The Dispossessed Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series The Dispossessed Analysis

Ursula K. Le Guin

Masterpieces of Women's Literature The Dispossessed Analysis

In The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin presents a convincing and realistic portrayal of an anarchistic society. The novel is in part an answer to the many dystopian works of the twentieth century, the most famous of which are George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). In these dystopian novels, the centralizing tendencies of modern governments are extrapolated to their logical extremes: In Nineteen Eighty-four, the government exercises absolute control through surveillance and torture; in Brave New World, the opposite tactic, the cultivation of drug addiction and hedonistic practices among the population, contributes to the pacification of the population. In addition to the use of extrapolation, a traditional rhetorical tactic of science fiction, Le Guin utilizes two other techniques in the construction of her fiction, analogy and “world-reduction.” By including the utopian and anti-utopian worlds in her fiction, Le Guin makes explicit the comparison left implicit in other utopian and dystopian works.

First, the government of Anarres is a combination of the theories of turn of the twentieth century anarchists and the technology of the second half of the twentieth century. Odo, the female theorist upon whose work the Anarresti society is based, bears many similarities to the American radical Emma Goldman. Likewise, Shevek resembles atomic bomb inventor and family friend J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was eventually relieved of his duties for political reasons. Le Guin defamiliarizes these recognizable historical figures by exaggerating their traits and placing them in an alien setting. Thus the plot rests on the answers to the questions often addressed by alternate-history fiction writers: What would have happened if Goldman and her comrades had the necessary technology to be successful? What would have happened to Oppenheimer had he directed his talents away from the invention of weapons of mass destruction? On Anarres, the presence of the computer helps provide the logistical support that makes anarchy possible. It also...

(The entire section is 870 words.)