In The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, Le Guin creates a setting of two diametrically opposed planets. The protagonist, Shevek, is from the anarchist and separatist Anarres. Shevek wants to travel to the archist mother planet Urras to rekindle social revolution on Anarres, bring social revolution to Urras, and to advance his knowledge and theory of physics. By the close of the novel it seems probably that he has achieved the first goal, and he has definitely achieved the last. However, despite the time he spends on Urras, he fails to create meaningful change there. In fact, by the close of the novel I was left feeling as if Shevek had merely given up on Urras, and moved on.
First, although Urras is originally portrayed as a binary opposite to Anarres, there are many cases in which Le Guin deliberately problemitizes or blurs the presumed differences. By establishing commonalities between the planets, Le Guin creates an expectation for the traveler Shevek to advance both societies. Shevek finds Oiie’s family particularly redeeming within Urrasti society, and is moved to participate in a majority revolution of the poor. These acts seem to support my expectation as a reader that the protagonist will find a way to aid both societies.
When the revolution on A-IO fails, Shevek flees to the Terran embassy. He has no further contact with any revolutionaries before leaving the planet, and claims Urras is hell, that it is impossible to change those who do not wish to change. I fail to understand how this realization fits in with the rest of The Dispossessed. It seems that the large revolution indicates that the oppressed majority is ready for change. Furthermore, what is the purpose of such a lengthy sojourn in Urras if Shevek is ultimately there only to spur change on Anarres and complete his physics theory? Is Urras merely an explanation for the extradition of the new physics theory of a novel composed around the set-up for the technological novum which defines Le Guin’s chronologically later books? The inconclusive future for Urras seems to split Shevek’s three goals, while attaching importance in relation to her overall megatext to the completion of his physics theory, and to the novel itself in the furthering of Anarres’ social movement. Any change in Urras is minimal, and the marginalization of this element of the novel leads to an overall feeling of disconnect in the work.
How do you reconcile Shevek’s Anarresti ideal of constant revolution with him giving up on Urrasti reform?
Do you see further significance in the inclusion of Urras in the novel, or do you think the same themes of the novel could be expressed in an equally effective manner in another setting foreign to Anarres?
Is there some purpose in leaving Urras’ future unfinished in the novel?