IRJE: Oct. 15 (Words of Radiance)

In Words of Radiance, book two of the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, the religion practiced throughout the kingdoms the story mainly takes place in is called Vorinism. According to Vorin beliefs, it is extremely improper for a woman to leave her left hand (“safehand”) uncovered. Shallan, the female protagonist, and a woman from one such of those Vorin kingdoms, becomes an apprentice of sorts to a con-artist named Tyn. One of the things Tyn begins to teach Shallan is how to pretend to be someone from a different kingdom.

“I, for one, am going to be very amused to watch your face when you have to go out in public with that hand of yours uncovered.”

Shallan immediately pulled her safehand up to her breast. “What!”

“I warned you about difficult things,” Tyn said, smiling in a devious way. “West of Marat, almost all women go out with both hands uncovered. If you’re going to go to those places and not stand out, you’ll have to be able to do as they do.”

“It’s immodest!” Shallan said, blushing furiously.

“It’s just a hand, Shallan,” Tyn said. “Storms, you Vorins are so prim. That hand looks exactly like your other hand.” (p. 428)

Initially when reading this, it’s easy to think that the Vorin “safehand” tradition is ridiculous. When you consider further though, many of our beliefs about propriety aren’t any better. For instance, we consider it to be a very intimate thing to see someone in their underwear, yet our swimsuits look nearly exactly the same besides the material. Somehow we find one material to be more intimate than the other. When considering it this way, left or right isn’t much different than one material or another.

I find things like this interesting to think about. It changes our perspective when we realize what we consider right or wrong in regards to “decency” is often completely abstract. In fact, this applies to many things about society- barely any of it can be completely justified in a logical way, it’s almost all about how we are raised and what we are told.