Encounter with Otherness. "In The Left Hand of Darkness" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2021

18 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of content

1| Introduction to Otherness

2| Otherness in Science Fiction

3| Human Encounters with Aliens and Androids in The Left Hand of Darkness and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
3.1 Aspects of Otherness - An Affection for Androids and Aliens?
3.2 Change of View - Accepting Otherness and Diversity
3.3 The Protagonists’ Development Applied to Social Criticism

4| Conclusion

5| Appendix
5.1 Flowers ofAlgernon
5.2 Slaughterhouse Five
5.3 The Forever War

6| Bibliography

1| Introduction to Otherness

"Sympathy for differences struggles to mitigate a fear of otherness " (Bould & Vint 80)

Numerous science fiction novels discuss the idea of two or more different species that experience encounters with each other. Not only in novels but also in everyday life do humans try to "identify themselves over and against others" (Kearney 3). This means that people "are always in need of an other in order to define" (Hermann 216) a "common human identity" (Hermann 216). Hence, one's identity "is always constituted and strengthened by projecting a certain image of the out-group, be it positive or negative" (Hermann 216). Through this separation of ordinariness and otherness, humans establish boundaries in their minds. To accept otherness and regard other groups as equal, those boundaries must be crossed.

Various categories influence the differences of group identities in science fiction novels (Sennewald 35). In Le Guin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness, the protagonist Genly Ai is sent to the planet Gethen to convince the inhabitants of the planet to join the trade network Ekumen. Genly is human whereas the Gethenians are characterised as aliens. The main character of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is human as well, and encounters androids almost indistinguishable to humans. The novel is set on earth though most humans had to leave the planet due to the devastation of war. Therefore, both novels involve the encounter of two diverse groups and consequently consider otherness in science fiction.

This project work will discuss the thesis statement that both protagonists change their view on otherness throughout the story due to individual experience; however, though there are similarities, one protagonist seems to completely accept otherness whereas the other only attempts to accept it. Both develop at least sexual feelings for another species, leading to a broader understanding of diversity. Through the stories social criticism, including racism and homophobia, is addressed. The thesis statement will be supported by analysing relevant parts of the novels and comparing them with secondary literature. At first, a description of the general theory of otherness in science fiction will be presented. Subsequently, this theory will be related to both novels, primarily in consideration of the encounters of humans with aliens and androids. In the same place, both novels will be compared to point out possible differences. Next, the novels will be applied to social criticism, describing how the protagonists' development reflects issues of today's society. Finally, the project work will end with a discussion about the thesis statement and a conclusion.

2| Otherness in Science Fiction

"Most aliens embody some degree of awareness of difference, which might be encoded in various ways, such as race, culture or gender" (Roberts, Science Fiction 80)

The genre of science fiction is "fascinated by the encounter with difference" (Roberts, Science Fiction, 94). In many works, "the idea of multicultural community" (Bould & Vint 174) concerning "gender, race, sexuality and other identities" (Bould & Vint 181) is discussed. It is effective to connect postcolonialism, gender, and sexuality to understand the characters' experiences with otherness in science fiction novels (Pearson 182). Postcolonialism as well as science fiction "are to some sense consumed by the idea of the alien, the other, the Other" (Pearson 186).

During the colonial period, people started categorising people based on race and gender (Pearson 182). "The normative bodies of the colonizer" (Pearson 183) had to have "racial, gendered, and sexual" (Pearson 182) characteristics that are different from the other bodies. This means "it is essential to be able to tell 'Us' from 'Them'" (Pearson 183), which results in the production of boundaries in someone's mind. Images of oneself are produced by comparing different aspects of others with qualities of oneself. Many science fiction novels, including Left Hand and Do Androids Dream,"consider the implication of [...] contact with an 'alien' [or android] race in ways that could be considered anticolonial or postcolonial" (Pearson 184). Thus, by addressing "the question of alterity" (Pearson 189), otherness becomes part of science fiction.

Kilgore argues, "that race (or even species) will always make some difference" (17). Opinions on ethnicity and race have changed over the decades and will also change from this point forward (Kilgore 21). By "making new races or species, [science fiction] allows us to experiment with how beings are created, developed, and changed" (Kilgore 21). By introducing various others, science fiction stimulates the characters and the reader to develop opposed opinions on one's subjectivity. Humans "create the other [.], whether the other is human, alien, or artificial" (Lavender 161). One main issue presented is that "sympathy for differences struggles to mitigate a fear of otherness" (Bould & Vint 80). This indicates that otherness is often associated with extraordinary and unusual factors, which lead to anxiety and cautiousness towards this otherness (Lavender 161).

