Some Unstructured Thoughts on The Dispossessed


NOTE: This is NOT a review, or an essay, or anything like that. It's just some thoughts following reading the book. Spoilers!

I've been feeling recently that I don't really engage with fiction. I read it and find the world interesting but find it difficult to get invested in the world or characters. Maybe I just haven't found a work that truly grabs me yet. This is what I feel about the dispossessed after having just finished reading it. The story of Shevek, his life, his family, appeared to me to purely exist in service of the worldbuilding and political exploration of the societies of Urras and Anarres. Shevek, to me, is uninteresting as a character. So is Takver, so are all the rest of the characters. However, I found The Disposessed an incredibly interesting book from a political perspective, as a critique of a potential model of an anarchist society, and from the perspective of linguistics.

The use of languages in-universe in The Dispossessed is very well done. The differences between the complex, naturalistic Iotic and the anarchist constructed language Pravic are used to great effect as a method of exploring the societal differences between the two. Pravic, as a language, has a highly de-emphasised possessive case, and it is shown early on in the book that children are discouraged from using it.

It's interesting to me that Pravic would even have a posessive case, but it seems that Odonian society has use for posessive language in some circumstances (it's hinted that it gets used for emphasis). It's also said that Pravic has compounds, which implies it's some kind of a synthetic language, which is fun.

In contrast, Iotic is a natural language, and in capitalist Urrasti civilisation has no way to refer to people without some kind of honorific. Shevek finds this difficult to adjust to when learning Iotic - which makes sense, he is learning of a completely new social structure along with a new language. This is fantastic linguistic worldbuilding, even if we never see more than snippets of either language as readers. The device of Shevek learning the Iotic language works as a great way to introduce Ioti society, one that is mostly familiar to us, from the perspective of somebody who has grown up in an anarchist system.

The main theme of the book, obviously, is the differences between Anarresti and Ioti society and the conflicts between them. Ioti society is very capitalistic and patriarchal, in ways that will be instantly familiar to anybody who lives in the real world's capitalist societies, particularly in the US. Many things in Ioti society are worse than the real world, but it serves as a good contrast to the society of Anarres. This is what everybody else has talked about in this book and something I don't care as much about.

What's more interesting to me is how things develop on Anarres itself, especially with how social conformity ends up becoming a strong form of psuedo-law in a society specifically designed not to have arbitrary rules (one that stops Shevek from publishing his works originally) and how some individuals (like Sabul) gain power over others due to being in a certain social position, even in a system that intends for total economic equality.

During the famines, organisations like the PDC and divlab seem to take a role as having more power than others, even in being democratically controlled.

I don't really know. The book is interesting. Maybe more thoughts when I have had time to think.