In Urras, at the turn of the season, Shevek orders a custom-made winter coat from a shop on the high street. When it arrives, there is a letter in its pocket. It is unstamped and is not enclosed in an envelope. Shevek opens the letter and reads it—there is no name signed to it and no return address, but it asks why, if Shevek is an anarchist, he chooses to work within the “power system betraying [his] World.” The letter asks if Shevek has come to Urras to bring hope to those suffering from injustice and repression, and invites him to “join with [his] brothers.”
Shevek, who just months ago was disgusted by his participation in capitalism and the luxury economy, now has become inured to the idea of ordering a fancy custom suit. As if to remind him of his roots and warn him against being “bought” any further, a mysterious note urging him to remember the oppressive nature of wealth and power appears.
Shevek is taken aback by the letter, and feels a kind of panic set in. He knows that there are revolutionaries as well as poor men on Urras, but has not seen or met any in all his time there. He realizes that he has, indeed, been bought, and has allowed himself to be kept far away from the reality of Urras, just as Chifoilisk warned him. Shevek wonders how he can break down the wall between himself and the “real” Urras.
The note serves its purpose—Shevek has a huge reality check as he considers how deeply he has sunk into Urrasti ways and capitalist obsessions. Realizing his foolishness, Shevek resolves to reconnect with a forgotten reason he came to Urras—to foster a dialogue, to spread Odonian ideals, and to seek out those who want or need the help of Anarresti society and its values.
Shevek asks Efor, his manservant, if the two of them can have a talk. Shevek tells Efor that he sees him as his equal and his brother, and wants to know about his life. He tells Efor that Efor is the only person on Urras he has met who is not an “owner,” but before he can finish his thought, he sees that Efor’s face is full of contempt, and Shevek feels like a “patronizing, prying fool.” He apologizes, and tells Efor to forget what he has said, though he realizes that he has missed out on his only entry into the world of the unpropertied classes of Urras.
When Efor reacts skeptically to Shevek’s request for access into Efor’s “class” of people, Shevek realizes that he has drifted further from his anarchist roots than he realized, and has become totally disconnected from any part of Urras other than the ivory tower of the university and the upper classes.
During the break between winter and spring terms, Oiie invites Shevek to spend a week at his home. While Shevek is at Oiie’s, a heavy snow falls. Shevek, never having seen more than an inch of snow, plays outside with Oiie’s children, throwing snowballs and building fortresses of snow. Oiie’s sister Vea arrives for a visit while Shevek is out playing in the snow, and when he comes in, he introduces himself to her. Shevek is deeply attracted to the provocatively and lavishly-dressed Vea, and is saddened when she reveals that after dinner she will be returning to Nio Esseia by train—Shevek fears he will never see her again.
Despite the realization that he has been conned and edged out of his mission on Urras, Shevek still finds joy and refuge in the connections he has made with his colleagues. Shevek is charmed by Vea, and is somehow unable to see—or unwilling to admit—that she symbolically represents the persistent allure of materialism, luxury, and excess. In surrendering to his desire for Vea, Shevek will be surrendering to his desire for the ease of Ioti capitalism.
Oiie’s wife asks Shevek if he will bring Vea to the train station so she doesn’t have to walk alone in the snow—Oiie has a cold. On the walk to the station, Vea flirts with Shevek and tells him that he is much too polite to be a real anarchist. Vea tells Shevek that she thinks his journey to Urras is “romantic,” as he has come without a coin in his pocket to plead on behalf of his people. Shevek deflects her ideal of him as a poor revolutionary, stating that he has been showered with luxuries since his arrival on Urras. Vea remarks that Shevek cannot possibly have seen real luxury in a University dorm, and pities him for not having experienced the true Urras.
Vea attempts to romanticize Shevek as a revolutionary hero, but Shevek insists that he is not the face of any movement or revolution (and Vea certainly wouldn’t enjoy a real revolution, as it would mean overthrowing people like her). He self-deprecatingly asserts that he has become mired in his desire for Urrasti luxury and excess, but Vea insists that he hasn’t even seen the tip of the iceberg—there is so much more than Shevek could ever imagine just waiting around the corner.
When the two arrive at the station, Vea asks if Shevek has a wife and a family. He tells her he has a partner and two children, and Vea asks why his partner didn’t accompany him to Urras. Shevek explains that Takver had work to do back home on Anarres—moreover, he wanted to keep her safe, and he worried that if she travelled with him to Urras she would face the same kind of anger and ire upon her return that he inevitably will. Vea asks Shevek if the two of them can meet again. She asks him to promise that he will call upon her when he is in Nio Esseia, and he agrees to.
