Not only does he lack empathy for his fellow human by berating him, but also animals, chickens; Isidore acts reprehensibly, warranting the nickname “chickenhead,” implying that chickens are too reprehensible. This lack of empathy regarding animals is further implied by him, referring to the dead cat as “waste,” a mere object, and also Milt, questioning the cost of the dead animal (77). If these characters, believed to be human beings, lack such empathy, are they actually human beings? Or is the method by which characters determine androids flawed? Such contradictions further this sense of doubt throughout the novel.

Prompt: Dick (group 2)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, like much of Dick’s work, is particularly interested in experiences of suspicion, doubt, and paranoia: the anxious sense that things are not what they appear to be. Choose a moment from the first half of the novel that describes (or creates) such an experience. Quote it and write a short paragraph about how the text works to produce suspicion. What is cast into doubt and why?

Group 1 bloggers may of course choose this as an “off” week to blog on as well. Everyone should read all the blog entries, but remember, you never know who might lie behind a pseudonym.

Gender Stereotypes

 

“A man wants his virility regarded. A woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. [Here] one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”

I think that throughout this whole novel Le Guin is emphasizing that with gender fluidity it is possible for us to not be able to determine the usual stereotypical characteristics that are associated with females and males. The Gethenians in this novel have gender fluidity which makes It possible for people to judge solely based on their personalities and not their personalities associated with their gender. In our society today men do in fact still want their virility regarded as women want their femininity appreciated but in the sense of being equal to men. This novel touches on the different perspective people would have if genders weren’t a thing which is a cool spin on how a society would function.

Is Gender Necessary?

“Consider: A child has no psychosexual relationship to his mother and father. There is no myth of Oedipus on Winter. Consider: There is no unconsenting sex, no rape. As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible. Seduction certainly is possible, but it must have to be awfully well-timed. Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter.” (Le Guin 94)

Despite the heavy emphasis on gender roles in the novel, I do not think this is supposed to be a novel that makes a political statement for feminism. I think what Le Guin was trying to do was to have readers start asking the questions about how one views gender. Ai comes to their world with hopes that they will see gender the way he does, but he realizes how difficult this will be when he sees how ingrained their practices are. Everything on this world, from the politics to the sexual practices, is influenced by this idea that there is no gender, and Ai must come to accept this if he is to succeed on Gethen in getting them to join the Ekumen. I think we are supposed to assume the position of Ai, in the sense that we are supposed to open our minds to the possibility that gender is not anything more than what we make of it.

 

 

Slow and Steady Always Wins the Race

“…during the Thaw no form of transport is reliable; so much freight traffic goes with a rush, come summer…It all moves along, however crowded, quite steadily at the rate of 25 miles per hour (Terran). Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer ‘Why?’ Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer ‘Why not?’ No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they’ve got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is less important than presence” (Le Guin 50).

In the fantastic article Le Guin pens, she points out this implied association of the Gethenians’ super slow development of technology with this idea of the “female principle”. The “female principle”, which is synonymous with “the valuing of patience, ripeness, practicality, livableness” (Le Guin 166), means that the Gethenians are showing feminine characteristics by taking their technological advancement slow. They want to practically use the technology they have so far and wait for it to ripen before moving on to something new and possibly better. It is a great juxtaposition then to have Ai Genly comment on this Gethenian reality. We, as citizens of the current society, identify with Ai Genly because he comes from a culture very similar (if not the same) to ours. Genly does not really understand why the Gethenians do not just keep developing better technology at a faster pace. He accepts it but he is not convinced. Intrinsically, we agree with Genly. We ask ourselves, “why don’t they just develop faster?”, but we are a society that is always in a hurry and is caught up in a race for progress. Every year two new Iphone models come out even though people still have not completely discovered the features of the models that came out two years ago. Why do we not take the time to appreciate and properly use our technology before we throw it away for the newer and possibly (or possibly not) better model? This “pushing forward to the limit” (Le Guin 165) is a masculine quality that Terra seems to also have. Since the Gethenians are not plagued by this masculine principle but adhere to the feminine principle, they see the value in holding on to their technology until it is exhausted, which is exactly what they do.

 

Le Guin & Gender

Le Guin posed an interesting idea when she wrote The Left Hand of Darkness: What if humans were stripped of their gender? Everything else would stay the same, just their gender. What we got was the tale of a subarctic planet named Gethen inhabited by androgynous humanoids who have an oestres cycle akin to other mammals on Earth. Le Guin tried to make a world that is balanced but still flawed. The Gethenians still have war and feuds and petty fights like humans, but they do so in a slightly altered way. For example, when we see the Work Farm, the people in the farm are treated not well, but not horribly either. Yes they’re forced to work and they are interrogated under the influence of anonymous and mysterious drugs, but they’re allowed to rest if they don’t feel well, they are given food, and they are given clothes. The guards don’t do anything to the prisoners that is overly cruel, but they don’t help the prisoners either. This constant state of balance mirrors the Gethenians’ androgyny, and raises questions bout our own world such as: are our institutions (like prisons and schools) “gendered” like they are in the Farm?

Progress in The Left Hand of Darkness

” Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer…..The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable, uncertainity: not knowing what comes next.” (LeGuin 75).

