EN 4241  Utopias and Dystopias

2009-10, Semester 2

Rajeev S. Patke 



Ursula le Guin: The Dispossessed (1974)


Topics for seminar discussion


[pg. refs below refer to the 1994 Harper paperback]


[from] “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be” (1982), Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989), 80-100.


p. 93: “The major utopic element in my novel The Dispossessed is a variety of pacifist anarchism, which is about as yin as a political ideology can get. Anarchism rejects the identification of civilization with the state, and the identification of power with coercion; against the inherent violence of the ‘hot’ society it asserts the value of such antisocial behaviour as the general refusal of women to bear arms in war, and other coyote devices. In these areas anarchism and Taoism converge both in matter and manner, and so I came there to play my fictional games.”




1              Ursula le Guin website: Link


2              Paul Brians’s Study Guide: Link


3               Paul Goodman (sociologist) - Wikipedia link      


4              Wikipedia article on The Dispossessed: Link


5              The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Wikipedia link


6              Libertarian socialism & Anarchism: Wikipedia Link


7              Taoism: Wikipedia link


                Lao Tzu: Tao te ching, a new English version by Ursula K.Le Guin, with J. P. Seaton, 1997.

                [BL1900 Lao.L]


8              Bookrags notes on The Dispossessed (do not plagiarize]: Link  


Topics for discussion


  • “Everybody on Anarres is a revolutionary... The network of administration and management is called PDC ... They do not govern persons; they administer production.” (76, Chp. 3): what is the rationale underlying the system?

  • “anarchism” and “complex organicism” (95, Chp.4): what is the significance of these two notions for utopianism? Contrast “organic” with “mechanical” (117, Chp. 4).

  • “the ethical imperatives of brotherhood” (155, Chp. 6)

  • “ideas never were controlled by laws and governments, even on Urras ... You can only crush them by ignoring the. By refusing to think, refusing to change.” (165, Chp. 6)

  • “exuberance was perhaps the essential quality of life” (185, Chp. 6)

  • The General Temporal theory  and its relation to ideas of time, sequence and consciousness (112, 138, 204, 221-226, 235, 265, also 279-81 on ‘Ainsetain’, 343-45 on the ansible, 349-50)




[from the Bookrags site]


  • How is it significant that Odo was a woman?

  • Discuss the notion of free will as it plays out in this novel, both for the Anarresti and the Urrasti characters. Are any of them truly free?

  •  Why do the Odonians reject religion?

  • Why is it important that Anarres is a desert planet?

  • How does the issue of place - the physical space that the characters inhabit - function in this novel?

  • What role do family relationships play in this story, and how do they relate to the Odonian notion of the community being the most important?

  • What does this novel have to say about the world we live in, represented by the Terrans in the story?




  • Comment on the gender dynamics dramatized in Chaspter 7 between Shevek and Vea (212-220).




  • Comment on the subtitle of the novel: “An Ambiguous Utopia”: ambiguous about what? Why?

  • Comment on contrasts set up between Anarres and Urras in terms of political systems and gender politics.

  • Why is Shevek described by Oiie as “Shevek the deluded and simple-minded utopist” (203, Chp. 7)?




  • ”Pravic ... used the same word for work and play” (92, Chp. 3; also 15, Chp. 1)

  • Nuchnibi” (150-1, Chp. 5)

  • “Power discriminated very carefully then between administering things and governingpeople.” (167, Chp. 6)

  • He had seen the foundations of the universe, and they were solid. (281, Chp. 9)




  • “Members of a community, not elements of a collectivity.” (4)

  • “Anarresti felt that it was shameful to be ill: a result of their society’s very successful prophylaxy.” (119)

  • “your habit of approaching everybody as a person, an individual, won’t do here, it won’t work. You have got to understand the powers behind the individuals.” (137, Chp. 5)

  • “To make a thief, make an owner; to create crime, create laws.’ The Social Organism”. (139, Chp. 5)

  • “Here you think that the incentive to work is finances, need for money or desire for profit, but where there’s no money the real motives are clearer, maybe.” (150, Chp. 5)

  • “Tomar’s Definitions: ‘Government: The legal use of power to maintain and extend power.’ Replace ‘legal’ with ‘customary’, and you’ve got Sabul, and the Syndicate of Instruction, and the PDC.” (166, Chp. 6)

  • “Tirin’s persecutors, your enemies, ‘they’, are us–the social organism?” (171, Chp. 6)

  • Partnership was a voluntarily constituted federation like any other... It had no sanction but that of private conscience. (244, Chp. 8)

  • Comment on Maedd’s description of Shevek: “you are an idea. A dangerous one. The idea of anarchism, made flesh. Walking amongst us.” (295, (Chp. 9)

  • “We have nothing to give you but your own freedom. We have no law but the single principle of free association.” (300, Chp. 9)





Last Updated  1 January 2010