Archive for February 14th, 2010

In Chapter 7, Le Guin gives us some interesting insight into the role of women in Urrasti culture through Vea Doem Oiie. As Vea tours Shevek around Neo Esseia she shares her experience with the propertarian society on Urras and a woman’s place in it.

Ever since his conversation with Kimoe about the status of women on Urras, Shevek has been under the impression that, according to the Urrasti, women were significantly inferior to men. Kimoe’s simple disbelief that he could ever consider women equals – “You can’t pretend, surely, in your work, that women are your equals?” (Le Guin, 17) – erased all hope Shevek had that Urras and Anarres could relate on this point. Given this, what I found most interesting about Vea’s interpretation of a female’s role was that she believes them to be, in fact, superior to men on Urras. According to Vea, “women do exactly as they like” (Le Guin, 214). And this isn’t limited to dressing up, hosting parties and sleeping until noon (as I have been led to believe by previous encounters with Urrasti women). As Shevek so deftly puts it – what is it they do? “Why, run the men, of course!” (Le Guin, 215). Vea paints a picture of women who seem to be content with compliance, because they secretly know that they control the men in other, less overt ways. The difference between men and women is not that men are more important to society or dominant over the women, but that the two genders become “self-content” in very different ways. While this seems like a great balance (the men get what they want but the women are all happy appearing inferior), I still feel like I would be uncomfortable in a situation such as this. What do you all think – is the pleasure of being self-content worth the price of others thinking of you as a subordinate? If you’re self-content, does it matter if other people think you’re inferior?

Vea’s assertion becomes a bit less convincing when, later in the evening, she is talking physics with Shevek and some of his peers. After attempting to enter the conversation, a man discredits her point and she is “relieved to be put in her place” (Le Guin, 224). It doesn’t seem that she is content to seem inferior while secretly be in control in this situation, she is just more comfortable being in “her place”, which happens to be on a lower intellectual plane than the men.

And so Le Guin presents a philosophy of Urrasti women (as delivered to us by Vea) that seems to contrast the action we see later in the chapter. Do you see some way the actions and words of Urrasti women in practice hold to the theory Vea presented? Also, we’ve seen that on Anarres things aren’t really as equal as they seem – the women scientists are never quite as smart as Shevek needs them to be. On the other hand, women on Urras seem to be very successful at what they do (even though it is not the same thing that men do). Which society do you think is really more equal between the genders? And this is quite broad, but what message is Le Guin trying to send by presenting women in these ways?

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In her novel The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin uses the setting of a distant planet and its moon to explore the relationship between technology and society, drawing both extensions and contrasts to her world.

Le Guin uses A-Io on Urras to draw a vision of an America set in the future; this relationship becomes clear when considering the role of technology in life. Shortly after Shevek arrives on Urras he notes that there are few cars on the roads, saying that “all such luxuries which if were freely allowed to the public would tend to drain irreplaceable natural resources or to foul the environment with waste products were strictly controlled by regulation or taxation (82).” In the 1970s, the environmentalist movement was just starting to grow, and the image of fuel-inefficient cars being extravagant polluting machines was beginning to become more popular. Many in America were, and still are, worried that the perpetual increase in the number of cars on the road is unsustainable and will become too much of a drain on unrenewable resources in addition to creating pollution.

Additionally, though A-Io realized that the number of cars it had was unsustainable and cut back, the nation in the novel was not able to completely recover from its exploitation of the environment. Though Shevek notes that “the excesses of the Ninth Millenium were ancient history” (82), he also says that there was a lasting effect of a shortage of certain minerals which Urras is now forced to import from its moon, Anarres.

On the other hand, Le Guin does not simply use the alien setting to extend the role of technology on Earth; she uses Anarres to present entirely new ways of using technology in society. In Le Guin’s time, computers were starting to become more popular, and in her envisioned future computers play much larger roles in everyday life. All of the citizens of Anarres, when born, receive their names not from their parents, but from a computer. When Vea exclaims it would be “dreary” and “impersonal” to be named by a machine, Le Guin has Shevek disagree, saying “what is more personal than a name no other living person bears?” (198). Where no single person or committee would be able to keep track of such a large number of unique names, a computer can handle the task with ease, allowing the people on Anarres to only need to use their single name as identification. (It is interesting, though, that Takver dislikes the name for her child, Sadik, saying “it sounds like a mouthful of gravel” (250), as though she wishes she had been able to choose a name for her own child.)

Computers and extensive communication lines on Anarres are also used by Divlab to, as the name would suggest, divide the labor. Citizens on Anarres are allowed to put in requests to the system, asking for jobs according to what they believe are their individual strengths. Additionally, places all over the planet will post job openings through the system as well. Divlab will then make recommendations to each person on which job posting to take, but there appears to be a great deal of flexibility in the process.

Does Le Guin fairly use the state of A-Io to mirror a possible future for America in the face of environmental exploitation? Can you see people ever agreeing to allow a computer to produce names, or, like Takver, will we always feel the proprietarian want to name our own children? Are there any other examples of technology’s role in everyday life in The Dispossessed that stood out for you?

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