The above passage encapsulates LeGuin’s claim within What is Gender that the Gethenians have no myth of progress. In seminar last week, we discussed the possibility of The Left Hand of Darkness moving away from the heavily “technical” science fictions texts we have seen thus far, into something considered more “literary”. Though using the terms technical and literary only seem to emphasize dualisms such as high/low, LeGuin’s turn away from progress seems very antithetical to the idea of science itself, which is based on the idea of advancing towards an ultimate objective or aim.
The merging of “male” linearity with “female” circularity is also interesting because it truly eliminates gender hierarchies, and though LeGuin acknowledges that as a fiction writer she merely conducts a thought experiment when she writes, “It was a heuristic device, a thought-experiment. Physicists often do thought-experiments. Einstein shoots a light-ray through a moving elevator; Schrodinger puts a cat in a box. There is no elevator, no cat, no box. The experiment is performed, the question is asked, in the mind. Einstein’s elevator, Schrodinger’s cat, my Gethenians, are simply a way of thinking” (LeGuin 163). LeGuin’s thought experiment does makes one wonder whether the only way in which hierarchies can truly be removed is to eliminate our notions of gender completely, which seems most possible within science fiction texts.

The Ending and Estraven

I was really impressed with the emotion of the ending of The Left Hand of Darkness, especially in relation to the developed character of Estraven. The earlier myths of brothers who swear kemmer and the negation of feuds through kemmer never reach a definitive conclusion; there is no point at which the reader can say with certainty that here is such-and-such a parallel to the stories. Instead we can use these stories and their emotional and moral underpinnings to understand the powerful relationship between Genly and Therem Estraven. The redemptive quality of their individual connection permits Therem to ski into certain death with the understanding that the bond of friendship will allow the Gethenians to join the galactic community of mankind. I’m very interested to see how other people read Estraven’s final decision.

Gender and Leguin

In Leguin’s essay “Is Gender Necessary?” Leguin is commenting on her creation of a whole new sexual physiology where gender isn’t constricted, but fluid. Leguin is trying to emphasize the characteristics that are left once you take away people’s genders. She created a world with no sex roles to see what this kind of life would be like, and how these people would be, themselves, and with one another. A passage from the novel that signifies Leguin’s point of a world without gender comes out most for me in Chapter 3, when Ai is trying to explain his plans to the King.

“‘They’re all like that–like you?’ This was the hurdle I could not lower for them. They must, in the end, learn to take it in their stride. ‘Yes. Gethenian sexual physiology, so far as we yet know, is unique among human beings.’ ‘So all of them, out on these other planets, are in permanent kemmer? A society of perverts?'” (Leguin, 21).

This to me stood out the most in relation to Leguin’s comments on gender and The Left Hand of Darkness, because in this scene, she is using the King to suggest to us, that the kind of gender role society and sexual physiology that we are so accustomed to, is the perverted one. A society that is so constructed by gender is constricted, repressed, and as the King puts it, perverted. Through the direct statements of the king and the exploration of a new way to approach gender and sexuality through the cycles of kemmer, Leguin is showing us, not what a new society could be like, because the alteration of genealogy would be too much, as she says in her essay, but shows us what sexual fluidity can be like. When there are no distinct roles, when a person can be a man or a woman, a mother or a father, both or neither, or maybe just a parent, maybe just a lover, there is a chance that society can see this and have something to gain from it. Denouncing gender and making sexuality completely fluid, can lead to a more content and well organized society, where as she says in her essay, “There might be a king and parliament, but authority was not enforced by might as by the use of… intrigue, and was accepted as custom…ritual and parade were far more effective agents of order than armies or police… nobody owned anybody,” (Leguin, 165). She goes on to say that she is looking for a balanced society, and by creating this new world and this new physiology she can see a solution, where order and effectiveness can be achieved by bleeding the roles of gender into one, and not categorizing a society by labels, such as female, male, mother, and father. A society where one person is everything and never lacking can be a true society.

Gender Contested

“…Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk to run or choice to make. Therefore nobody here is quite so free as a free male anywhere else. // Consider: A child has no psychosexual relationship to his mother and father. There is no myth of Oedipus on Winter. // Consider: There is no unconsenting sex, no rape. As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible. Seduction certainly is possible, but it must have to be awfully well-timed. // Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter.” – Le Guin, 94

By asking the reader to consider these perspective-shifts about life on Winter, I believe Le Guin’s novel draws its strongest reserve of good storytelling through questioning gender norms. What would happen if human civilization stopped “oppressing” the “other” half in a futile sense of competition? Yet, Le Guin’s insistence in Is Gender Necessary? that her novel is “NOT about gender, but betrayal and fidelity,” seems like it neglects this element of exploration in favor of more familiar themes in Gethenian government and society. Le Guin herself says she regrets the criticism leveled at her for using the male “he” pronouns for the Gethenians, and viewed writing the novel as a sort of “self-discovery” about her opinions on gender. This leaves me undecided on whether she gives too much or too little credit to the power of passages like the ones cited above. Knocking such imaginative holes in establishment thinking –only to say later that they were a means to exploring loyalty rather than a focus of their own– seems like it puts too little emphasis on the perspectives Gethenians could share. We have Shiftgrethor as a face-saving alternative to war, but no lengthy passages on raising children, domesticity, etc. Le Guin says, “I eliminated gender, to find out what was left.”  Then why dangle the thread of true(?) gender egalitarianism in front of the reader only to trivialize that thread later?