Upon his return to Abbenay, we witness Shevek frustrated that Takver has moved. He consoles himself by claiming that Takver is needed to fight the famine and the hunger resulting from it. (When reading, specifically note whose hunger Takver is working to alleviate). Earlier in the novel, we learned that Pravic, the language of Anarres, avoided singular possessives (i.e. mine, his, hers, etc.): “Little children might say ‘my mother,’ but very soon they would learn to say ‘the mother’” (Le Guin 58). From a Marxist perspective, analyze this linguistic element of Anarres’ superstructure. How does this linguistic peculiarity testify to the economic base of the society? If it is uncommon to use singular possessives, why does Shevek use them when describing whose hunger Takver is seeking to alleviate?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 8, we learn that a terrible famine has fragmented many informal, social ties in Anarres. To save Anarres from human extinction, Divlab (a loosely-structured bureaucratic organization that dispenses work assignments to citizens) has instituted labor drafts to build up fast-disappearing food supplies. Upon his return to Abbenay, Shevek is distraught when he learns that Takver has been assigned to the Comestible Algae Experimental Development Laboratories in the Northeast for an "indeterminate period."

He finds himself wrestling with his cerebral acquiescence to Anarres' needs and his emotional attachment to his little family. In an anarchistic society, each citizen must go where he/she has been assigned; self-sacrifice is the epitome of anarchistic benevolence. However, Shevek finds it hard to contain his own personal disappointment, anger, and frustration. He tries to comfort himself by reasoning that Takver has gone "to work against hunger- hers, his, Sadik's hunger." Sadik is Takver and Shevek's infant daughter; in the novel, she is the apple of her father's eye. Each morning, Shevek would sit Sadik down for his "wild cosmological lectures," silly rhyme recitations, and playful bounces on his knee. So, the departure of his little family is emotionally debilitating to him; additionally, he is also wrestling with the fact that a fellow Anarres citizen, Sabul, has appropriated his work for his own.

Although it is uncommon to use singular possessives, Shevek uses them when he describes whose hunger Takver is seeking to alleviate. It's the only way he can comfort himself and to rationalize the self-sacrifice expected of him. In seeing his and Takver's sacrifice in terms of family survival, Shevek is able to shift his focus away from his personal misery and to preserve his sanity in light of Sabul's betrayal (in the story, Sabul is Anarres' leading physicist, a scientist who appropriates Shevek's work for his own).

In Anarres, the emphasis is on self-sacrifice. In order to survive catastrophes and famines, every citizen must agree to go where he/she is needed. Anarchist ideals rest on the assumption that everyone is willing to forego personal desires for the general welfare, especially in times of need; thus, the linguistic elements in Anarres culture must support the superstructure and testify to the economic base of the society. Technically, there is no government to dictate the national response; for the sake of survival, everyone must be compelled to act from purely altruistic motives. We can see, though, that even in an anarchistic society, some semblance of a central controlling authority is needed. In the novel, Divlab has the sole authority for assigning projects to all citizens.

There is no "I," "she," or "he" simply because the community must supplant the individual in order to preserve social cohesiveness in dangerous times. While such a system has its advantages, we can see that it is inadequate in addressing personal concerns. Shevek must make a choice between staying at Abbenay (and grieving for his exiled family) or posting to Rolny Peninsula, where he could live with his family but be denied a meaningful assignment. In the end, Shevek chooses to go where his skills can be used. Like Takver, he makes the decision because he believes in the anarchist ideals of self-sacrifice and mutual benevolence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial