David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

I almost stopped reading after the first chapter because it felt quite disjointed. Due to the way the story is structured, it drops you right into the middle of things in the first chapter, which makes it somewhat of a challenge to get through. However, I’m glad I did persevere because the splitting of the chapters into past and present with the beginning chapter starting at the end, then all finally connecting in the final chapter was worth the initial discomfort.

The exploration of Shevek’s communist world is a fascinating thought experiment and it is quite easy to see the parallels between how our current economic model of society works (particularly the USA). Communism always sounds like a utopia in abstract but it is always at the cost of freedom and individualism, a theme which runs throughout the book. Society always imposes a restriction of freedom even if it is technically unrestricted:

We don’t cooperate – we obey. We fear being outcast, being called lazy, dysfunctional, egoising. We fear our neighbour’s opinion more than we respect our own freedom of choice.

Unless we can find a way to completely alter human nature, idealism simply doesn’t work in practice:

[the] social order functioned without apparent government because there were so few of them and because they had no neighbour states. When their property was threatened by an aggressive rival, they would either wake up to reality or be wiped out.

And just as in real life, famine is a real test of how a model of society can work. 

It is easy to share when there was enough, even barely enough, to go round. But when there was not enough?

At least this is my interpretation. I wonder if someone who believes communism can work would read the book differently…

(As a side note I’d like to be able to adopt the term “birdseed” for the tabloid media, which seems to exist in the world of The Dispossessed exactly as it does in the real world!)