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Encyclopedia > The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed

Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Country United States
Language English
Series The Hainish Cycle
Genre(s) Science Fiction
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date 1974
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 341 pp (First Edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-060-12563-2 (First edition, hardcover)

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is a 1974 utopian science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, set in the same fictional universe as that of The Left Hand of Darkness (the Hainish Cycle). The book won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award in 1975, and is notable for achieving a degree of literary recognition unusual for science fiction works. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Ursula Kroeber Le Guin [ˌɜɹsələ ˌkɹobɜɹ ləˈgWɪn] (born October 21, 1929) is an American author. ... For other uses, see Country (disambiguation). ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... The Hainish Cycle is the setting for a number of science fiction novels and stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... A publisher is a person or entity which engages in the act of publishing. ... Harper & Row is an imprint of HarperCollins. ... See also: 1973 in literature, other events of 1974, 1975 in literature, list of years in literature. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... “ISBN” redirects here. ... Year 1974 (MCMLXXIV) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link will display full calendar) of the 1974 Gregorian calendar. ... See Utopia (disambiguation) for other meanings of this word Utopia, in its most common and general meaning, refers to a hypothetical perfect society. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... Ursula Kroeber Le Guin [ˌɜɹsələ ˌkɹobɜɹ ləˈgWɪn] (born October 21, 1929) is an American author. ... This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims. ... The Hainish Cycle is the setting for a number of science fiction novels and stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. ... The 2005 Hugo Award with base designed by Deb Kosiba. ... The Nebula is an award given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the two previous years (see rolling eligibility below). ...



The story has many themes, one of which is the invention of the physics used later to create the ansible, an instantaneous communications device. In The Word for World is Forest, the newly created ansible is brought to Athshe, a planet being settled by Earth-humans. In most other books in the Hainish Cycle, the ansible already exists. So though this is the fifth complete novel in the series, in terms of internal chronology it comes first. An ansible is a hypothetical machine, capable of superluminal communication, and used as a plot device in science fiction literature. ... The Word for World is Forest is a science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, published in 1976 and based on a 1972 novella. ...

The story is set on Anarres and Urras, the twin inhabited worlds of Tau Ceti. Cetians are mentioned in other Ekumen novels and short stories. An Antarian appears in the short story The Shobies' Story. Urras before the settlement of Anarres is the setting for the short story The Day Before the Revolution. In The Dispossessed, Urras is presented as having much in common with cold-war era Earth. It is divided into several states which are dominated by the two largest ones, which are rivals. In a clear allusion to the United States and the Soviet Union, one has a capitalist economy (though a very exaggerated patriarchal system) and the other is an authoritarian system that claims to rule in the name of the proletariat. Tau Ceti is the closest single Sun-like star to our Sun, making it a popular setting or reference in science fiction media. ... A Fisherman of the Inland Sea is a 1994 collection of short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin. ... The Winds Twelve Quarters is a collection of short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin first published by Harper & Row in 1975. ... In economics, a capitalist is someone who owns capital, presumably within the economic system of capitalism. ... The proletariat (from Latin proles, offspring) is a term used to identify a lower social class; a member of such a class is proletarian. ...

In the last chapter of The Dispossessed, we learn that the Hainish people arrived at Tau Ceti 60 years ago. Terrans are also there, and the novel occurs some time in the future. A date of 2300 has been suggested.

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 Anarres and a guarantee of non-interference to the revolutionaries, approximately two hundred years before the events of The Dispossessed. Pluto and Charon are sometimes informally considered to be a double (dwarf) planet. ... Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which focuses on the labour movement. ...

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 voyage is return."

Anarres is in theory a society without government or coercive authoritarian institutions. Yet Shevek begins to come up against very real walls as his ideas begin to deviate from the opinions of his countrymen. Gradually he develops an understanding that the revolution which brought his world into being is becoming stagnant, and power structures begin 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. For other uses, see Society (disambiguation). ...

The book also explores the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: on the anarchist planet the use of the possessive case is strongly discouraged. An example is given where Shevek's daughter, meeting him for the first time, tells him "You can share the handkerchief I use." (Le Guin 69), rather than "you may borrow my handkerchief". The idea is that the handkerchief is not owned by the girl, merely carried by her. The language spoken in Anarres, Pravic, is a constructed language that reflects many aspects of the philosophical foundations of utopian anarchism. In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH) states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it. ... Pravic is a fictional language used and referred to in the science-fiction book The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin. ... A constructed or artificial language — known colloquially as a conlang — is a language whose phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary have been devised by an individual or group, instead of having naturally evolved as part of a culture. ...

Cover of first paperback edition

The Dispossessed is considered by some libertarian socialists to be a good description of the mechanisms that would be developed by an anarchist society, but also of the dangers of centralization and bureaucracy that would easily take over such society without the continuation of revolutionary ideology. Part of its power is that it gives us 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. Probably 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. Image File history File links Dispossessed_cover. ... Image File history File links Dispossessed_cover. ... Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that aim to create a society without political, economic or social hierarchies - a society in which all violent or coercive institutions would be dissolved, and in their place every person would have free, equal access to tools of information and production, or...

