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.