In "The Dispossessed," the main character Shevek and his friends, including the brilliant fledgling philosopher, Bedap, form a bond through shared opinions and ideas. Bedap and Shevek have a lengthy conversation discussing the relation of Anarres and its moon, Urras. The conversation turns philosophical as Bedap and Shevek discuss how the twin planets are in binary opposition to one another, a relationship which is directly reflected in the dynamic between Annarestians and the society of Urras.
To understand how binary oppositions function within "The Dispossessed," it is necessary to understand the fact that the nation of A lo has come to thrive on the planet Urras, and the fact that Annares is a barely habitable desert moon the nation did not see fit to colonize. The rebels who would eventually become the rulers and inhabitants of Annares were given the desert moon as a vaguely insulting offer of peace. The people of Annares are proud of their communal society because their austere way of life has allowed them to thrive in an even more austere setting.
Binary opposition refers to the idea that there are only two options of extremely opposing nature. Here, the decadence and splendor of Urras is in binary opposition to the Spartan and communal way of life on Annares. In this scene, Shevek and his friends, as youths whose enthusiasm has not yet been tainted with the cynicism that pervades their planet, begin to speculate that a world outside the binary constructs they have known exists. No one from Annares has traveled to Urras since the planet was colonized, and from the perspective of someone who lives on Annares, Urras is its moon. This realization is used to draw a parallel between the different worlds and the way they perceive each other. To Annares, Urras is just a dark and distant reflection of the decadent society their ancestors rebelled against and left behind. To Urras, Annares is a distant colony that is simply something to look at from afar, just like a moon.
Throughout the story, the concept of binary opposition is further illustrated. The conversation between Shevek and his friends is one of the first instances in which Annares and Urras, both moons and planets depending on the perspective of the person observing them, are contrasted in a literal sense. As the story progresses, this contrast takes on a metaphoric nature. As Shevek experiences the higher echelons of society on both Annares and Urras, he realizes that while their ideals contrast starkly in many regards, the opposition between them is not quite as binary as either side would like to believe.
Despite the fact that it was built on the principles of communal living and shared labor, Annares is prone to corruption and decadence at its highest levels. Despite its appearances of splendor and elegance, the A loans on Urras are hiding the dire conditions the poorest among them experience. In this way, while both societies are set off against each other on the surface, they are far more similar underneath than they would ever like to admit.
The realization of the binary opposition between Urras and Annares, as well as Shevek's eventual disillusionment with the concept, plays a crucial role when it comes to how he views the cultural hierarchy on Annares. When he is accepted into the physics institute, Annares realizes how differently the standards of Annares are applied to its leaders. There is not only binary opposition evident between planets, but between the split worlds created by inequality in the supposedly equal commune of Annares as well. Shevek and his friends begin to realize that the cultural hierarchy is dominated by hypocrisy and this conversation and realization later fuel the hope Shevek develops in the Hainish plan to unite all colonies under a federation of planets.