In Left Hand"Genly Ai brings the Gethenians the news that they are the other, the oddity, and not the norm" (Pearson 189) even though he is the one that comes from another planet. Likewise, the human characters in Do Androids Dream regard androids as other and as "less human than [they]" (Pearson 189) are. The following chapters will discuss this idea of otherness regarding both novels in detail.

3| Human Encounters with Aliens and Androids in The Left Hand of Darkness and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Although Left Hand and Do Androids Dream are not concerned with the same otherness, one of the main issues is the contrast between the protagonist's species and another divergent group. These groups not only live on different planets, but they are also opposed regarding their views on culture and sexuality (Pearson 183). The novels raise questions of the encounter and the differences between "human and alien species" (Pearson 183). Moreover, the possibility of developing sexual feelings or even love between humans, aliens, and androids respectively is considered.

3.1 Aspects of Otherness - An Affection for Androids and Aliens?

"But it was from the difference between us, not from the affinities and likeness, but from the difference, that that love came: and it was itself the bridge, the only bridge across what divided us." (Le Guin 267)

Both novels deal with a protagonist that encounters an unknown species. In Left Hand, the protagonist is introduced to a planet with an unfamiliar alien entity, whereas the protagonist in Do Androids Dream approaches androids. Therefore, there is a difference between their stories because one of them confronts individuals of artificial life while the other is exposed to a different kind of biological life. However, in both cases, the other group resembles human beings so far that both protagonists ultimately consider members of the other group as potential sexual partners. Through contact with the other group, they make an experience that causes their mindset to develop. The protagonists' attitudes towards otherness change throughout the stories because they spend more time with the individuals.

In Left Hand the protagonist, Genly Ai, is portraited as a man from the earth. At the beginning of the story, he describes himself as an outsider and does not feel part of the Gethenians. He feels like an "envoy" (Le Guin 8), and because the difference between him and the Gethenians "is most noticeable in a crowd" (Le Guin 8), he "crave[s] to be like everybody else" (Le Guin 8). The society of the planet seems odd to him, and he does not understand their culture. Specifically, the neuter gender is difficult to comprehend for Genly Ai, which surfaces the most significant difference between the groups in this novel: gender and sexuality. On Ai's planet, people are either female or male, but on Gethen an individual does not have a fixed gender (Le Guin 96). They develop their gender once a month during a phase called kemmer. Therefore, they either become masculine or feminine during that time of the month (Le Guin 96). The other way around, the Gethenians understand Genly Ai's behaviour as unempathetic; one character even names him a "sexual freak or an artificial monster" (Le Guin 34). Thus, the difficulty for the protagonist is that the other group does not have a fixed gender. This difference in sexuality leads to a misunderstanding on both sides. Genly Ai regards their sexuality as strange and is very confused by the genderless society of Gethen. He is used to addressing individuals as either female or male, so it is challenging for him to see them as neuter.

Therefore, one of the fundamental issues of the novel is Genly Ai's "attempt to come to terms with a world without permanent or essential gender roles [...] illuminated primarily through his relationship with a single Gethenian, Estraven" (Pearson 188). He makes assumptions of him and other characters and characterises them as masculine or feminine. Because of their behaviour, he decides which gender they would belong to on his planet because their specific character traits are gender-based. Even though Genly describes the inhabitants of Gethen as genderless he uses the pronoun “he” when talking about Estraven. He tries to think of Estraven as neuter but does not call him “it”. This underlines Genly’s struggle to escape his preconceptions and sexist worldview.

Nevertheless, even though Genly Ai and Estraven belong to different groups, have "entirely different backgrounds" (Roberts, Science Fiction, 87), and are in a way diverse, they are to some degree very similar (Roberts, Science Fiction, 87). Throughout the novel, Genly Ai can adjust himself to Gethenian society. He and Estraven first develop a friendship, which later expands into love. He discovers the Gethenian culture, and through his affection for Estraven, he achieves to tolerate their sexuality. In the beginning, Genly Ai does not think about developing affection for an alien. But then he describes that "it was from the difference between [them], not from the affinities and likeness, but from the difference, that that love came" (Le Guin 267). Indicating they both appreciate their differences and even regard their diversity as the reason for their love.

