Modern nationalism/patriotism is the subject against which the novel cleverly and entertainingly argues. Genly Ai’s mission is impeded by the two conditions that are the most significant features of the planet. First, Gethen is in the midst of an ice age: This means that every feature of the planet, from its flora and fauna to its various cultural rituals and religions to its machines and technology, is shaped by the fact that Gethen is at all times extremely cold. The second factor that shapes the planet and the most interesting feature of the novel is that the people of Gethen are completely hermaphroditic. These preoccupations clearly mark the novel as a product of the 1960’s American fascination with “alternative lifestyles.”
Karhide. Nation on the planet Gethen. While for the sake of symmetry Le Guin mentions several places on Gethen, none is ever seen or visited except the two central nations. The first and most significant is Karhide, which, with its dedication to a sort of quasi capitalism and to individual liberty of various kinds, seems to be intended as a simplified representation of early, even primitive, democracy. For all the talk about total equality between people, the novel clearly prefers this to the form of government represented by its chief rival, Orgoreyn.
Orgoreyn. The second of the two main places on Gethen/Winter. With its highly organized and regimented social system, it is presented as a simplified image of communism. Much less time is spent there, however, than in Karhide, and it is clear that Le Guin’s purpose in creating it is to have a balance between competing social systems which will allow her to make comments about the governments of Gethen that apply equally well to modern political situations on earth.