The Dispossessed

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The Dispossessed is a 1974 utopian science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, set in the same fictional universe as The Left Hand of Darkness (the Hainish Cycle). The book won both Hugo and Nebula awards in 1975, and achieved a degree of literary recognition unusual for science fiction works.


(Page numbers in parentheses refer to the HarperCollins/Eos 2001 paperback edition, ISBN 0061054887.)

  • Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on. Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. [...] It was in fact a quarantine. The wall shut in not only the landing field but also the ships that came down out of space, and the men that came on the ships, and the worlds they came from, and the rest of the universe. It enclosed the universe, leaving Anarres outside, free. Looked at from the other side, the wall enclosed Anarres: the whole planet was inside it, a great prison camp, cut off from other worlds and other men, in quarantine.
    • Chapter 1 (pp. 1–2)
  • You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 55)
  • Uninfluenced by others, he never knew he influenced them; he had no idea they liked him.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 58)
  • Suffering is dysfunctional, except as a bodily warning against danger. Psychologically and socially it’s merely destructive.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 61)
  • It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 72)
  • He had assumed that if you removed a human being’s natural incentive to work—his initiative, his spontaneous creative energy—and replaced it with external motivation and coercion, he would become a lazy and careless worker. But no careless workers kept those lovely farmlands, or made the superb cars and comfortable trains. The lure and compulsion of profit was evidently a much more effective replacement of the natural initiative than he had been led to believe.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 82)
  • To be whole is to be part;
    true voyage is return.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 84)
  • Excess is excrement.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 98)
  • No doors were locked, few shut. There were no disguises and no advertisements. It was all there, all the work, all the life of the city, open to the eye and to the hand.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 99)
  • Grow up. Grow up. Time to grow up. You’re here now. We’re working on physics here, not religion. Drop the mysticism and grow up.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 104)
  • He was appalled by the examination system, when it was explained to him; he could not imagine a greater deterrent to the natural wish to learn than this pattern of cramming in information and disgorging it at demand.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 127)
  • He tried to read an elementary economics text; it bored him past endurance, it was like listening to somebody interminably recounting a long and stupid dream. He could not force himself to understand how banks functioned and so forth, because all the operations of capitalism were as meaningless to him as the rites of a primitive religion, as barbaric, as elaborate, and as unnecessary. In a human sacrifice to deity there might be at least a mistaken and terrible beauty; in the rites of the moneychangers, where greed, laziness, and envy were assumed to move all men’s acts, even the terrible became banal.
    • Chapter 5 (pp. 130-131)
  • Coercion is the least efficient means of obtaining order.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 149)
  • People like to do things. They like to do them well. People take the dangerous, hard jobs because they take pride in doing them, they can—egoize, we call it—show off?—to the weaker ones. Hey, look, little boys, see how strong I am! You know? A person likes to do what he is good at doing.... But really, it is the question of ends and means. After all, work is done for the work’s sake. It is the lasting pleasure of life. The private conscience knows that. And also the social conscience, the opinion of one’s neighbors. There is no other reward, on Anarres, no other law. One’s own pleasure, and the respect of one’s fellows. That is all. When that is so, then you see the opinion of the neighbors becomes a very mighty force.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 150)
  • You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. By refusing to think, refusing to change. And that’s precisely what our society is doing!
    • Chapter 6 (p. 165)
  • She saw time naïvely as a road laid out. You walked ahead, and you got somewhere. If you were lucky, you got somewhere worth getting to.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 183)
  • “If you can see a thing whole,” he said, “it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives.... But close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.”
    “That’s all right for Urras. Let it stay off there and be the moon—I don’t want it! But I’m not going to stand up on a gravestone and look down on life and say, ‘O lovely!’ I want to see it whole right in the middle of it, here, now. I don’t give a hoot for eternity.”
    • Chapter 6 (p. 190)
  • The news had stirred him strangely. He listened for bulletins on the radio, which he had seldom turned on after finding that its basic function was advertising things for sale.
    • Chapter 7 (pp. 201-202)
  • “The politics of reality,” Shevek repeated. He looked at Oiie and said, “That is a curious phrase for a physicist to use.”
    “Not at all. The politician and the physicist both deal with things as they are, with real forces, the basic laws of the world.”
    “You put your petty miserable ‘laws’ to protect wealth, your ‘forces’ of guns and bombs, in the same sentence with the law of entropy and the force of gravity? I had thought better of your mind, Demaere!”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 203)
  • [Shevek] came at last to the long array of doors through which crowds of people came and went constantly, all purposeful, all separate. They all looked, to him, anxious. He had often seen that anxiety before in the faces of Urrasti, and wondered about it. Was it because, no matter how much money they had, they always had to worry about making more, lest they die poor? Was it guilt, because no matter how little money they had, there was always somebody who had less? Whatever the cause, it gave all the faces a certain sameness, and he felt very much alone among them.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 207)
  • “The law of evolution is that the strongest survives.”
    “Yes, and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical.”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 220)
  • “But what’s the good of this sort of ‘understanding,’” Dearri said, “if it doesn’t result in practical, technological applications? Just word juggling, isn’t it?”
    “You ask questions like a true profiteer,” Shevek said, and not a soul there knew he had insulted Dearri with the most contemptuous word in his vocabulary; indeed Dearri nodded a bit, accepting the compliment with satisfaction.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 224)