Vea’s seduction is complete. Though she has reminded him of his commitment to Takver and his love for her, Vea continues to exert a pull on Shevek, and gets him to agree to meet with her again in the center of the Urrasti upper class--the wealthy capital city of Nio Esseia, where delight and temptation no doubt await him.
The following day, the newspapers have printed a story about the revolution in Benbili, stating that the country’s dictator has fled and rebels have taken over the capital. Curious about the relatively obscure nation of Benbili, Shevek researches it, and finds that it is a large but underpopulated and very poor country run by a military dictatorship. Shevek regrets not being able to go to Benbili. As he reads more about the insurrection there, he is filled with hope to see an actual revolution taking place on Urras, but is saddened by the news that comes days later—A-Io is sending troops to quell the revolution and support the Benbili dictator’s return to power.
Just as Shevek seems to succumb to the pulls of capitalism, luxury, and excess, he is reminded of the very real conflict going on in the background of everything. Shevek is captivated by the idea of true revolution on Urras, and for a moment he believes that perhaps Urras could support an overthrow of the power structures which govern its states—but his hopes are crushed as he sees the influence of the Ioti state’s power. This “proxy war” in Benbili echoes the proxy wars of the Cold War, in which the capitalist U.S. and the communist U.S.S.R. supported different sides in wars fought in other (often poorer) countries.
On the way to class one morning, Shevek decides not to go, and instead boards a train to Nio Esseia. While on the train, he distantly considers fleeing to Benbili, but knows that no matter which country he goes to, he is still trapped on Urras. As the beautiful countryside whizzes past his window, Shevek feels a kind of anger at the beautiful spring day, wondering what Urras has done to deserve such beauty when his own people have none. He realizes that he is “thinking like a propertarian,” and that beauty cannot be earned. Outside the window, Nio Esseia comes into view.
In the wake of his depression over realizing the impossibility of true revolution on Urras, Shevek succumbs to the seductive draw of Vea and all she represents. He hasn’t contacted her directly, but he goes to Nio Esseia knowing that it is a wealthy enclave and a fortress against the worries of the common people. Shevek longs, on some level, to annihilate the parts of him that compete with Urrasti ways of life.
After exiting the train station, Shevek finds himself feeling directionless, unsure of what to do, and a little overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city. He passes a shop that sells newspapers and sees a headline reporting on the revolution: THU SENDS TROOPS TO AID BENBILI REBELS. As Shevek wanders the city, he comes to an art gallery and goes in. He sees a painting which costs 4,000 Urrasti dollars, and tells a gallerist working there that that sum could feed two families for one year in Nio Esseia. After arguing with the gallerist, he runs out of the gallery, unsure of where to go. Suddenly, he is struck by the idea of calling on Vea, and he goes into a nearby shop to use their telephone.
Even in Nio Esseia, Shevek finds that he cannot escape the news of the discord in Benbili. As news breaks that Thu will be aiding the rebels, Shevek is reminded of the seeds of revolution which remain no matter how often or repeatedly they are stomped upon. His encounter in the art gallery shows him leaning away from the pulls of capitalism and railing against the excrement of excess, but, overwhelmed by the confusion of it all, he relents and calls Vea, symbolically caving to the allure of wealth and the ease it brings.
Shevek and Vea meet up at a nearby garden. They eat lunch at a restaurant in the park, and Shevek is astounded by the amount of “extraordinary” food. Shevek picks up the tab, and then the two, feeling uncomfortably full, go for a walk. As Shevek observes Vea, he thinks that she is what Takver calls a “body profiteer”—a woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon in power struggles with men. Vea is ornately dressed, and has an expensive glittering jewel hanging by itself on her chest. When Shevek asks how it stays put, Vea reveals that there is a magnet beneath her skin, and Shevek is mildly disgusted.
Vea’s physical beauty is undeniable, and she has taken drastic measures to make sure it is on display. Her commitment to luxury and excess is offputting to Shevek, and he hears Takver’s derisive comments about women like Vea echoing in his mind. Nevertheless, he is still drawn to her, and all that she represents.
