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The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Dispossessed (1974)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle (5), Hainish Cycle, Chronological (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,086128676 (4.15)1 / 379
  1. 50
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Algybama)
  2. 20
    Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
    andomck: Both are books in the Hainish Cycle.
  3. 31
    His Master's Voice by Stanisław Lem (TMrozewski)
    TMrozewski: Both deal with the social and cultural roots of science.
  4. 10
    Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (sturlington)
  5. 11
    Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock (andomck)
    andomck: Brooding,introspective sci fi/fantasy
  6. 00
    Doctor Mirabilis by James Blish (jpers36)
    jpers36: Life story of a genius physicist destined to revolutionize a stagnant culture with his radical scientific insights.
  7. 00
    Distress by Greg Egan (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: These books share isolated anarchist communities and discoveries in physics that change everything.
  8. 55
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: A different moon, a different anti-authoritarian community, but the same experience of thinking about other ways to run human societies
  9. 02
    The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick (MyriadBooks)
  10. 24
    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (LamontCranston)
  11. 217
    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (lauranav)
1970s (38)
Unread books (1,041)

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English (123)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Turkish (1)  All languages (127)
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Plot summary
The story takes place on the fictional planet Urras and its moon Anarres (since Anarres is massive enough to hold an atmosphere, this is often described as a double planet system). In order to forestall an anarcho-syndical workers' rebellion, the major Urrasti states gave the revolutionaries the right to live on Anarres, along with a guarantee of non-interference, approximately two hundred years before the events of The Dispossessed.[2] Before this, Anarres had had no permanent settlements apart from some mining.

The protagonist Shevek is a physicist attempting to develop a General Temporal Theory. The physics of the book describes time as having a much deeper, more complex structure than we understand it. It incorporates not only mathematics and physics, but also philosophy and ethics. The meaning of the theories in the book weaves nicely into the plot, not only describing abstract physical concepts, but the ups and downs of the characters' lives, and the transformation of the Anarresti society. An oft-quoted saying in the book is "true journey is return." [3].

Anarres is in theory a society without government or coercive authoritarian institutions. Yet in pursuing research that deviates from his society's current consensus understanding, Shevek begins to come up against very real obstacles. Shevek gradually develops an understanding that the revolution which brought his world into being is stagnating, and power structures are beginning to exist where there were none before. He therefore embarks on the risky journey to the original planet, Urras, seeking to open dialog between the worlds and to spread his theories freely outside of Anarres. The novel details his struggles on both Urras and his homeworld of Anarres.

The book also explores the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, that language shapes thinking, and thus, culture. The language spoken on the anarchist planet Anarres, Pravic, is a constructed language that reflects many aspects of the philosophical foundations of utopian anarchism. For instance, the use of the possessive case is strongly discouraged. In one scene, Shevek's daughter, meeting him for the first time, offers him "You can share the handkerchief I use,"[4] rather than "you may borrow my handkerchief", thus conveying the idea that the handkerchief is not owned by the girl, merely carried by her.[5]

Cover of first paperback editionThe Dispossessed looks into the mechanisms that may be developed by an anarchist society, but also the dangers of centralization and bureaucracy that might easily take over such society without the continuation of revolutionary ideology. Part of its power is that it gives a spectrum of fairly well-developed characters, who illustrate many types of personalities, all educated in an environment that measures a person not by what he owns, but by what he can do, and how he relates to other human beings. Possibly the best example of this is the character of Takver, the hero's partner, who exemplifies many virtues: loyalty, love of life and living things, perseverance, and desire for a true partnership with another person.

The work is sometimes said to represent one of the few modern revivals of the utopian genre, [6] and there are certainly many characteristics of a utopian novel found in this book. Most obviously, Shevek is an outsider in Urras, following the "traveler" convention common in utopian literature. All of the characters portrayed in the novel have a certain spirituality or intelligence, there are no nondescript characters. It is also true to say that there are aspects of Anarres that are utopian: it is presented as a pure society that adheres to its own theories and ideals, which are starkly juxtaposed with Urras society.

However, the work is subtitled "An Ambiguous Utopia", and one of the major themes of the work is the ambiguity of different notions of utopia. Anarres is not presented as a perfect society, even within the constraints of what might define an anarchist utopia. Bureaucracy, stagnation, and power structures have problematized the revolution, as Shevek understands through the course of the novel. Moreover, Le Guin has painted a very stark picture of the natural and environmental constraints on society. Anarres citizens are forced to contend with a relatively sparse and unfruitful world. Hardship caused by lack of resources is a prominent theme, reflected in the title of the novel. Anarres citizens are dispossessed not just by political choice, but by the very lack of resources to possess. Here, again, Le Guin draws a contrast with the natural wealth of Urras, and the competitive behaviors this fosters. Le Guin's foreword to the novel notes that her anarchism is closely akin to that of Pyotr Kropotkin's, whose Mutual Aid closely assessed the influence of the natural world on competition and cooperation.[7] Le Guin's use of realism in this aspect of the work further problematizes — ambiguates — a simple utopian interpretation of the work. Anarres is not a perfect society, and Le Guin shows that no such thing is possible.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Shevek is a brilliant physicist living on Anarres. His world is actually a moon populated with the anarchist rebels of Urras. Anarres is utopic in many ways, but stifling to free thought, so Shevek flees to Urras. There, he finds himself too swaddled in privileges.

