The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

by Ursula K. Le Guin
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  • In the novel, "The Dispossessed," the inhabitants of both Urras and Anarres are “Cetian.” However, despite being the same “race,” the inhabitants of Urras are clearly viewed as an ideological “other” by those on Anarres. Examine how the fear of the ideological other is used by those in power on Anarres to maintain hegemony. What is the medium through which this hegemony is protected (military, rules, laws, something else) and how does it function? [Write two paragraphs: one examining the question regarding fear, one examining the medium]

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    The government and ruling social class of Annares use the fear of the ideological other to reinforce the group think that is already inherent on Annares. Despite the fact that Urras and Anarres are populated by the same "race" of Cetians, the Anarrestis use the significant cultural differences between cultures to create an ideological divide that makes it easier to maintain the hegemony on Anarres. This is accomplished by sharing often exaggerated stories of what life of Urras is like, from the decadence to the disregard for the lower classes. By inciting fear against the decadence of the Urrasti government, Anarres is able to maintain hegemony by warning its people that the only alternative to communal life and abnegation on Anarres is the wildly unchecked plutocracy of Urras.

    The primary medium through which Anarres preserves its hegemony is its social and labor systems. The Anarrestis are true pacifists, foregoing the use of military might to accomplish their goals. Instead, the close-knit society is set up in such a way that Anarresti citizens keep one another in check. While it is not explicitly outlawed to express individuality, as Shevek does by taking a committed life partner, excelling in the sciences and leaving to visit Urras, the social pressure to preserve hegemony is so strong that few Anarrestis are willing or able to overcome it. Similarly, the labor system reinforces this hegemony by humbling the ranks of Anarres through shared labor during times of hardship. Even brilliant men like Shevek are forced to endure lengthy periods of harsh physical labor, ensuring that the lower ranks of Anarresti society do not rise above the dominant group.

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