The Dispossessed
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin
Contributed by Twanda Mangano
Chapter 5

On Urras, Shevek is relieved to no longer be a tourist. As the new term begins at the University, Shevek is excited to settle down and get to work in Paradise. Shevek takes on teaching duties, and admires the young “anarchists” who have joined his course. He finds that his students are intelligent, superbly trained in physics, philosophy, and mathematics, and are able to focus intensely in class because none are tired from physical labor or rotational duties.

Shevek has a surplus of free time—he has not had so much since his early years at the Institute in Abbenay, and even now he has more because life at this University revolves entirely around creating the “complete leisure to work.” Everything is taken care of so that students and faculty can focus only on academia. Though this is “paradise indeed” in Shevek’s mind, he finds himself unable to get down to his own work and feels he has lost his flair for sensing where the important problems in it lie. Though he writes several papers, he feels he has accomplished nothing of true value.

Shevek is paid for his published papers and receives a salary from the university. He understands how important wealth is to Urrasti life. He finds the exchange of money banal, though, and even frightening at times. After shopping for custom clothes and shoes and becoming overwhelmed while out shopping for luxurious, needless items, Shevek suffers nightmares which take place in the shops. When Shevek’s custom-ordered clothes and shoes arrive, he tries them on in his apartment, and when he looks at himself in the mirror he thinks that he looks very much like his mother, Rulag.

Over the mid-autumn holiday, Shevek gives himself a bit of a break. He sleeps, walks, reads, and tries to remind himself that he is still adjusting to life on Urras. One night, leaving the dining hall after dinner, Shevek runs into Chifoilisk, who asks if he has some time to spare for a conversation. The two walk together to the library, and Shevek asks why the two of them never work together. Chifoilisk, in response, asks Shevek whether or not he is aware of what he is doing on Urras, and whether or not he realizes he has been bought by the “capitalist, plutocratic-oligarchic State.”

In his home state of Thu, Chifoilisk says, the people are socialists, just like the Anarresti. Shevek argues that Thu is centralized, though, even moreso than A-Io, and they have a money economy to boot. Chifoilisk invites Shevek to come to Thu to see how “real socialism” works, and Shevek retorts that he is aware of how real socialism functions. Chifoilisk tells Shevek that he has no desire to play games, and asks Shevek outright to come to Thu. Shevek says he cannot, as all his work is in A-Io, as well as the Council of World Governments. Chifoilisk tells Shevek that the CWG is in A-Io’s pocket, and that Shevek is in danger.

Chifoilisk warns Shevek against Pae, who is a “loyal, ambitious agent of the Ioti government,” and who reports regularly to the Department of National Security concerning Shevek and Chifoilisk. Chifoilisk also warns Shevek against approaching everyone in A-Io solely as an individual, urging him to understand the unseen, authoritarian powers that are at work behind each individual. Chifoilisk tells Shevek that both of their rooms at the university are bugged. Shevek asks Chifoilisk if he is an agent of the Thuvian government, and Chifoilisk concedes that he is. He proclaims that he will never be “bought out” by the Ioti government, and has faith in his government and his country.

Shevek counters Chifoilisk’s warnings that he is a “child among thieves” and a victim of Ioti profiteering by revealing that he came to bargain with the Ioti, in order to get his people to come out of exile. In Thu, he explains, he knows people are afraid that Odonians might bring back the old revolution, which the Thuvians gave up on before it was complete. In A-Io, Shevek argues, the Ioti have forgotten the revolution, and so they fear him less, and might be more open to lowered walls, human solidarity, and free exchange between Urras and Anarres. Shevek is aware of what the Ioti want from him—his General Temporal Theory—and he intends to use it as a bargaining chip.

Chifoilisk asks Shevek if he has written the theory down yet, and when Shevek tells him that he hasn’t, Chifoilisk urges him not to, unless he wants the Ioti government to take it for their own. Chifoilisk quotes Odo, stating that “where there’s property there’s theft.” Chifoilisk also tells Shevek that if Shevek had written down the theory, Chifoilisk himself would be attempting to steal it and return to Thu with it in order to serve his country and keep it out of the hands of the Ioti.

