Why I Regret Skipping Over Estraven’s Name

Upon beginning reading this work, I initially just skipped over Estraven’s name, deeming it too difficult to pronounce and simply moving on (as I did with many words in the first few chapters of the book).  I had no idea the importance of the character, and still didn’t, until about the last chapter or so.  This may just be blindness or ignorance on my part, but I also think that Le Guin purposely understated Estraven’s importance.  A bit non-traditional, the most important and essential character (in my opinion) was not necessarily emphasized as the main character.  His traits were subtly defined, and  Le Guin even tricked the reader into thinking he was a traitor until Estraven revealed he was not (even then, it was done so simply one couldn’t help but question the honesty of the statement).  Because of these subtleties, I as a reader was not able to fully grasp Estraven as a character, at least in comparison to the understanding of Genly that I gained.

Looking back now on the story as an entirety, I see biblical reflection in the character of Estraven, especially in the last few chapters.  I became aware of these connections when Estraven sacrificed himself to the guards when attempting to cross the border.  He was fully knowledgeable that the guards would shoot him, yet he still sacrificed himself.  I couldn’t help but recognize similarities to Jesus’s acceptance of his arrest and lack of resistance to being hung on the cross.  Upon this realization, I further realized that it seemed Estraven had an increased knowledge of how events would play out, as well as what was best for the greater good (joining the Ekumen).  It was never explained exactly why he held these “privileges”, which led me to support a sort of divine role.  Even further, the survival of the nearly impossible journey across the Ice brings suspect of divine intervention, though it could be thought this intervention could lie either with Estraven or Genly.

This was one symbolic that I recognized within Le Guin’s writing, though I question my ability to recognize and explain such symbolic elements, as I have been so far trained in scientific and experimental design that my first impulse is to rely on evidence.  As a result, I find myself taking things more literally rather than recognizing higher meanings.  This aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Estrevan as a character, and greatly appreciated the unique character development, though frustrating while reading, became extremely rewarding at the conclusion of the book.  As the title of this post states, I do regret initially writing him off as an unimportant character, because at the conclusion of the book my opinion regarding him was completely changed.