In The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, how do Shevek’s childhood, adolescence, and experiences as a young adult influence his decisions on Urras?  

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As a child, Shevek had been raised with the Odonian concepts of self-sacrifice, equality, and mutual reliance. It was in babyhood that Shevek first learned about self-denial: his mother, Rulag, had been sent by Divlab to Abbenay. Shevek's father, Palat, was the parent left behind. Essentially, Shevek spent his early formative years bereft of his mother's presence. During his childhood years, he learned that the self was always to be subject to the needs of the community.

Shevek learned to share, but was prohibited from indulging in individualistic discourse (what was called "egoizing" by the director of Shevek's Speaking-And-Listening group). Even though Palat gave his son affection and stability, he was never able to show Shevek what true intellectual and personal freedom looked like.

During his teenage years, Shevek enjoyed mutually stimulating debates with his friends, Tirin, Kvetur, and Bedap. The boys discussed the economic and political divide between Urras and Anarres as well as the lack of mutual discourse between both societies. While Tirin questioned the need to hate and avoid the Urrasti people, Shevek argued that, in an anarchistic society, no conceivable authority could stop the Anarresti from venturing over to Urras, if that was their desire. Anarresti society, after all, was predicated on mutual responsibility and individual freedom, not "the false option of obedience to the law or disobedience followed by punishment."

It is this very spirit of fierce individuality that Shevek brings to his young adult years and beyond. During his time with Sabul (Anarres' leading physicist), Shevek became exposed to Urrasti physics, science that was some twenty or thirty years ahead of anything on Anarres. Tirin's earlier assertion that Anarres could benefit from mutual collaboration with Urras suddenly proved insightful to Shevek. Two events occurred that finally pushed Shevek to explore Urras on his own. The first pertained to Sabul's demand that Shevek not share his carefully honed knowledge of Iotic (the language used in Urras) and Urrasti physics with anyone else. Because of his childhood education in Anarresti ethics, Shevek came to see Sabul's secrecy as a form of selfishness:

Surely freedom lay rather in openness than in secrecy, and freedom is always worth the risk.

The other event concerned his partner Takver's forced departure from Abbenay during a prolonged famine. Like his father before him, Shevek was to know the pain of forced separation and of being eclipsed by the mother of his child. Even as he grieved in his time, Palat had refused to follow after Rulag (due to a lack of career opportunities for him at Rulag's posting); similarly, Shevek made the decision not to follow Takver when Takver was assigned elsewhere. As faithful a parent as Palat was to him, so Shevek became a most responsive and engaging parent to Sadik, his daughter.

Shevek's childhood experiences were foundational to the decisions he made as an adult. He chose to visit Urras because, long ago, he and his friends had dared to entertain the idea that mutual dialogue and collaboration would be beneficial to both Urras and Anarres. Shevek also chose not to follow Takver because of his father's example; yet, it was not only the parental example that deterred Shevek, but also his masculine pride and sense of Anarresti responsibility towards his people that compelled him to seek some answers on Urras.

Read the study guide:
The Dispossessed

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