Chifoilisk implores Shevek to come to Thu once he is finally able to see what is going on in A-Io, warning him that he has “picked the wrong people to try to make brothers.” He urges Shevek to give his theory to the Thuvians or even the Anarresti—anyone but the Ioti. Shevek tells Chifoilisk that he has already tried to give his own people what he has to give, and that they did not want it. Less than a week later, Shevek is informed by Pae that Chifoilisk has been summoned back to Thu. Pae wonders what it is that Chifoilisk did wrong to be called back by his government.

Shevek finds a comradeship in Atro—he visits the man’s home a couple of times a week, and the two discuss physics, genealogy, and history. Atro recalls the first time Cetians—the race of the Urrasti and Anarresti people—who had contact with the Hainish people, humanoid aliens from far away in space. Atro worries that Shevek has not learned, on Anarres, how to discriminate, and he warns him against letting aliens such as the Hainish convince him that the entire galaxy is one brotherhood. Atro believes that existence is rooted in survival and competition, and he feels that the Cetians are the only kind of humanity meant to prosper. Atro asks Shevek to consider allegiance to the Cetian people when it comes time for him to release his Grand Temporal Theory—it is not money Atro wants, but merely for the Cetian mind to be recognized as superior in the galaxy.

Atro asks Shevek about his research, and when Shevek tells Atro he is working on gravitational theories, Atro becomes irritated and asks to know when Shevek is going to get down to the “real thing”—meaning his General Temporal Theory. Though Shevek feels affection for Atro, he decides against discussing his temporal theory with the man, remembering Chifoilisk’s advice to keep his research to himself.

Each day Shevek is invited to numerous parties and formal receptions around the capital, and he goes to several in pursuit of his mission: urging the idea of brotherhood between the two worlds. When he discusses his mission with his fellow guests at the parties, they agree with him. Shevek begins to wonder why the Ioti government is letting him speak about peace between Urras and Anarres so freely—he talks “pure anarchism,” and yet no one has tried to stop him. He considers that because he is talking to the same kind of people over and over again—wealthy Urrasti who are perhaps outside of his sphere of influence—the government has no need of intervening, as no one will really listen to Shevek’s ideals anyway. Shevek begins to hate the parties after this realization, and stops going.

Feeling that he is profoundly out of touch with anyone or anything on Urras, Shevek asks his fellow scientists if he can learn a bit more about how they live. Oiie invites Shevek to come spend the weekend at his family’s home in a nearby village. Oiie lives in a “modest middle-class house,” decorated in a functional and minimalist style. Shevek admires the grace Oiie has achieved through restraint, in contrast to the luxurious and excessive aesthetics of many Urrasti.

Shevek is introduced to Oiie’s wife, and feels grateful to once again be able to converse with a woman. At dinner, Shevek regales Oiie’s wife and children with tales of Anarres—it is the first time on Urras that he has been asked about his home planet with such interest. He does not propagandize or editorialize life on Anarres, but rather describes daily life in simple terms.

That night, sleeping in Oiie’s home, Shevek dreams of Takver. In his dream, they are on the Moon together, and they are walking through a deadened desert in the direction of “something flimsy and shiny, a remote barrier.” They both move toward the nebulous object with fear and trepidation.


As Shevek begins teaching, he finds that higher education is yet another way in which Urrasti society is seemingly superior to Anarres. Because the students do not have to spend their days working or serving others, they can focus entirely on their studies and commit to their own personal growth and self-improvement. He sees that this isn’t inherently egoistic or excessive, as he has always been conditioned to believe, but that focus on the individual can be a positive thing.

With so much free time and lack of other burdens or obligations, Shevek could potentially have complete freedom to work. Instead, though, he feels trapped and insufficient, unable to connect with the problems or solutions in his own work the way he could back on Anarres. Something is missing from his process, but he is unsure of what that is yet.

Shevek is being tempted by the machinations of capitalism. He has money and is participating in an economy for the first time in his life, and has access to luxury items that did not even exist on Anarres. When he tries on his “excremental” new belongings, he feels he looks like his mother—he thinks he has become something he hates. Shevek has seen Chifoilisk—a socialist from the state of Thu, and thus also an outsider in A-Io—as an ally since his first day on Urras. As he talks more deeply with Chifoilisk, he realizes that Chifoilisk is looking out for him. Chifoilisk’s warnings that Shevek has been “bought” resonate with Shevek, who has just spent his money on luxurious and superfluous clothing that has only made him question and detest himself.