Do Androids Dream is most concerned with the question "what it means to be human and less than human" (Pearson 185). In comparison to Le Guin's novel the most significant difference between humans and androids is the ability to feel empathy. The androids are humanlike; therefore, it is hard to determine if someone is human or an android. Humans use a so-called "Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test" (Dick 30) on androids that identifies if someone shows too little empathy. Sometimes the test labels humans as androids which is problematic for bounty hunters because they might kill humans instead of androids (Dick 32). However, it also indicates that it is difficult to tell the difference between humans and androids in this story. Moreover, all humans in the novel own a "mood organ" (Dick 2) to control their emotions. Such an electronic machine seems to belong to an android, not a human, emphasizing the little difference between both groups.

Rick Deckard, one of the main characters, is a bounty hunter whose job is to find androids and subsequently murder them. Like Genly Ai, Rick is a human who has not thought about developing affection for otherness, in this case "an artificial construct" (Dick 122). But when he first encounters the android Luba Luft, he starts questioning "if any human has ever felt this way before about an android" (Dick 123). Pointing out he is afraid of his feelings because they are unusual to him, and love for an android is "illegal" (Dick 124). "For the first time in his life, he had begun to wonder" (Dick 125) and "begun to empathi[z]e with androids" (Dick 151). Rick does not only feel affection for Luba Luft but also for another android, Rachael. He "wonder[s] what it's like to kiss an android" (Dick 164), which leads to him kissing Rachael. After having sex with her he states he would do it again "if it was a girl [...] [and] she resembled" (Dick 170) Rachael. He even says that "if [she wasn't] an android [...] if [he] could legally marry [her], [he] would" (Dick 171). Furthermore, even though he is a bounty killer and supposed to kill androids his affection for Rachael prevents him from killing her. Later she tells him she only slept with him to convince him to keep the other androids alive (Dick 175). Rick is angry; however, he does not kill her. Nevertheless, his sexual feelings for Luba and Rachael do not keep him from killing three other androids afterwards.

Both Genly Ai and Rick Deckard encounter the Other, which shapes their way of thinking about otherness. However, as the next chapter will show, those developments are to a certain extent different.

3.2 Change of View - Accepting Otherness and Diversity

Both novels discuss boundaries that people face while encountering a different group whether this difference is associated with gender, social aspects, or race. Characters in science fiction are often introduced to unusual cultural or ethnic aspects. However, throughout the stories their point of view can change. As described in the previous chapters, one of the problems in both novels is that "sympathy for differences struggles to mitigate a fear of otherness" (Bould & Vint 80). In Left Hand Genly Ai must overcome the cultural and gender-related boundaries that consist in his mind. In contrast, Rick in Do Androids Dream must consider that androids are unempathetic, and affection for androids is illegal. This chapter will analyse how and to what extent the protagonists achieve to defeat their boundaries and if they accept otherness in the end.

Left Hand"provides an inevitable place to start to think about the ways in which gender works" (Pearson 186). In the beginning, it is difficult for Genly to understand how the Gethenian sexuality functions, but eventually he accepts it and notices "the different ways of how society is inflected without the pressures of fixed gender" (Roberts, The History 356). Throughout the story, he has several encounters with the Gethenian sexuality which improves his comprehension. When he is in Kundershaden Prison he is in contact with characters that are in kemmer. He recognises that "there is less coding, channelling, and repressing of sex there than in any bisexual society" (Le Guin 190). The way he talks about kemmer indicates that he begins to understand Gethenian sexuality and its advantages.

Genly Ai has difficulties trusting Estraven for a long time but after Estraven rescues him from prison they begin to understand each other. At the beginning of the novel, his fear of otherness keeps him from accepting the difference between him and Estraven (Le Guin 267), but in the end he states that "women are more alien to [him] than [Estraven is]" (Le Guin 253). Gradually, he manages to accept the differences and even develops love for Estraven, who is genderless. By crossing the boundaries, he manages to see "what [he] had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in [Estraven]: that [he] was a woman as well as a man" (Le Guin 266). Indicating that he accepts the Gethenian gender and is not afraid of it anymore. In the end, he "was left with [...] acceptance of [Estraven] as he was. Until then [he] had rejected him, refused him his own reality " (Le Guin 266). Through his close relationship with Estraven, Genly Ai accomplishes to overcome his fears which prevented him from accepting the Gethenian culture and its people.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Encounter with Otherness. "In The Left Hand of Darkness" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
University of Flensburg
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ISBN (Book)
science fiction, englisch, other, otherness, racism, literatur, literature, the left hand of darkness, do androids dream of electric sheep, enounter with otherness
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Anonymous, 2021, Encounter with Otherness. "In The Left Hand of Darkness" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1338614


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