30 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Dispossessed

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1974

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Symbols & Motifs


Anarresti think of society as a healthy organism, and guard against illness. This metaphor is so prevalent in their thought that it creates a stigma against actual illness. Shevek’s scenes of sickness thus take on additional significance.

Shevek falls ill at least twice in the text, and once has a hangover. After each of these illnesses, he has a breakthrough, both in terms of his thinkingas well as in his commitment to social life. This suggests that “sickness” may not be as negative as Anarresti think it to be.


The text begins with an image of a wall that from one perspective guards Anarresti, and from another perspective imprisons them. From there, prisons and scenes of enclosure play a significant role in the text. Shevek becomes familiar with the concept of imprisonment in his youth dormitory, when he and his friends imprison a classmate and see his reaction. Shevek himself feels imprisoned on Anarres, in his quarters on Mindful, and in the university. He tells Urrasti that they are “imprisoned” on multiple occasions.

Shevek’s search is a search for freedom: for individuals, for the Anarresti, and for all species.