The Plot

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561

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.

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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 manual labor in his planet’s harshest desert. After this trial of physical, emotional, and intellectual self-denial, Shevek vows, “by damn, I will do my own work for a while now!”

That work has been kept alive, ironically, through extended contact with the physicists of the mother planet, Urras—that is, with despised “propertarians.” After his desert ordeal, Shevek accepts a standing invitation based on his groundbreaking physics and becomes the first Anarresti in 170 years to visit the mother planet. In the face of intense opposition, he vows to “go to Urras and break down walls.”

On Urras, Shevek is treated as an honored but subtly controlled guest, kept from any genuine contact with the poor. His hosts are determined to “buy” him. They believe that his work, once completed, will bring them wealth, power, and prestige. Shevek moves from admiring awe and a kind of racial homesickness for the lush mother planet to revulsion against a social world dominated by competitive struggles for power and wealth. When a chance comes to lend support to the poor people of Ai-Io, the wealthy host-nation, Shevek seizes it, traveling secretly to the slums and leading a demonstration against an unjust war. This self-liberation from a luxurious “prison” comes in the wake of the fulfillment of Shevek’s scientific work: completion of a General Temporal Theory that unites apparently irreconcilable theories about time.

The antiwar demonstration, climaxing with Shevek’s speech urging renewed Odonian revolt, is broken up by a military crackdown. Shevek hides for three days in a basement with a mortally wounded demonstrator who dies in Shevek’s care. Following this near-death descent, Shevek emerges suddenly in the Terran (Earth) Embassy, where he gains asylum and arranges for his theory to be broadcast to all worlds, thus eluding his hosts’ desire to possess it and enabling instantaneous communication between the “nine known worlds.” In a final wall-breaking action, Shevek agrees to let a young man from Hain, oldest of the known inhabited worlds, accompany him home to Anarres.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is the story of the twin planets Anarres and Urras. Anarres is populated by the descendants of the...

(The entire section contains 2132 words.)

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