  • Our model of the cosmos must be as inexhaustible as the cosmos. A complexity that includes not only duration but creation, not only being but becoming, not only geometry but ethics. It is not the answer we are after, but only how to ask the question.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 226)
  • No. It is not wonderful. It is an ugly world. Not like this one. Anarres is all dusty and dry hills. All meager, all dry. And the people aren’t beautiful. They have big hands and feet, like me and the waiter there. But not big bellies. They get very dirty, and take baths together, nobody here does that. The towns are very small and dull, they are dreary. No palaces. 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. Enough air, enough rain, grass, oceans, food, music, buildings, factories, machines, books, clothes, history. You are rich, you own. We are poor, we lack. You have, we do not have. Everything is beautiful here. Only not the faces. On Anarres nothing is beautiful, nothing but the faces. The other faces, the men and women. We have nothing but that, nothing but each other. Here you see the jewels, there you see the eyes. And in the eyes you see the splendor, the splendor of the human spirit. Because our men and women are free—possessing nothing, they are free. And you the possessors are possessed. You are all in jail. Each alone, solitary, with a heap of what he owns. You live in prison, die in prison. It is all I can see in your eyes—the wall, the wall!
    • Chapter 7 (pp. 228-229)
  • A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart. The delight of the nursing mother, of the scholar, of the successful hunter, of the good cook, of the skillful maker, of anyone doing needed work and doing it well—this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection, and of sociality as a whole.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 247)
  • He felt that sense of being necessary which is the burden and reward of parenthood.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 248)
  • “There’s a point, around age twenty,” Bedap said, “when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities.”
    • Chapter 8 (p. 249)
  • It was easy to share when there was enough, even barely enough, to go round. But when there was not enough? Then force entered in; might making right; power, and its tool, violence, and its most devoted ally, the averted eye.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 256)
  • Existence is its own justification, need is right.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 261)
  • The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 272)
  • Like all power seekers, Pae was amazingly shortsighted. There was a trivial, abortive quality to his mind, it lacked depth, affect, imagination. It was, in fact, a primitive instrument.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 278)
  • He did not know their songs, and only listened and was borne along on the music, until from up front there came sweeping back wave by wave down the great slow-moving river of people a tune he knew. He lifted his head high and sang it with them, in his own language as he had learned it: the Hymn of the Insurrection. It had been sung in these streets, in this same street, two hundred years ago, by these people, his people.
O' eastern light, awaken
those who have slept!
The darkness will be broken,
The promise kept.
They fell silent in the ranks around Shevek to hear him, and he sang aloud, smiling walking forward with them.
  • Ch. 9 (pp. 298-9)
  • It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, it turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have been forced to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 300) — from the protagonist’s major speech.
  • You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or, it is nowhere.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 301)
  • A scientist can pretend that his work isn’t himself, it’s merely the impersonal truth. An artist can’t hide behind the truth. He can’t hide anywhere.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 331)
  • With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise: for though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice—the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 333)
  • “Do you not understand that I want to give this to you—and to Hain and the other worlds—and to the countries of Urras? But to you all! So that one of you cannot use it, as A-Io wants to do, to get power over the others, to get richer or to win more wars. So that you cannot use the truth for your private profit, but only for the common good.”
    “In the end, the truth usually insists upon serving only the common good,” Keng said.
    “In the end, yes, but I am not willing to wait for the end. I have one lifetime, and I will not spend it for greed and profiteering and lies. I will not serve any master.
    • Chapter 11 (pp. 345-346)
  • There is nothing, nothing on Urras that we Anarresti need! We left with empty hands, a hundred and seventy years ago, and we were right. We took nothing. Because there is nothing here but States and their weapons, the rich and their lies, and the poor and their misery. There is no way to act rightly, with a clear heart, on Urras. There is nothing you can do that profit does not enter into, and fear of loss, and the wish for power. You cannot say good morning without knowing which of you is ‘superior’ to the other, or trying to prove it. You cannot act like a brother to other people, you must manipulate them, or command them, or obey them, or trick them. You cannot touch another person, yet they will not leave you alone. There is no freedom. It is a box—Urras is a box, a package, with all the beautiful wrapping of blue sky and meadows and forests and great cities. And you open the box, and what is inside it? A black cellar full of dust, and a dead man. A man whose hand was shot off because he held it out to others. I have been in Hell at last. Desar was right; it is Urras; Hell is Urras.
    • Chapter 11 (pp. 346-347)
  • What we’re after is to remind ourselves that we didn’t come to Anarres for safety, but for freedom. If we must all agree, all work together, we’re no better than a machine. If an individual can’t work in solidarity with his fellows, it’s his duty to work alone. His duty and his right. We have been denying people that right. We’ve been saying, more and more often, you must work with the others, you must accept the rule of the majority. But any rule is tyranny. The duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his own acts, to be responsible. Only if he does so will the society live, and change, and adapt, and survive. We are not subjects of a State founded upon law, but members of a society founded upon revolution. Revolution is our obligation: our hope of evolution.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 359)
  • The Revolution is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is nothing. If it is seen as having any end, it will never truly begin. We can’t stop here. We must go on. We must take the risks.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 359)
  • We have been civilized for a thousand millennia. We have histories of hundreds of those millennia. We have tried everything, Anarchism, with the rest. But I have not tried it. They say there is nothing new under any sun. But if each life is not new, each single life, then why are we born?
    • Chapter 13 (p. 385)

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