On Urras, Shevek wakes late in the morning. His nose is stuffed and his throat is sore, but when a doctor comes to check on him he is diagnosed with hay-fever—a common allergic reaction to dust and pollen. The doctor advises Shevek to stay inside, and, after giving Shevek some pills, a shot, and a tray of lunch, leaves. Shevek explores his rooms, stunned by the silky and sumptuous bedclothes and the plush carpet. The common room is accented by a large fireplace, and Shevek is surprised to find that the bathroom is for his use alone. He bathes, luxuriating in the tub and contemplating how the planet of Urras, which is five-sixths water, is able to afford the luxury of warm baths and full toilets.
The chapter pattern begins to establish itself, as we return to Urras on the odd numbered chapters. Shevek’s first morning on Urras is marked by both luxury and discomfort. The allergic reaction is uncomfortable, but Shevek is quickly soothed by his beautiful surroundings, which are unlike any accommodations he has ever seen. This symbolic pull between discomfort and elation mirrors Shevek’s excited but uncertain state of mind as he settles in to life on Urras.
Shevek looks out the window of his room at the world outside, where a broad valley spreads out across the land outside his bedroom window. It is the most beautiful view he has ever seen, and he is transfixed by the views of the complex city architecture as well. Even the most beautiful parts of Anarres, Shevek thinks, are rendered ugly in light of this new view. Shevek thinks that Urras is “what a world is supposed to look like.”
Shevek is completely absorbed by the views of the beautiful Urras—which are, again, like nothing he has ever seen on the dusty desert planet of Anarres. Shevek even finds himself thinking of his home planet as ugly, so taken in is he by the beauty of this new place.
There is a knock at the door, and Shevek shouts for the knocker to come in. A man enters, carrying packages. He is older with a worn face. Shevek calls the man “sir” and asks him to come in and sit down, assuming the man is meant to be his roommate; the man hurries off to the bedroom and emerges from the room a few minutes later, bowing to Shevek. When Shevek reenters the bedroom he sees that his bed has been made up.
There are no servants on Anarres—everyone is responsible for his or her own work, cleaning, and upkeep. When a servant enters his room, Shevek does not even know what the role of servant is, and is confused by the man’s deference. This begins to show the uglier side of Urras—where there is an upper class, there must also be a lower class.
Shevek dresses, and as he is putting on his shoes, there is another knock at the door. A group of men enter confidently, as opposed to the man with packages, who had slunk in hesitantly. The four men who enter now have shaved faces and gorgeous clothes, and seem “like creatures of an alien species” to Shevek. Shevek recognizes one of the men as Pae, and the others as men who he met last night, though he did not catch their names. They introduce themselves as Dr. Chifoilisk, Dr. Oiie, and Dr. Atro. Shevek is thrilled to meet Atro, and kisses the man’s cheeks. Atro embraces him, and as Shevek pulls away and looks into Atro’s eyes, he sees that he is very nearly blind. Atro welcomes Shevek “home.”
As Shevek is introduced to his fellow physicists and the men who will be his guides and touchstones throughout his stay on Urras, he is overwhelmed by their resplendence and the confident air with which they carry themselves. Though they are all members of the same race, Shevek sees the Urrasti men as alien. In contrast, the men embrace Shevek as one of their own and welcome him home, implying that he is finally among his own kind. It’s unclear how much of this is an act, however.
Shevek gleefully recounts the years of letters he and Atro have sent back and forth, comparing ideas and “destroy[ing]” one another’s theories. Atro reaches below his billowing university gown and searches through his many pockets for a small yellow cube mounted on a wooden base—an award Shevek won nine years ago for his research. Atro tells Shevek that a sum of cash has been placed into his account, and as Shevek takes the award, he realizes that the cube is made of solid gold. Atro asks Shevek how old he was nine years ago, and Shevek replies that he was twenty-nine. Atro tells Sheven that he is officially the youngest recipient of this prestigious award in about a century.
Shevek has been communicating with these men for years, and through the innumerable letters exchanged he has come to know them well. Meeting in person at last is a joy, and the men seem just as thrilled to meet Shevek. When Shevek is presented with a handsome award, the men laud him for his prodigiousness. From this exchange it becomes clear that while there are many scientists on Urras, Shevek’s arrival represents something new and exciting to these men—there is no one quite like him on their planet. It’s also suggested that there are no awards given on Anarres, as that would imply inequality or egoism.
Oiie asks about Sabul, and what the relationship between him and Shevek is—Oiie recalls a period of six years or so during which Shevek never wrote, and Sabul kept in touch with the Urrasti scientists on his behalf. Shevek tells the men that Sabul is the senior member of the Abbenay Institute in physics, and that the two used to work together. Chifoilisk intuits that Sabul was a jealous older rival who meddled with Shevek’s books and theories. Chifoilisk remarks that “human nature is human nature,” and even Odonians are not necessarily always peaceful.
