A physicist from an austere, industrious, anarchist society on a moon descends to the planet that the satellite orbits, where he is ushered into a world of private property, capitalist divisiveness, and sybaritic amorality. Finding himself cut off from the seriousness of purpose and boundaries that defined his world, Shevek seeks to refocus on his mission and his true being.
The questions and reflections on reality and ways of living that occupy Shevek are rooted in the very scientific discoveries that he is making about time and simultaneity. A born freethinker, he is unafraid to critique whatever he encounters. The contrasting social philosophies of Anarres and Urras, he notes, are reflected in the differing structures of language of the two worlds, which not only reinforce social prejudices but create or dispel error in perception. Me and mine contrast with the interactive collective and the all.
Written in the spirit of the Tao te Ching––which she also translated– Ursula Le Guin’s masterful novel examines how true freedom can inform human experience. Her imperfect “ambiguous utopia” is the closest depiction of a workable anarchist society that I have ever read, although the story is anything but a political tract. At the heart of the story lie Shevek’s personal struggles and the difficulties interposed in his relationship with Takver, movingly and skillfully portrayed.
It is ultimately fitting that Shevek meets representatives of the Hainish culture that Le Guin proposed in a number of her books. This interplanetary confederation is based upon a principle that is the only possible outcome for humanity if we are to survive in the long run: that of peaceful cooperation and the tolerance of differences.
Like The Left Hand of Darkness, the depth, intelligence, compassion and hope of The Dispossessed spoke to my mind and my heart. It is one of the great books of my life.