The work is sometimes said to represent one of the few modern revivals of the utopian genre, there are certainly many characteristics of a utopian novel found in this book, Shevek is an outsider in Urras, there are no 'Mrs Browns' in that all of the characters are shown to 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 is made much more stark by the juxtaposition with Urras. However, Anarres is not presented as a perfect society, and there are aspects of realism that detract from the utopian elements of the novel. There is mention of hardship due to lack of resources, albeit due to the profiteering world of Urras, the importance lies in the fact Anarres is not safe from hardship, therefore it is not a perfect society. Le Guin shows that no such thing is possible. It is notable that one of the major themes of the work is the ambiguity of different notions of utopia. Left panel (The Earthly Paradise, Garden of Eden), from Hieronymus Boschs The Garden of Earthly Delights. ... Realism in the visual arts and literature is the depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life, without embellishment or interpretation. ...

Influences for the novel

Le Guin's title is in reference to Dostoyevsky's novel The Possessed. It has been suggested that Cultural depictions of Fyodor Dostoevsky be merged into this article or section. ... For the theatrical adaptation by Albert Camus, see The Possessed (play). ...

One flashback in the novel was likely inspired by the Stanford prison experiment. Childhood Shevek and some friends – curious about Urras and what prisons must be like – decide to play prison and enact a game very similar in design and results to the actual experiment, including its being cut short. The Stanford prison experiment was a psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular to the real world circumstances of prison life and the effects of imposed social roles on behavior. ...


Year 2006 (MMVI) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1994 (MCMXCIV) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display full 1994 Gregorian calendar). ... For the band, see 1997 (band). ... Also see: 2002 (number). ... Serbian (; ) is one of the standard versions of the Shtokavian dialect, used primarily in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and by Serbs in the Serbian diaspora. ... Year 1994 (MCMXCIV) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display full 1994 Gregorian calendar). ...


...if it is the future you seek, then I tell you that you must come to it with empty hands. You must come to it alone, and naked, as the child comes into the world, into his future, without any past, without any property, wholly dependent on other people for his life. You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.

Shevek, page 241

For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.

Odo, page 288

A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart. The delight of the nursing mother, of the scholar, of the successful hunter, of the good cook, of the skilful maker, of anyone doing needed work and doing it well, — this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection and of sociality as a whole.

Odo, page 207

With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise: for, though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice — the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind.

Page 276

You see, what we're after is to remind ourselves that we didn't come to Anarres for safety, but for freedom. If we must all agree, all work together, we're no better than a machine. If an individual can't work in solidarity with his fellows, it's his duty to work alone. His duty and his right. We have been denying people that right. We've been saying, more and more often, you must work with the others, you must accept the rule of the majority. But any rule is tyranny. The duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his own acts, to be responsible. Only if he does so will the society live, and change, and adapt, and survive. We are not subjects of a State founded upon law, but members of a society formed upon revolution. Revolution is our obligation: our hope of evolution. The Revolution is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is nothing. If it is seen as having any end, it will never truly begin. We can't stop here. We must go on. We must take the risks.

Shevek, page 296

In the afternoon, when he cautiously looked outside, he saw an armored car stationed across the street and two others slewed across the street at the crossing. That explained the shouts he had been hearing: it would be soldiers giving orders to each other.

Atro had once explained to him how this was managed, how the sergeants could give the privates orders, how the lieutenants could give the privates and the sergeants orders, how the captains... and so on and so on up to the generals, who could give everyone else orders and need take them from none, except the commander in chief. Shevek had listened with incredulous disgust. “You call that organization?” he had inquired. “You even call it discipline? But it is neither. It is a coercive mechanism of extraordinary inefficiency — a kind of seventh-millennium steam engine! With such a rigid and fragile structure what could be done that was worth doing?” This had given Atro a chance to argue the worth of warfare as the breeder of courage and manliness and weeder-out of the unfit, but the very line of his argument had forced him to concede the effectiveness of guerrillas, organized from below, self-disciplined. “But that only works when the people think they're fighting for something of their own — you know, their homes, or some notion or other,” the old man had said. Shevek had dropped the argument. He now continued it, in the darkening basement among the stacked crates of unlabeled chemicals. He explained to Atro that he now understood why the Army was organized as it was. It was indeed quite necessary. No rational form of organization would serve the purpose. He simply had not understood that the purpose was to enable men with machine guns to kill unarmed men and women easily and in great quantities when told to do so. Only he still could not see where courage, or manliness, or fitness entered in.

See also

Visual Art Freddie Baer André Breton Carlo Carrà Flavio Constantini Mike Flugennock Clifford Harper Jay Kinney (Anarchy Comics) Arthur Moyse Latuff Laura Norder Donald Rooum (Wildcat Comics, see Freedom newspaper) Franklin Rosemont Penelope Rosemont Mark Rothko Winston Smith Seth Tobocman Camille Pissarro Gee Vaucher John Yates Music A Silver Mt. ... Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that aim to create a society without political, economic or social hierarchies - a society in which all violent or coercive institutions would be dissolved, and in their place every person would have free, equal access to tools of information and production, or...


External links

Preceded by
Rendezvous with Rama
by Arthur C. Clarke
Nebula Award for Best Novel
Succeeded by
The Forever War
by Joe Haldeman

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In The Dispossessed, he asserts that the solutions to homelessness can be found in the Bible, and he describes what those solutions are in a practical, understandable, compelling style.
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This was, however, less due to a desire to help others than it was to a desire to gather around him others who had been through the same experience that he had, presumably because he felt he could trust them not to return him to the howling plane permanently.
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The attitude of the Dispossessed towards the factions, however, is much the same as their attitude towards everyone else.
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