The men receiving Shevek know that something must have been wrong or insufficient on his home planet for him to come to Urras, and they immediately try to intuit what this weak spot in Odonian society is. Chifoilisk catches on to the dynamic between Shevek and Sabul right away—perhaps as a method of reminding Shevek of all that was wrong on the seemingly-perfect Anarres, and all that is possible now on Urras.
Shevek sneezes, and complains of his allergies to his colleagues. He tells them that he does not have a handkerchief, and Pae remarks that soon Shevek will be able to buy himself anything he needs. Shevek describes himself as a beggarman, telling the scientists before him that he has come with “empty hands” and no gifts of money or material objects for the Urrasti as a way to pay them back for sheltering him at the University. Atro and Pae insist that Shevek is a guest, and Chifoilisk chimes in to note that the Ioti Government “foots the bill” anyway. Chifoilisk stares at Shevek with an expression that Shevek cannot interpret, though he senses it is either “warning or complicity.”
Though the men are doing their best of making Urras seem not just hospitable but picture-perfect, there are chinks in their armor. Shevek senses a diffidence or a defiance coming from Chifoilisk. The powerful and wealthy state is in charge, Chifoilisk implies, and wants for nothing—Shevek’s arrival is something the government has condoned and will willingly pay for. The question, then, is what they expect in return.
Atro notes that Chifoilisk is an “unregenerate Thuvian,” and then laments that Shevek has not brought along even papers or new work for the scientists to study and read. Atro asks what Shevek has been working on, and how far along he is with his General Temporal Theory. Shevek smiles and assures the men that the whole thing is safe in his head. The men discuss a relativity theory by “Ainsetain of Terra,” noting that though it is several hundred years old it contains plenty of “fresh ideas.”
The galaxy of the Urrasti and the Anarresti is also home to Earth (called “Terra”), and as the gathered scientists invoke the old but still fresh theories of “Ainsetain”—meant to be understood by Le Guin’s readers as the famous Albert Einstein—it’s implied that whatever Shevek is up to with his General Temporal Theory will be as groundbreaking—and as valuable—as Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Atro notes that no “offworlders” anywhere else in the galaxy can keep up with Urrasti physics. Atro warns Shevek not to let offworld theories sidetrack him, and urges him to focus on his own work first and foremost. He then invites Shevek for a walk in the Grove, but Shevek protests that his doctor has told him to stay inside for a few days to prevent his becoming infected with any Urrasti diseases. Atro and Chifoilisk leave Pae and Shevek alone to talk physics. Shevek is delighted to find that he has met his conversational equals for the first time in his life, though he is “in the realm of inequity.”
Atro takes great pride in Urrasti accomplishments, and he sees the accomplishments of all other worlds and races as distractions—he may be brilliant, but he is also bigoted and narrow-minded in some areas. Shevek ignores this prejudice, as he is excited to have finally found intellectual equals in his field who are able to keep up with him. On Anarres he was isolated, but here he has found a community of individuals who at least share his education and intelligence, if not his ideals.
During his conversation with Pae and Oiie, which takes them through the halls of the University, Shevek tells Pae and Oiie that he wishes to ask them a question, but does not know how to do so without giving offense. Pae tells Shevek to ask away, while Oiie says that he doesn’t think Shevek knows how to speak without giving offense. Though Oiie is an evasive, secretive, and unlikable man, Shevek believes there is something trustworthy about him.
Shevek sizes up these men who he has traveled so far to meet, trying to determine who is trustworthy and who is not, though Shevek is completely at their mercy regardless. Shevek wants to learn more about Urras, but is also fearful of giving offense and alienating himself from his newfound companions.
Shevek asks the scientists where all the women are. He notes that he met women at the party last night, but hasn’t seen any since. Oiie tells Shevek that the women at the party were the wives of scientists, not scientists themselves. Shevek asks whether there are any Urrasti women scientists at all, and the men state that women “don’t belong” in academia—they have “no head for abstract thought” and can only think with their uteruses. The scientists ask Shevek if he knows any women “capable of original intellectual work,” and Shevek cites his teachers Mitis and Gvarab. Odo, he says, was a woman as well. Instantly, Shevek can see that he has inspired “animosity” by bringing up women scientists. He thinks that Oiie and Pae, knowing no relation to women but possession, are “possessed” themselves.
