Shevek has long been stationed in the Southwest of Anarres, and now he is being taken across the desert by a truck driver—the man has been running people across the desert for the last several years and enjoys the work, though occasionally his rig breaks down in the arid desert. The men discuss the advantages and joys of partnership, and Shevek reveals that he has been separated from Takver, who is still stationed in the northwest, for over four years.
Shevek is approaching the end of a journey—“true voyage is return,” in the words of Odo, and Shevek is returning to Takver after having spent several years stationed very far away from her.
The driver asks Shevek where he has been working, and Shevek tells him “Grand Valley.” The driver solemnly acknowledges that he has heard about what happened at Grand Valley, and looks at Shevek “with the respect due a survivor.” While the mills there were running during the famine, may workers died of hunger. As the men discuss the looting and raiding that has gone on in the desert, it becomes clear that the famine has taken a devastating toll on Anarresti society. Shevek’s job at the mills was “making lists of who should starve,” though on Anarres nobody is supposed to ever go hungry while one of their brothers or sisters eats. Shevek says that after he quit, unable to stand the pain of the work anymore, someone else took over for him—there is “always somebody willing to make lists” now, as individuals posted to those jobs receive rations.
A lot has happened during the four-year time-jump in the narrative. It is clear from this exchange between Shevek and his driver that the famine worsened and became an extreme event. The famine could be seen as a physical mirror for the intellectual, spiritual famine that Shevek feels Odonianism is going through—as his ideology has come up against major pillars of Anarresti society, he is only able to see the ways in which his world is feeble and lacking, and Le Guin is perhaps using the catastrophic event of a famine to symbolize how bad things have become on this remote desert Moon.
Shevek arrives in a city called Chakar at late dusk. He approaches a domicile and enters it, examining the list of residents. One of the apartments is registered to Takver, and someone named Sherut. Shevek knocks on Takver’s door, and she answers it—they embrace one another, and Takver invites him inside. A “serious, watchful” child is in the room, and Takver introduces her as Sadik—this is their child, but Sadik is frightened of Shevek, and clings to Takver’s legs. All three start crying—Shevek and Takver are overjoyed to see one another, and Sadik is uncertain of what is going on.
Shevek’s emotional reunion with Takver and their daughter Sadik is the return that has proven to be the “true voyage” of his recent life. Shevek has always found freedom rather than constraint in partnership and family life, and has now been restored to that sense of freedom after four long years isolated in the famine-stricken desert.
Shevek sits on the bed and wipes his eyes, and Sadik offers him her handkerchief. Shevek examines Takver—she has lost two teeth over the course of the years, and her skin and hair have grown dull, but he notices these changes “from the standpoint of years of intimacy and years of longing.” Takver tells Shevek that though she likes the town and she and Sadik have been happy here, she feels her work is not of great consequence, and she would like to return to Abbenay. She asks Shevek if he has received a reposting—he says he hasn’t checked, and hasn’t asked for one since he has been on the road from the desert for a full decad.
Though it seems as if Takver has had a difficult time these last few years and has weathered a lot, Shevek looks on the changes that have manifested in her lovingly rather than with judgement. Again, a recurring theme throughout the novel is the physical manifestation of psychological or symbolic shifts—Takver’s physical appearance, then, mirrors the changes that have no doubt taken place within her as well.
It is Sadik’s bedtime, and Takver and Shevek walk her to the children’s dormitory, where she sleeps each night, though she is only four. As they return to Takver’s room, she tells Shevek that the effects of the famine were not so bad in the northeast—children were fed, and wild holum grew abundantly, so nobody starved. Takver’s Syndicate at the laboratory wanted her to give Sadik up to the nursery and focus on her work, and then accused her of being a propertarian when she refused. Takver left that posting soon after the tangle with her coworkers and came to Chakar, where she and Sadik have been living since.
Takver, too, has experienced difficulties and has grown to question the Odonian values that are seemingly becoming more and more restrictive, and less and less conducive to achieving any kind of happiness or fulfillment. Takver has been accused of egoism and selfishness for the simple “crime” of wanting to retain a relationship with her precious daughter, and moved on from her relatively cushy posting because of it, despite not knowing what kind of conditions would await her elsewhere.
