The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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In "The Dispossessed," Anarresti culture eliminates hierarchies but centers on a monogamous relationship. How does this tension resolve into a coherent theme?

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The relationship between Shevek and the woman he calls Takver is a central theme of the novel, "The Dispossessed." In fact, Le Guin has said that this relationship was her primary motivation for writing the book. While Odo created a society with no marital contracts in order to prevent Annares from becoming another Urras, this policy becomes limiting to Shevek and Takver as they grow older. They want to share their lives together, but there are no formal contracts or institutions that allow two people effectively belong to one another. By contrast, Shevek's relationships with the women on Urras are both restricted by government-sanctioned marriages and government enforced social pressures.

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The relationship between Takver and Shevek, while not expressly forbidden by the Annarean government, is highly controversial. While Le Guin explains that Odo originally set up a society with no legal form of marriage in order to prevent Annares from becoming a hierarchy like Urras, this policy becomes limiting to the young couple. Shevek and Takver feel a deep bond and desire to share their lives with each other. In this sense, the monogamous relationship between Takver and Shevek fits in with the larger theme of the story. A lack of formal contracts and institutions in which two people effectively belong to one another is only freeing for the Annareans who have no desire to enter into such contracts. By contrast, Takver and Shevek find Annarean society highly restrictive.

More tension is created when Shevek is sent away on a lengthy tour of labor. Takver is also sent away to continue her work on addressing the problem of starvation on Annares. Because marriage is not an officially recognized institution, the Annarean government has no obligation to keep the spouses together. The tension can be further resolved into a coherent theme when contrasted with the opposing tensions Shevek experiences on Urras. While the Urrasti government permits marriage, its social institutions create great pressure to conform in a different way. "The Dispossessed" uses these tensions to illustrate how even restrictions created from the purest motives will have a negative impact on someone.

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