My inarticulate summary doesn't give the slightest hint of how incredible this book is. Le Guin turns her thoughtful, earthy eye on each form of government and lifestyle in the 9 Known Worlds, from the utilitarian anarchists to the overly-controlled socialists to the authoritarian capitalists. Shevek is the physicist who travels between worlds and revolutionizes conceptions of time, yet Le Guin spends time on his family and friends, too, as though a fish geneticist's trouble with pregnancy is important to her story as well. This book is a study in revolution, hierarchies, war, the master's tools, clean thinking. I recommend it as highly as I am able. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Re-reading for book club! (August 2015)

I first read this book in middle school, and was blown away by it. It introduced so many new (to me) ideas - brilliant ideas! - but then, rather than just presenting those ideas as a utopia, did everything it could to explore them further, and to explore their flaws and weaknesses.

I was very proud that I got my teacher that year to include this book on our summer reading list, so that everyone else would have to read it too. :-)

Of course, re-reading after so long, I wasn't sure how it would hold up. You can see I still have 5 stars up there, though...

When I was a pre-teen, I remember thinking that the book felt very 'adult.' This time, I was more impressed at how LeGuin actually manages to deeply explore profound and complex ideas through simple, elegant language that just about anyone, of any age, can understand.

And - this is a book of ideas. That's the one aspect of the novel that I could see being used as a valid complaint about the book. However, I didn't feel that the characters fell by the wayside. Although they might be there, at times, to illustrate certain points, they still feel like fully realized people, who think, act, and feel in believable ways.

This is, of course, the story of Shevek, a remarkably brilliant physicist (and an excellent example of a character who is much smarter than average, and who behaves and thinks in such a way as to demonstrate that, rather than the much-more-common occurrence where we're supposed to believe that someone is talented or smart because the author tells us so.) Shevek was born on Anarres, a colony world started as a social experiment, following the philosophy of the radical communo-anarchist Odo. 170 years later, after hardly any contact with the home world of Urras, rumors persist about the oppressive decadence of the 'propertarians' of the home world, Urras.
However, Shevek, a bit of a misfit in his own society, is invited to visit Urras. Through the book, we see their capitalist society and contrast its pros and cons with those of Annares.

As a kicker, we also get to glimpse a hint of what things are like not only on Urras and Anarres, but here on Earth, as well as among the Hainish: there are not only two social possibilities.

An admission: when I first read this, I identified more strongly with Shevek and Takver. This time, I had far more sympathy and understanding for Vea - as, perhaps, most people in the West would.

Essays and books could be written (and have been) about the ideas contained in 'The Dispossessed' - I've not going to do an analysis here.

But I will say; I still think this is a book that everyone should read. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Le Guin's father was an anthropologist, and in this book we see that influence. Together with her _Left Hand of Darkness_, this is one of science fiction's great novels of ideas. If you prefer space opera, read something else. Presenting a challenge to the reader is the non-linear plot development, but this can be said to also add to its charm. Furthers the belief that what we can do is more valuable than what we possess, and that language shapes thinking. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
The dispossessed is a book that is hard for me to describe well. It is a story that takes place in two locations: Urras (probably similar to earth) and Anarres, Urras’ arid moon. Anarres was settled by a group of anarchists who left or were kicked out of Urras (a planet with remarkable similarities to U.S.). There are no laws, no property, & no government. The society’s ideals are based on communal sharing, voluntary contributions, and brotherhood. The story is told from two intersecting time points centering around protagonist, Shevek who is a physicist from Anarres. The plot’s central time point is Shevek’s trip to Urras. The chapters alternate between Shevek’s pre-journey history (e.g., the events leading up to the trip) and what happens to him after leaving Anarres.

I really enjoyed this book. After recently reading Stranger in a Strange land, I think I appreciated this book much more. There is a LOT of political commentary in this book but it was much more palatable (for me) than the religious/cultish commentary of Heilein’s book. Clearly the author has some strong opinions and she packs a lot into this book. She covers themes of anarchy, capitalism, gender roles, power, hypocrisy, sacrifice, and much more. I found it interesting that the utopia created is clearly flawed and she creates brilliant tension between the ideal and how it can become warped when attempted in reality. I liked her portrayal of gender roles and I enjoyed thinking about the political commentary underlying the story.

“Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended on w
( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Craft, KinukoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ducak, DaniloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebel, AlexCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyytäjä, KaleviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AnthonyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valla, RiccardoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winkowski, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There was a wall.
You shall not go down twice to the same river, nor can you go home again. That he knew; indeed it was the basis of his view of the world. Yet from that acceptance of transience he evolved his vast theory, wherein what is most changeable is shown to be fullest of eternity, and your relationship to the river, and the river's relationship to you and to itself, turns out to be at once more complex and more reassuring than a mere lack of identity. You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.
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The protagonist Shevek is a physicist attempting to develop a General Temporal Theory. Anarres is in theory a society without government or coercive authoritarian institutions. Yet in pursuing research that deviates from his society's current consensus understanding, Shevek begins to come up against very real obstacles. Shevek gradually develops an understanding that the revolution which brought his world into being is stagnating, and power structures are beginning to exist where there were none before. He therefore embarks on the risky journey to the original planet, Urras, seeking to open dialog between the worlds and to spread his theories freely outside of Anarres. The novel details his struggles on both Urras and his homeworld of Anarres.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061054887, Mass Market Paperback)

Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. he will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:08 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Shevek, a brilliant physicist attempts to reunite two planets cut off from each other by centuries of distrust.

» see all 3 descriptions

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