Archive for February 16th, 2010

In this blog post I want to focus on the opening scene of chapter 10, in which Shevek rides the rails across the Southwest in order to get to Takver. Like Kyle, this has absolutely nothing to do with my essay topic (how education on both worlds relates to their ideology), but it was such a striking and disconnected first scene that I felt I had to address it.

First, I want to point out the style of the section, which is the first thing I noticed. It contains no names, just “the passenger” and “the driver.” It is told from the point of view of the driver, who views Shevek as “worn out” (309). This point of view in conjunction with the descriptions of the desolate landscape creates a disconnected feeling in the reader; it’s the same sort of feeling you get after you’ve been sitting in a car for a long time watching the endless and monotonous landscape, like an out-of-body experience. This allows LeGuin to write about Anarres and its shortcomings in a seemingly unbiased fashion. It is not Bedap actively criticizing all aspects of Anarrasti culture but two seemingly anonymous men, who are assumedly good Odonians, debating the merits of their own system.

Which brings me to the actual content of their conversation. The conversation starts out lightly enough, with the driver commenting on the nature of partnerships between men and women. In class, we talked about how it seemed that the pseudo-state disapproved of partnerships because of their inherently anti-Odonian implications. However, the driver has been happily partnered with someone for eighteen years. He talks about how “it isn’t changing around from place to place that makes you lively” (311). Instead, the routine of everyday life is enough to satisfy him because he has enough variety with his partner. He mentions something about “getting time on your side” and “working with it, not against it” is what makes one happy (311). I’m not quite sure what to make of this. What do you think? How does it relate to the overall theme of time in the novel? Does he mean that to live life, you mustn’t see it as something to fight but something to go along with and enjoy?

They also talk about the troubles Anarres went through because of the drought. They debate whether or not it is moral for the driver to kill a few (in case of a raid on the truck) in order to save many. Both the driver and the passenger find issue with this point of view; they do not believe in putting a number on human life and don’t think that any living thing should be told to decide who lives and who dies. However, I feel like this is the Anarrasti’s pseudo-government’s ethic and is something like utilitarianism. During the drought, everyone conserves and everyone suffers small rations because in the long run more people might be able to survive, even if a few people literally lie down and die. The pseudo-government does not care about the suffering of the few because their policies help the many (the society) as a whole survive the drought.

Some questions to consider (both related to my post and not):
What do you think of this scene? Are Shevek and the driver criticizing the way the government decided to run things? Is Anarrasti society concerned with the most benefit for the most people?

Do you think the book ended abruptly?

What do you think will happen to the person from Hain on Anarres? Is this alien about to enter a journey just like Shevek did when he went to Urras? Has the story come full circle?

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I suppose I should preface this post by saying that this topic has nothing to do with my E4 or my intended E5. For both of those, I’m using the concept of suffering as it applies to the novel and to our lives. However, while I was reading the last few pages of the novel, a thought suddenly sprung into my mind: hadn’t the Anarresti built just as many walls as the Urresti?

In the beginning of the book, Le Guin begins with the simple phrase “There was a wall” (Le Guin, 1). It is implied further by the next few pages that this is the only wall on the planet and that the people that had gathered to watch the freighter Mindful take off hadn’t had experiences with other physical walls. However, it should be noted that Le Guin doesn’t say “the wall”, but “a wall.” This intentional phrasing implies that walls are not as foreign of a concept to the Anarresti as the reader might initially think. But if this was the case, what were these additional walls?

As I said, the existence of other walls jumped out at me as I was reading the final chapter. As Shevek was talking to the first officer Ketho, he describes how the Anarresti knew of the Hainish existence but they still didn’t attempt to make contact with them because “‘[their managers] were just building more walls’” (Le Guin, 384). Le Guin makes it clear that the people who were in charge (who weren’t really “in charge” because no one is accountable to any particular person on Anarres) frowned upon communication with other species because Odonians were supposed to be self-sustaining.

While these ideas of isolation and self-sustentation may seem like somewhat plausible excuses, the Terms of Settlement seem to come into direct contradiction of Odonian principles. Based on the terms, no Urrasti were ever to be allowed off the ships, no contact was ever allowed between the two planets, and there was never to be mixing between the races. However, if someone should want to become an Odonian, why should they not be allowed to? This additional wall put up by the Odonians pushed them past the seclusion that was initially desired in order for the settlers to be self-sustainable. They had progressed to a point where the walls were an essential part of what defined being a member of this exclusive, Odonian group.

When it is all said and done, I only have a few questions left that I can’t quite answer. How could a race of people that avoided the creation of physical walls allow other metaphorical walls to be built without seeing the direct conflict in ideology? Is there a way to salvage Anarres and return it to its true anarchist state, or is Shevek right in deciding that perhaps he and his followers need to move to yet another remote region to restart the true anarchistic colony? And finally (sorry Hunter), can either of these two planets be considered a true utopia? Can we even say that a faction of either of the planets is utopian?

P.S.- Sorry for the cheesy Shakespeare play on words. I couldn’t resist.

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