Though Shevek has felt camaraderie with these men, when he brings up the division of gender, he is met with animosity and prejudice. Just as in his conversations with Kimoe back on the freighter, Shevek is disheartened to find that the men of Urras are so closeminded different from himself on this issue. Though he has felt kinship with them, he realizes that they are “possessed” by their entitlement to and sense of dominance over women, and recognizes this as a fundamental—and worrisome—difference between himself and the others. Even practically speaking, it’s disheartening that Urras has cut off half of its population from learning science and contributing to the body of academic knowledge.
Attempting to steer the subject towards something new, Shevek stands up and looks out a window, remarking on the beauty of Urras and expressing a desire to see more of it, even though he must stay inside for a few days. He asks the scientists to bring him books of history and Urrasti culture, stating that he wants to learn, not ignore, Urras’s past, because he believes that Urrasti and Anarresti civilizations must know one another.
In an attempt to soothe the momentary discord he has caused, Shevek generously expresses his desire to learn more about Urras. His belief that the two worlds have much to learn from one another is genuine and heartfelt, and now he has the freedom to learn about Urras—a freedom he never had back on Anarres.
Oiie asks Shevek if he has come as an emissary of Anarresti society, and Shevek replies that he has come as a syndic of the Syndicate of Initiative, an independent group which has established and maintained contact with Urras over the last two years. He clarifies for the men that he is not an ambassador for any Anarresti institution. The men then ask Shevek about Anarresti authority, and how society functions without a government. Shevek explains about the PDC, the Production and Distribution Coordination system, which coordinates all syndicates and individuals who do productive work on Anarres. Speaking of his own syndicate, Shevek notes that he and his fellow members are “mostly disapproved of,” as most Anarresti want nothing to do with Urras. Shevek has come solely of his own initiative—the only initiative, Shevek says, he has ever acknowledged.
The ungoverned nature of Anarresti society is foreign to the Urrasti, who cannot conceive of a world without hierarchies and centralized control over its citizens. Shevek explains that while there is coordination and organization, there is no government—nonetheless, however, there is still an overhanging, nebulous sense of “authority” which comes from the approval or disapproval of one’s fellow citizens. Shevek’s desire to travel to Urras has alienated him from his fellow Anarresti, but still the choice is his and his alone, and no one back on Anarres has the power to stop him from doing what he wants to do.
Over the next couple days, Shevek entertains a host of scientists who come to visit him. He reads books of Urrasti history, and gazes out his window, listening to the songbirds just outside. Noting that he expected to feel strange and alien on Urras, Shevek concedes that though there are many things about this place he does not understand, he does feel rather at home. He is pleased to find that the Urrasti are not “gross, cold egoists,” and believes that Urras is truly his race’s home world, and that “all its beauty [is] his birthright.”
Having just revealed that his fellow Odonians are dissatisfied with him, it makes sense that Shevek feels a sense of peace and freedom on Urras, where he is a celebrated, honored, and warmly-welcomed guest of the Urrasti. He sees Urras as his “birthright,” demonstrating conflicting feelings for his home planet of Anarres and a questioning of where he truly belongs.
Atro brings Shevek a stack of newspapers, but after Atro leaves the room, Pae tells Shevek to throw them out and to never believe anything he reads in them. On the front page of one of the newspapers, he sees a photograph of himself beneath a headline reading FIRST MAN FROM THE MOON! The featured article quotes Shevek describing his joy at having arrived on Urras, and his hopes for fostering a good relationship between the Twin Planets. Shevek exclaims that he never said anything the newspaper is quoting, and Pae again tells Shevek that the newspapers will print anything they want to say.
The newspapers on Urras, though often factually incorrect, are widely-read and serve as a major source of news and community. Newspapers will become a major source of connection for Shevek, who is mostly isolated from the rest of Urras but desperate to connect with Urrasti people and to understand Urrasti society.
Shevek picks up another newspaper, written in a language and alphabet he does not know. The newspaper is from Thu, and there is yet another from Benbili, a nation far away in Urras’s western hemisphere. Pae explains that censorship in Thu means that only government-approved things get printed, whereas in A-Io, where there is complete freedom of the press, people can say anything they want in the media.
The three major nations of Urras have very different ways of interacting with their citizens. In A-Io, where things seem free and often frivolous, the press prints whatever they want. In the socialist state of Thu and the far-off nation of Benbili, things are more regulated, and the government has more apparent control.
Shevek tells Pae that a group from Benbili sent his syndicate a message not too long ago in which they called themselves Odonians. Shevek asks if any anarchist groups exist in A-Io, but Pae denies it. Shevek suddenly thinks of the wall surrounding the Port of Anarres, and accuses Pae of being afraid of him because he represents “disproof of the necessity of the state.”
As Shevek puts the pieces of this foreign world together, he is curious about the differences in Urrasti and Anarresti brands of anarchism. Shevek announces for the first time that he is aware of what his presence means to the Urrasti, and that he represents a kind of danger to them.
