The Dispossessed - by Ursula K. LeGuin

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The Dispossessed - by Ursula K. LeGuin

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1fannyprice
Dec 29, 2007, 12:19pm

I've just completed The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and found it a very neat take on the utopia/dystopia genre. I notice that it is one of the most commonly shared novels in this group. Anyone else read it and interested in talking about it?

2avaland
Jan 11, 2008, 8:31am

fanny, read it ages ago and no longer feel qualified to provide intelligent repartee (or even somber conversation) on it - without a reread.

3fannyprice
Jan 11, 2008, 5:38pm

Here are my thoughts on the book. No real spoilers, I think.

I had meant to write a review of this book while everything was still fresh in my mind – entertaining, but not one of the great utopia/dystopia works that will really stick with me the same way something like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or Brave New World really stuck with me.

Two worlds – Anerras and Urras – with people of similar origin that have been mostly cut off from each other since a group of anarchist-leaning colonists from Urras settled on Anarres a few hundred years ago. During the ensuing separation, the societies have developed in dramatically different directions and have come to fear each other. Shevek, a brilliant scientist and would-be reformer on Anarres, becomes the first person to travel between the two worlds in the hopes of bringing his planet out of isolation.

Two stories are told in alternating chapters – one corresponds roughly to the present, in which Shevek travels to Urras, the second tells the story of Shevek’s past and his life on Anerras. This was sometimes disorienting, but I felt it broke up the story in a good way – both planets kind of seemed a little tedious in their own ways. This technique was also used to highlight some of the differences between the two worlds and their path of development – though with Urras, we really only know the imagined past (the stories that the people on Anerras have transmitted about what life was like before their ancestors left the planet) and the present; with Anerras, we get to experience some of its history and the struggle of its people to survive on a barren new world.

The thing that made this novel stand out from other utopia/dystopia novels is that LeGuin really avoids showing any society – eventually we are exposed to a diversity of governments on Urras and also to alien societies that have begun relations with Urras – as perfect, which is a frequent failing of these kinds of books. While I think that Anerras is definitely supposed to be the “right” model of society – or at least is supposed to have the right ideological underpinnings, even if they have been somewhat distorted over time – she shows that other ways have both benefits and drawbacks. She also shows that there may be certain underlying human tendencies that cannot be overcome by ideology – jealousy, pettiness, desire for personal enrichment and recognition, a need to form significant emotional relationships, and so on. Both the good and the bad of humanity come out, despite ideologies that attempt to reform us.

I had hoped the author might deal more with the issue of gender than she ultimately did – the differences in the way men & women lived their lives on Anerras and Urras were discussed, I guess I just thought this might come to play more of a significant role.

Ultimately, I really liked the world that LeGuin created & the sense that there was a whole universe of stories beyond those related to Anerras, Urras, and Shevek’s journey between the two. I was glad to discover that she has actually written a whole collection of books exploring this universe and I am looking forward to reading more of them. I have a real fondness for authors who create a world and then continually explore different parts of it, rather than simply revisiting the same characters over and over again, even when all the good stories have been told.