The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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What psychology is presented in the first half of The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin?

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The kind of psychology involved in the first half of the book The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin is social psychology. LeGuin uses this type of psychology when describing how the futuristic anarchist society of the Odonians on the planet Annares shapes the main character Shevek's worldview and how Shevek's exposure to the capitalists and socialists on Urras changes his perspective.

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The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (an anarchist herself) explores the practice of anarchism in contrast to other social frameworks as well as the idea of utopia. Naturally, social psychology plays a major role in these ideas, since it is the study of what societies are made of: the interactions between and guiding forces of a group of people and how those contexts shape individuals' perceptions and actions.

One textual example of how social context impacts an individual's perception is how moving from a society where gender equality is the norm to one where women are oppressed impacts a character's treatment of women.

The main character, Shevek, is from the anarchist Odonian society of Annares, where the physical conditions have an obvious impact on how people think about each other. Annares is a barren planet colonized by revolutionaries fleeing oppression from the capitalist regimes of the home world Urras. Unlike the people who live on Urras, with its natural resources and long-established production chains, the Odonians are dependent entirely on each other for constant collaborative labor to produce enough resources to survive. It follows that, in addition to a cultural value of equality, the society cannot afford for anyone to be barred from any task they're able to complete: the genders are equal.

In contrast, the societies of A-Io and Thu that Shevek visits on Urras mirror our own individualist and competitive structures. As the values that surround Shevek change, he too becomes more selfish and less respectful of the people around him. He becomes particularly less respectful towards women, treating the women he meets as less than himself.

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