After three days, Shevek is finally allowed out of his rooms. His escorts lead him around the university and hire cars to take him out to see the countryside. Back on Anarres, Shevek was taught that Urras was a “festering mass of inequity and waste,” but through his travels across the countryside he comes to see that people on Urras are well dressed, well-fed, pleasant, and industrious. Shevek understands, for the first time, the “lure and compulsion of profit.” Though Shevek longs to talk with some of the “common” Urrasti people, there is never enough time to do so, and his escorts are always hurrying him off to the next important thing.
Shevek is charmed and pleased by what he sees of the Urrasti countryside, but is aware of the fact that he is only seeing what his escorts from the University expressly want him to see. Nevertheless, he is deeply affected by seeing for the first time in his life the comforts and pleasures that profit can buy, and the ways in which life can, seemingly, be greatly improved by possessions.
Though the large cities of A-Io are too distant to be seen in a day, Shevek does get to explore Nio Esseia, an enormous metropolis of five million people which is just a few miles from the University. He attends receptions held in his honor there, many at lavish palaces. Shevek’s escorts take him to see all the city sights, including museums, schools, the High Court, and several new housing developments. Shevek asks to see the place where Odo was buried, and his escorts bring him straight to the cemetery to pay respects to her grave, which is inscribed with the words, “To be whole is to part; true voyage is return.”
Shevek’s handlers take him all over, showing him the beautiful sights and making him feel warmly welcomed. The inscription on Odo’s grave offers Shevek two pieces of advice which he seems to be ignoring right now—one relating to the “wholeness” of being part of a society, and the other asserting that the only true voyage is return to that which has been left behind. Both pieces of wisdom seem to be pointing to that which Shevek has left behind on Anarres.
After weeks of “the tourist life,” Shevek becomes anxious to settle down and begin his work at the University. On his final day of touring, he asks Pae to take him to the Space Research Foundation. There, he is impressed by the “greatness of the enterprise,” noting how difficult it is on Anarres to construct freight barges, let alone spacecraft. A technician at the Foundation agrees that their arsenal is impressive, but tells Shevek that they are all waiting anxiously for him to provide them with the key to transilence, a method of travel faster than the speed of light. Shevek tells the technician that he is dreaming, and asks to be taken back to his escorts.
The engineer at the Space Research Foundation reveals the truth of what it is that the Urrasti want—the ability to send people and things through space faster than the speed of light. Shevek thinks this is impossible, and doesn’t seem to see how his work on temporality would help to accomplish this goal—or he is being withholding, attempting to keep the depths of his research and the full range of what it could make possible under wraps.
After leaving the Foundation, Shevek asks to make one last stop at the Fort in Drio, where Odo once spent nine years imprisoned. Pae and Chifoilisk tell Shevek that the fort has long been torn down. As they drive past the ruins, Shevek feels like the dark walls of what used to be the Fort are saying, “I have been here for a long time, and I am still here.”
The ruins of the prison where Odo spent a large chunk of her life—and a large part of the reason why she never made it to Anarres to see her dreams and her teachings in practice—seem to call out to Shevek ominously, reminding him of his people’s history and how it is inextricably intertwined with the history of Urras.
Back in his room, Shevek sits by the fire and listens to the sounds of music echoing from a nearby chapel. He considers the history of the room he sits in, which is four hundred years old, and which has housed generations of scholars. The room, too, seems to be saying to Shevek: “I have been here for a long time and I am still here. What are you doing here?” Shevek has no answer for the room, and feels he has no right to “all the grace and bounty” of Urras. He feels he does not belong, and though he has developed a love for the planet, he is aware that he is not part of it—and neither is he anymore part of the world of his birth, Anarres.
Shevek’s sense of displacement, which has been at the edge of his thoughts since his arrival on Urras and was only briefly pushed away by the lavish reception he received, comes back in full force as he sits alone in his room. He is overwhelmed by the history of Urras, and the history of his people’s exile and search for something more. He is torn between two worlds, and his isolation is more profound than ever.
Shevek believes himself foolish for having thought he could bring together two worlds when he belongs to neither of them. As the sun sets and the Moon rises, he recalls all the times in his life on Anarres he has watched the Moon rise from there, and he considers how each planet is each other’s Moon—so similar, and yet so different. As Anarres rises high into the sky above him, “the light of his world fill[s] his empty hands.”
The twin worlds are visible from one another, and no matter how hard he tries, Shevek cannot escape Anarres—it is always visible to him when it rises in the evenings. He is reminded of the “light” of his world, and its beauty, and the fact that he has abandoned it to live empty-handed on a foreign planet that does not recognize the grace in humility and prioritizes only possessions.