Synopses & Reviews
A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras—a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart.
To visit Urras—to learn, to teach, to share—will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist's gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change.
Centuries ago, the moon Anarres was settled by utopian anarchists who left the Earthlike planet Urras in search of a better world, a new beginning. Now a brilliant physicist, Shevek, determines to reunite the two civilizations that have been separated by hatred since long before he was born.
The Dispossessed is a penetrating examination of society and humanity and one man's brave undertaking to question the unquestionable and ignite the fires of change.
About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of more than one hundred short stories, two collections of essays, four volumes of poetry, and nineteen novels. Her best-known fantasy works, the Earthsea books, have sold millions of copies in America and England, and have been translated into sixteen languages. Her first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness
, is considered epochmaking in the field because of its radical investigation of gender roles and its moral and literary complexity.
Three of Le Guin's books have been finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and among the many honors her writing has received are the National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and the Harold D. Vursell Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Reading Group Guide
Shevek, citizen and acclaimed physicist of the world Anarres, believes that he must free his people from the walls that they have built around their anarchist state, blocking out all other worlds. A freethinker and believer in the power of revolution and the individual's right to self-rule, Shevek must risk all to discover the truth about the land that his people escaped from, Urras.
But all is not as he believes on the glittering world of Urras. Coddled within the ivory towers of its university, Shevek is prohibited from seeing the real world of Urras, the world of the poor and indigent from which his people came. Although shunned by his Odonian society for his cutting-edge theories, the Urrasti hold him captive for his knowledge of the General Temporal Theory, a theory that could bring the Urrasti all the power and fortune they desire.
Aware that he has only traded one set of walls for another, Shevek must make an even more dangerous journey if he is truly to succeed in his ultimate mission of fostering understanding and true brotherhood among the races. Enlisting the aid of sympathetic Urrasti and aliens from Terra and Hain, Shevek succeeds in evading the propertarian Urrasti and shares his knowledge with the universe. For it is only when there is a true understanding, that he can finally return home to a new world.
Questions for Discussion
1. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to numerous characters. Who was your favorite and why? Did you have a favorite race of people? Who did you identify with the most?
2. Shevek believes that he made a mistake in putting his trust, his life, in the hands of the Urrasti. Do you agree? What else could he have done? Did he find his utopia in the end?
3. There are many morals and words of wisdom for today's society throughout the novel. What are they? Should they be viewed as warnings? Which one was most important to you?
4. Do you believe that the Odonian society is somehow more moral than the Urrasti? How are the power structures disguised in the Odonian societal model? What is the importance of owning nothing?
5. Shevek states, "Revolution is our obligation; our hope of evolution." If a society is founded upon revolution, as Shevek believes, is it the people's responsibility to maintain the mindset that made the initial revolt possible?
6. Every struggle has its "Odo." Who is the Odo for the following struggles: Civil Rights, Women's Liberation, South African Apartheid, to name a few. Can you think of others? Who are they?
7. What do you think is a more effective tool of governing, popular opinion or laws? Is it our fear of getting caught or of being shunned by our neighbors and society that keep us honest?
8. How does Shevek grow throughout the course of the novel? How effective is the use of flashbacks in every other chapter? Can they really be considered flashbacks once you understand the theories of time with which Shevek is struggling?
9. What role does the family structure play within Odonian society? How are Shevek and Tekver revolutionaries in this aspect?
10. Were you surprised when Shevek decides to go to the Hainish and not the Thuvians, being the enemies of the Urrasti? How do you think each culture will use his theory?
The Dispossessed, you portray the aliens as kind beings compassionate to the novel's hero. Why is it important to you that they receive help from the aliens? Do you think the first aliens we meet will be benevolent?
Do I think the first aliens we meet will be benevolent? No. Honestly, I don't think we're going to meet any aliens, nice or nasty, first or last not any time soon. Space travel and other world beings are wonderful ideas, very useful to story tellers; you can say things about us and our world by talking about other beings and other worlds imaginary ones that you couldn't say any other way. But it has nothing to do with predicting an imminent possibility, and nothing to do with belief. You know, I write about dragons, too, for the same reason, but I don't think dragons exist outside the human mind. The imagination is our most useful tool, and it's most useful when it isn't taken literally!
So, the aliens being imaginary, being part of a made-up story, they are what the story needs, what fits into the story best.
Did you make a timeline of events before you began writing The Dispossessed? How do you keep track of the numerous causes and effects throughout the novel? Did you write it linearly at first and then shift the time around?
I did a lot of work on The Dispossessed before I began to write it reading the pacifist anarchist writers, figuring out how the anarchist society of Anarres might work and what the history of both planets was, and learning a whole lot I didn't know about the study of time, both by philosophers and by physicists. So coming to the story with all that fairly heavy baggage, I had to plan out to some extent where it would all go...which meant having a fairly clear idea of the shape and movement of the book (I am uncomfortable with the word plot, I don't think most of my stories have plots.)
So I started off with the first chapter where Shevek is a baby trying to own the sunlight, and wrote happily on, expecting not to get to Urras till half way through the book....Surprise! Chapters about going to Urras, what happened on Urras, kept insisting on crowding in and getting written. I usually write perfectly linearly, a to b to c...but here came k, and q, and w, all saying, "Write me! write me!" So I argued with myself in my notebook. Wouldn't it be very artsy and self-conscious to write the book in this zigzag fashion alternating the two time periods, two different worlds Who do you think you are? William Faulkner? Huh? But the book was right: it had to be written that way. And I wrote it that way. Then the final surprise came from my friend Darko Suvin, who read it in manuscript, and said, "But this has twelve chapters and it has closure, it is (at least apparently) all nicely tied up in a package at the end. This is all wrong for a book about anarchism!" Of course he was right, which is why the book has thirteen chapters, and at the end everything is up in the air it could go any number of ways no doors of possibility are shut. That is, of course, essential to the nature of this story and its subject. The doors stay open!