Shevek and Vea attend a matinee at a local theater, and then go for dinner downtown at yet another opulent restaurant. Shevek drinks heavily, and because he has run out of money over the course of his expensive day with Vea, is forced to write a check to pay for the meal. After dinner, the two take a hired car to Vera’s apartment—she is hosting a party later on that evening—and Vea makes Shevek pay the driver with a check as well.
Shevek allows Vea to string him along on a day of indulgence, excess, and frivolity. Despite the steep bill, Shevek goes along with Vea’s wishes, drawn to her and the carefree life she leads like a moth to a flame.
Vea changes into her eveningwear, which is just a full-length pleated skirt. Soon guests begin to arrive, and as the party gets underway Shevek continues drinking, never having consumed alcohol before and unaware of its effects. He carries on long conversations about the nature of time, simultaneity, and sequency with other guests. As the evening grows late, the party devolves into debauchery, with couples beginning to copulate in corners and groups of people arguing loudly about the war in Benbili.
Shevek’s descent into indulgence compounds even further as he imbibes alcohol over the course of the night. He perhaps does not realize that he has become the thing he always railed against—an unwitting pawn of capitalism, sitting at a debauched party debating war and revolution while actual struggle rages on far away and out of sight.
Shevek, who has become very drunk, has trouble keeping up with any one conversation, but when someone asks about Anarres, he confesses that it is an ugly world, and that life there is full of dull and hard work just to provide people with the bare minimum. Nevertheless, he says, he feels that the Anarresti are free, whereas the Urrasti are in “jail,” imprisoned by their possessions. Shevek begins screaming about “the wall” over and over, and when he realizes that all of Vea’s guests are staring at him, he excuses himself, realizing that he is feeling ill and dizzy.
At the height of his drunkenness, Shevek experiences a moment of clarity in which he realizes that though Anarres is “ugly” and devoid of the luxuries Urras enjoys, Urras is “ugly” on the inside and devoid of morals or empathy. As Shevek has a nightmarish vision of the wall at the port of Anarres, he is overwhelmed by the divisions and inequities on both worlds, and the “wall” he has raised between himself and the flawed but free world of his birth.
Vea accompanies Shevek to a bedroom, where she kisses him and calls him “magnificent.” Shevek kisses Vea back, and then begins groping her. Vea tells Shevek to stop, but he does not. Shevek removes his pants and attempts to undress Vea as well, despite her protests. The two struggle against one another physically until Shevek, overcome with excitement, ejaculates on Vea’s skirt. Angry and disgusted, Vea leaves the room to change her clothes. Shevek stumbles out into the living room, ashamed and overwhelmed, and vomits all over a platter of food.
Shevek’s descent into immorality and indulgent behavior are complete as he forces himself upon Vea, greedily and lustily attempting to possess her. Shevek, too, has finally become “possessed,” and grabs at all Vea represents—freedom achieved through wealth, happiness achieved through materialism, bliss achieved through oppression and egoism.
Oiie and Pae arrive at the apartment to take Shevek home. In the limousine, headed back for the university, Oiie tells Pae he is relieved that though Shevek “escaped” to Nio Esseia for the day, he spent it with Vea rather than wandering through the “slums.” It isn’t that he doesn’t want Shevek to see poverty, though: rather, Oiie does not want Shevek to be seen by the poor and downtrodden, as pamphlets have been circulating among the lower classes announcing the arrival of the “Forerunner”—an empty-handed outcast who will deliver the poor from toil and obscurity. The lower classes have been planning a strike in recent weeks, and Oiie is nervous about a rebellion.
In his disheveled state, Shevek is unaware of the conversations his “handlers” are having about him as they transport him from Nio Esseia, fearing that today was a close call and realizing that though Shevek may not have known it, he was on the precipice of exposing himself to common society and being recognized as a beacon of anarchy, rebellion, and revolution. Chifoilisk was right—Shevek is a pawn of the state, and they are attempting to keep him under their thumb at every turn and at any cost.
Pae and Oiie help Shevek upstairs to his room and put him to bed. As they do so, Pae asks Oiie why Shevek hasn’t yet delivered his General Temporal Theory, wondering aloud if Shevek is a fraud and they all have been taken in by a “peasant from Utopia.” Pae worries that if Shevek does not deliver, Urras will never establish an advantage over the Hainish. Before he and Oiie leave, Pae pockets a paper from Shevek’s desk.
Pae and Oiie worry that they have created a problem for themselves by bring Shevek to Urras. He presents a great risk, and still has not delivered the General Temporal Theory which they feel he promised to them, and which they know their government needs.