The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin’s writing is beautiful, political and too immense for one genre. She intricately and quietly draws us through her compelling story about the twin worlds of Urras and Anarres. Anarres has split from Urras, is anarchist and the home of physicist, Shevek. He believes his studies on time, called the Principle of Simultaneity, can only be completed on Urras, so he travels to find more freedom. He attempts to increase the communication between to the two realms, after 200 years of very little contact, but finds himself alienated from both. The novel is a discussion of all sorts of societies. Le Guin does not endorse any specific one but directly drives us towards clarity. She does warn of the radicalisation of any stance. Starting from real world situations, she then presents new and ground-breaking options. The disconnection that capitalism causes is illustrated by Shevek’s reaction to Saemtenevia Prospect ‘All the people in all the shops were either buyers or sellers. They had no relation to the things but that of possession’. He is also ‘appalled by the examination system when it was explained to him; he could not imagine a greater deterrent to the natural wish to learn than this pattern of cramming in information and disgorging it at demand’. Although she recognises the drawbacks of the capitalist Urras, Anarres requires its citizens to experience great physical labour and scarcity. Questions about: whether morality is internal or should be externally imposed; if total freedom is possible and what hardships must be experienced to set up a new society with vastly different foundations; are teased out in this novel. She concludes that building a better society is an action/response process that needs to be innovative and progressive. Although this was written in 1974 in response to the Vietnam war dilemma, it is very relevant to our current leadership concerns and social limitations. That is testimony to her brilliance.

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