Takver regrets not having refused her initial posting away from Abbenay, but Shevek reassures her and urges her not to linger on the past. They embrace, grateful to be reunited at last. After eating dinner, they return to Takver’s room and make love. At dawn, Takver wakes up and watches Shevek as he sleeps, marveling at the distances they have crossed for one another.
Takver and Shevek and their unlikely, somewhat nontraditional bond have withstood the tests of time, distance, and hardship. Their commitment to one another is the one thing that hasn’t faltered or changed, and a symbol of the transformative, loving power of true compassion and solidarity—a kind of solidarity that has not yet been achieved on Anarres as a whole, but that the two of them have been able to cultivate together.
Takver puts in her notice at work, but still works long shifts even though the drought has broken. Shevek, mildly sick with a chronic Dust cough, spends his days sleeping and taking walks, often stopping by the learning center to watch Sadik play. After school, Takver and Sadik and Shevek spend their evenings together before Sadik returns to her dormitory. The days are peaceful, and Shevek feels he is living in a “time outside time.”
Shevek has found peace, happiness, and above all freedom in the arms of his family. He feels free from the constraints of time and societal expectations alike, and revels in this timeless and utopic period.
Takver and Shevek discuss Sadik, as well as their childhood friends, on their nights alone. They reminisce about Tirin, who is now out of the asylum and is writing and rewriting the same play he was originally “punished” for putting on. Takver says that Tirin should have refused his multiple labor postings, as she should have refused her work posting to the Northeast. Shevek says that because Anarresti believe they are free, they do whatever they are told, believing they are acting of free will when really they are just following the orders of the PDC. Bedap was right, Shevek says—social conscience has overwhelmed individual conscience to the point that Anarresti are no longer anarchists, but obedient cogs in a flawed machine.
Shevek and Takver have much to catch up on, and one of the largest issues they must work through together is the growing influence of the PDC and the dark flip side of social conscience. Responsibility to one another should be a source of freedom on Anarres, but something is wrong, and the spirit of anarchism and intrepidness upon which Anarres was founded has been lost and replaced by blind obedience and fear of being called out as an egoizer or a propertarian.
Takver draws parallels between Tirin’s persecution for artistic expression and Shevek’s for “unproductive” research. Shevek looks back on his own capitulation to Sabul’s “authoritarianism,” and argues that though his book was printed—the right end—it was achieved through “the wrong means.” When it comes to the book, Shevek says, though he and Takver believed they were actively choosing to follow the path of least resistance to publication, they had actually let “convention, moralism, [and] fear of social ostracism” guide their decision making. Shevek resolves to never succumb to that impulse again.
Shevek and Takver reflect on the ways in which they have been complicit in perpetuating the harmful centralization of power and coherence of “authoritarianism” on their supposedly utopic anarchist planet. They have capitulated to the ideals which have long been seen as the most harmful to any society, and regret both the failure of utopian ideals and their participation in allowing their society’s anarchist roots to rot and wither.
Shevek expresses his desire to return to Abbenay, with Takver and Sadik beside him, and start a printing syndicate in order to print his own unedited theories as well as “whatever else [they] like”—Tirin’s scandalous play, for example. Shevek resolves to spend his life unbuilding walls.
Shevek’s resolution to change his circumstances and his life in pursuit of a reorganization of Anarresti society shows his true love and devotion to its ideals. He believes that the kind of freedom Anarres promises is still possible, but knows that things must change for it to be realized.
That night, after Takver falls asleep, Shevek lies awake. He reflects on how over the last four years, he has learned the strength of his own will, and has recognized its irrepressible nature. He has reconciled this drive with his Odonian values, and now has realized that his sense of “primary responsibility towards his work” is a force that can engage him with his fellow brothers and sisters, not estrange him from them. He believes he is obligated to carry out his sense of responsibility to his work.
Shevek has long been told that his work is selfish, egoistic, unproductive, and detrimental to the furthering of Odonian society and Anarresti collectivism. He now realizes that his work does have value, and that it isn’t egoistic or propertarian to make that simple claim. He knows that his work can help the Anarresti, and resolves to push forward to that goal no matter what kind of resistance he meets with along the way.