The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is one of several of Ursula Le Guin’s works chronicling the evolution of a “League of all Worlds” governed by principles superior to those of known political and colonial systems. Although The Dispossessed takes place in the League’s prehistory, the novel’s loving portrait of a working anarchist society on one world develops in detail the principles of noncoercive social organization.
The novel chronicles the life of Shevek, a physicist reared on a world settled by the followers of an anarchist philosopher, Odo. The Odonians, “bought off” 170 years before Shevek’s time with an offer to settle their mother planet’s arid moon, Anarres, live without laws, according to the apparently irreconcilable principles of absolute individual freedom and absolute commitment to the good of the community. Anarresti social order is maintained primarily by education, which inculcates a horror of “egoizing.” The Anarresti live in isolation from their mother planet, Urras, a lush world that Anarresti education demonizes as a place of injustice and evil.
Through a series of struggles, Shevek strives to balance loyalty to the society that formed him with rebellion against subtle conformist pressures that stifle his ambitious work in theoretical physics. The conflict climaxes after a long famine, during which Shevek accepts four years of separation from his wife and his work to perform...
(The entire section is 561 words.)