[Ursula K. Le Guin] The Dispossessed

  • Title: The Dispossessed – An Ambiguous Utopia
  • Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Published: 1974
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • ISBN: 006051275X

The Dispossessed is the sixth novel of the Hainish Cycle. The main theme is the development of the mathematical/scientific theory of space and time. The theory will be a basis of a fictional ansible, a device capable of immediate communication at any distance, which plays a very crucial role in the universe of the Hainish Cycle.  

But as you can see from the subtitle, the story is more about social and cultural structure. 

That the social conscience completely dominates the individual conscience, instead of striking a balance with it. We don’t cooperate — we obey. We fear being outcast, being called lazy, dysfunctional, egoizing. We fear our neighbor’s opinion more than we respect our own freedom of choice

from the book

The Dispossessed is set on Anarres and Urras, the twin planets of Tau Ceti. Originally, people lived only on Urras, except for some minors on Anarres. About 150 years ago, revolutionary movements of Odonians triggered their relocation (or exile) to Anarres.

Now, the book is full of symbolistic contrast.

  • Urras: divided into several states but dominated by two superpowers. 
    • A-Io: a state of capitalism and patriarchalism. (US and Western Europe)
    • Thu: a state of authoritarianism in the name of the proletariat. (Soviet and Eastern Europe)
  • Anarres: a state of anarcho-syndicalism.

Urras is an unequal but affluent society with plenty of resources. Anarres is a barren world of equal and independent people. From this background, the situation of Anarres is very ambiguous. After a couple of generations from the original settlers (Odonian revolutionaries), the lives of the Anarres people are more based on practical needs with a propaganda education system. The main plot of the book is the journey of the protagonist Shevek, a physicist, to doubt the system of Anarres and seek the change to reconcile its rigidity by opening communication between Anarres and other systems (Urras, Hain, and Terra).

The book starts and ends with the wall surrounding Anarres’ single spaceport. It is the only place with the signpost “No Trespassing!” in Anarres. The wall is the symbol of the division of ideals and also the state of imprisonment. 

An Odonian utopia is based on an anarchistic ideal. The key point is sharing. You do not own – possess – and you share. It is also very ambiguous in Anarres. Due to its lack of essential goods and food, sharing is not a choice but has become a necessity or a way of survival. Only propaganda and isolation maintain the superiority over Urras. Le Guin embraces the ideals of anarcho-syndicalism, but it is clear that she is very cautious about the naive acceptance of utopian ideas. 

Just as other her novels, “The Dispossessed” portrays more of the social and cultural structures than individual ups and downs. The characters are heroic, like in myths. But the novel’s portrayal and arguments about the ideal society are extraordinarily convincing and interesting, even with its weak endings. 

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s