Landscape in The Dispossessed
The landscape in The Dispossessed contributes a great deal in shaping the cultures and characters of both Urras and Anarres. Although meant to be contrasting civilizations, Urras and Anarres are alike in the sense that they both possess highly complex and highly organized ways of life. Complete with their own values of government, geography, and society, both civilizations complete the novel by providing two sides of the spectrum. While island-like Urras contributes an isolated, free spirited society, Anarres, a more spread out geography, has a stricter hold. The isolation of Urras forces its individuals to conform to the extravagant lives, which they all share. Although Anarres has a capital, Abbenay, that proves to be its pride and joy, the rest of its geography is barren and desert-like leaving no room to expand more than what the government allows. The landscape and geography in The Dispossessed influence the developmental process of the cultures and people of each respected civilization. If landscape and geography were described differently, society would most likely change drastically. Author Ursula K. LeGuin’s idea that Anarres, a Utopia built on deprivation, being an ideal society would not be clear.
The geographic privileges that each civilization offers, impacts the mindset of each culture. While Urras’ A-Io, the main country in the novel, is very fertile with many types of resources, the people of Urras try their best not to take advantage of its overabundance; however, any industrious production is supported, proved by their mining of things such as heavy metals to exhaustion. With its capitalist economy, the government regulates practically all of life in Urras’ A-Io. Because the Urrasti are aware of the lushness of their planet, they tend to have a very wasteful nature. When Shevek first gets to Urras, he is given pajamas to wear while he is in quarantine. After the quarantine process was over, the doctor burns his pajamas or “sleeping clothes.” As the doctor burns the clothing, this is the first time in the book that a wasteful act is introduced. The doctor describes the pajamas as being “cheap pajamas, service issue.” He explains that you “wear ‘em and throw ‘away” and that “it costs less than cleaning” (13). The fact that the people of Urras are so quick to throw a pair of perfectly good pajamas away stresses their view on economics. Because their society has so much to begin with, they do not see the point in recycling clothing as they do in Anarres.
In Anarres, its people are aware that their natural resources are limited and that they must do their best to preserve as much of it as they can by not being wasteful. Their culture does not permit extravagance and promotes recycling of everything. Shevek is unaware of the term pajamas since in Anarres they do not have clothing exclusively for one purpose. When the doctor burns his clothes, he is extremely confused by the doctor’s reasoning. Because of the scarcity of resources that Anarres’ geography offers, the people of Anarres reuse a lot. When Shevek was invited to Vea’s party, he was introduced to the ornate lifestyle, which the people of A-Io led. While drinking alcohol, a commodity he did not receive in Anarres, he was asked to tell what Anarres was really like. Shevek replied, “It’s an ugly world. Not like this one. Anarres is all dusty and dry hills. All meager, all dry…Life is dull, and hard work. You can’t always have what you want, or even what you need, because there isn’t enough. You Urrasti have enough” (228). This is a prime moment where Urras and Anarres are being compared in raw detail by the protagonist Shevek. Urras is clearly a different environment than Anarres, and the honest description, which Shevek gives to his listeners at Vea’s party, shocks them.
The shape of both planets, Urras being a continent surrounded by water and Anarres being more spread out, plays a big part in each civilization’s conformity to the lives led. The isolation that an island-land like geography provides its inhabitants forces the people of Urras to be very alike and spread conformity around. If they question conformity, designated people forcibly take their freedoms away. When they found out that Dr. Shevek was coming from Anarres, they thought it to be a strange phenomenon.
Shevek basked in the appreciation given toward his work. Because the people of Anarres did not know much about physics, there was no one to appreciate his teachings. Since the government put strict restricting on peoples’ speech in Anarres, Shevek was not able to preach his physics research freely. Since Urras was eager to learn and be an innovative society, he was very happy to find a place where he could share his research and people would find interest in it. Shevek took advantage of his position in Urras. He loved the freedom of speech he was given in Urras. He “wondered why the government did not stop him from speaking…He talked pure anarchism, and they did not stop him” (144). Shevek definitely took advantage of the Urrasti’s feeble minds, and fed them with all of his intellectual beliefs. This proves to be a reason why the island’s isolation forces its people to be very open to new ideas. They accept what they are told and see it as adding to their intellect.
Anarres has a lot of geographical freedom, so that its people tend to inhabit concentrated areas such as the coast and Abbenay. In Anarres, the people of its society pressure conformity more so than it being a deviant act. These densely populated areas are given much more attention than the barren areas that surround it. Abbenay, the capital city of Urras, is the most common place for the people of Anarres to inhabit since the other towns and overall rest of the planet is covered in infertile “dust.” With so many people in one area, it is very easy for its citizens to rub off on one another. Having an anarchist government, the people of Anarres put a lot of respect into the cooperation of others. Although the ideal is that there should be no government, central authority, or restrictions, this does not exist amongst the planet of Anarres. Many people do not resist authority because an established authority does not clearly exist; however, Anarres is Le Guin’s way of showing that even complete freedom will have some type of authoritative entity suppressing individuality in some way.
Since Anarres is described as a planet “not meant to support civilization,” (167) it suffers from natural disasters such as droughts, which Urras does not. This hardship tended to make the people of Anarres help each other more. Pregnant with Sadik, Takver was at great risk from not getting enough nutrients to sustain herself and her child. The community helped her, as well as other pregnant women, by giving extra meals. “Pregnant women, like children and old people, could get a light extra meal daily” during the drought (237). Hardships such as these generally brought the communities in Anarres closer together. Because Urras did not experience the same geographical obstacles that Anarres did, they were not able to share the same level of community bonding that was apparent in Anarres.
The landscape in The Dispossessed not only regulates the culture of and characters of each planet, but it regulates everyday life of each civilization. It shapes the government and controls people of society. It may not seem like a big factor, but landscape does have very big impact. Generally a person who leads a life in an urban setting will be very different from a person who comes from a rural setting. In the Dispossessed, each place does not necessarily have to mean that one planet is more efficient than the other; they just produce different types of people. This comes to the conclusion that author Ursula K. Le Guin described landscape with a purpose. Not only did it add to the imagery of the novel, but also it provided the reader with a perspective with which they could understand the characters’ setting. From this, it provided a clear conclusion and better understanding of each civilization.
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The landscape in The Dispossessed contributes a great deal in shaping the cultures and characters of both Urras and Anarres. Although meant to be contrasting civilizations, Urras and Anarres are […]