The Dispossessed

Themes and Colors
Freedom Theme Icon
The Failure of Utopian Ideals Theme Icon
Humility and Moderation vs. Ego and Excess Theme Icon
Individualism and Isolation vs. Collectivism and Solidarity Theme Icon
The People vs. the State Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Dispossessed, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Dispossessed takes place over the course of forty years on two twin planets, Urras and Anarres, which are often referred to as each other’s moons. Nearly two centuries before the start of the novel, a faction of Urrasti people who called themselves Odonians—and who rejected the capitalist, “profiteering” values of their home planet—defected to Anarres, where they built a new society on the desert-like planet. Anarres, a hundred and sixty years later, is…

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As the story of The Dispossessed unfolds, Le Guin—through her conflicted but hopeful protagonist, the Anarresti physicist Shevek—highlights the ways in which utopia is a complex and perhaps unachievable ideal. Anarres was conceived as a utopia by its founders, and Anarresti society rests entirely on the collective belief that their utopian experiment has been a success. However, when Shevek visits Urras, he sees that the upper echelons of Urrasti society also consider themselves to…

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A “good Odonian” has “empty hands,” Shevek tells his Urrasti hosts early on in the novel. With no money and almost zero individual material possessions, the Anarresti value restraint, frugality, and humility—real-life Taoist principles which inspired Le Guin’s conception of Anarresti values. Shevek’s “empty hands”—like the empty hands with which the Anarresti initially departed from Urras—are a recurring motif throughout the novel, and a metaphor for the anti-materialist values that drive Anarresti society. Meanwhile…

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On the anarcho-syndicalist planet of Anarres, where everyone is responsible for the well-being of everyone else and no one owns anything, “egoizing” is the ultimate sin. Anarresti are always calling one another out in moments of egoism as they strive to eliminate possessiveness, egocentrism, and self-interest from their society, their language, and their relationships. Meanwhile, on Urras, the self is of central importance, and the drive for self-advancement and self-aggrandizement defines every aspect…

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Anarchy and insurrection are major motifs throughout The Dispossessed, and on the planets of Urras and Anarres, people frequently question—or oppose directly—the systems that govern them. On Urras, where three vastly different states are controlled by three very different regimes, discord and unrest permeate the whole of the planet, and anarchy is seen as a thing to be quashed. On Anarres, which was founded on principles of anarchy and where there is, in theory, no…

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