As the two scientists engage in a debate of ideals over what constitutes true socialism, Chifoilisk offers Shevek the chance to travel to Thu. It’s implied that Shevek will be something of a refugee—he will be escaping the nefarious mechanisms of the Ioti government. Not only that, Shevek might be even more widely hailed as a hero and an inspiration in Thu, where the people admire and respect his anarchist values rather than seeing them as an anomaly, a threat, or a circus act. Chifoilisk explains the deep, pervasive subterfuge happening right under his and Shevek’s noses. There is a “cold war” between Thu and A-Io, and Chifoilisk and Shevek are pawns in that war. Chifoilisk knows that he is being used, though, and so is able to keep himself from ever truly selling out. In explaining to Shevek what’s really going on and warning him to be distrustful of the people and situations around him, Chifoilisk is attempting to give Shevek the same tools he has, and the same advantage against being taken for a fool by the Ioti.

Shevek, however, insists that he is not as naïve as he seems—he, too, has an agenda on Urras, and is slowly biding his time as he puts it in motion. Shevek has purposefully come to A-Io because he believes his ideas will be able to take root and have more influence here than in the already-idealistic Thu. Shevek sees the “bargaining chip” of his General Temporal Theory as a means of keeping himself free, rather than as a yoke tying him to the Ioti and threatening his mobility on Urras.

Chifoilisk reveals the lengths to which he would go in order to ensure the survival—and the prosperity—of his people, and in doing so warns Shevek further against trusting anyone, no matter where they come from or what they profess to believe. Chifoilisk cements the value of the General Temporal Theory, allowing Shevek to see, perhaps, just what a dangerous game he has been playing.

Chifoilisk implies that giving the theory to the Ioti would be disastrous. Anyone, he tells Shevek, is more deserving of the theory than the Ioti. Shevek has suspected this, but also feels he has hit a wall when it comes to benefiting his own people—even knowing what is truly going on in A-Io, he still feels distrustful of his home planet as well. Chifoilisk’s abrupt removal from A-Io signals that something is afoot between the nation of Thu and the Ioti government—tensions may have increased.

In Chifoilisk’s absence, Shevek seeks company elsewhere, finding a friend in Atro—though he soon realizes that Atro’s backwards thinking, racist ideology, and commitment to the advancement of A-Io at any cost is a major, major red flag. Atro’s belief that people of different races, creeds, and origins will always be at odds with one another, and that the answer lies in prospering one race over another rather than seeking common ground or collective good, runs completely counter to everything Shevek has ever been taught on Anarres. Atro is essentially a social Darwinist, believing only in “survival of the fittest.”

Shevek tries to keep the truth of where he is in his research from Atro as Chifoilisk’s words echo in his head. Shevek respects Atro’s theories greatly, but cannot trust him in light of both Chifoilisk’s warnings and Atro’s own admissions that he wants to further the Cetian advantage over the rest of the universe no matter what the cost to its other inhabitants.

Shevek, still naively believing that he can advance his own agenda and enact real change in A-Io even after his revealing conversations with Atro, is disappointed to find that no one on Urras really listens to anyone else. His ideas have no value to the wealthy, propertied classes of A-Io, and thus Shevek does not constitute a threat to anyone here. They will never be moved by his ideals, since they are on the “winning” side of capitalist inequality. They have much to lose and nothing to gain from anarchism, so he will never get anywhere with these people. Shevek’s desire to see more of Urras leads him to Oiie’s house, where he sees that in small pockets of society, moderation, restraint, and family values are still extant. This refreshes in him the hope that perhaps Ioti society still has some kind of conscience, despite all the apathy, racism, and insidiousness he has recently encountered. 

Finally, Shevek encounters people who will actually listen to him, and are curious about life on Anarres in a genuine and open way. He has felt insignificant and patronized as of late, and speaking openly with Oiie’s family mitigates that feeling just a bit. Shevek’s dream symbolically represents his longing for his partner Takver, and their simultaneous journey toward something neither of them have yet encountered. Yet this thing is also a kind of wall, albeit a “flimsy” one, perhaps representing Shevek’s goal of breaking down walls and furthering solidarity and brotherhood.

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