Science Fiction Studies

#7 = Volume 2, Part 3 = November 1975

Douglas Barbour 

Wholeness and Balance: An Addendum

The Dispossessed is not only an important addition to the small shelf of superior SF works, it is also a large and central piece in Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Universe mosaic. As I pointed out in "Wholeness and Balance in the Hainish Novels of Ursula K. Le Guin" (SFS 1:164-73), Ms. Le Guin uses a consistently paradoxical light/dark image pattern throughout the Hainish books plus a particular image series in each novel to render the thematic concepts of wholeness and balance. In The Dispossessed, the most complex novel she has yet written, her continuing philosophical commitment to the theme of wholeness and balance is revealed once more in her imagery. Indeed, the concept of balance enters the very structure of the novel, as chapters are balanced between Urras and Anarres, with the first and last chapters linking the two worlds.

In a brief note I cannot hope to do more than point out that the paradoxical light/dark imagery is mixed in with a number of complementary local image systems. It would require a long article to explore the inter-relatedness of these image systems, and the complex philosophical and political explorations they invoke. Indeed, the number of local images and the ways in which they reinforce each other and the total conception of the novel is one sign of the novel's complexity. For example, much is made of Shevek's "light" eyes and Takver's "dark" voice and eyes. Together, they are the yin/yang circle Ai points out to Estraven (LHD §19), the whole neither is separately. Thus even the sexual-love theme of this novel contributes to Le Guin's larger artistic statement.

One major local image—a brilliantly ambiguous one—is the wall, introduced on the first page of the novel. It is connected to the image/idea of the prison throughout; time after time the question of who is being locked out or in, which side of the wall one is on, is the focus of the narrative.

Perhaps it is wrong to call it an image series, but Shevek's obsession with number—which he images in his own mind—reflects his search for a balanced pattern (§2). This motif includes his passionate involvement with music (§6), and is connected to his search for a "General Temporal Theory." The concept of Time which this book presents, often in a charged imagistic manner, is the other major thematic presentation of balance, wholeness, the paradoxical reconciliation of the opposites of Sequency and Simultaneity (§3). This motif is often tied into the light/dark imagery which connects this novel to the whole Hainish series. Moreover, when Shevek finally arrives at the General Temporal Theory, the moment is presented in terms which recall the Tao: "There would be no trouble at all in going on. Indeed he has already gone on. He was there" (§9). Is he not on the Way?

The Dispossessed is politically more complex and mature than Ms Le Guin's earlier novels; its characterization is also, on the whole, denser than before. The use of particular image systems to render the single concept of wholeness and balance is but one thread of a carefully woven tapestry. Other image systems, such as the wrapping-paper/ornamentation one, contribute to other themes in the novel. Nevertheless, it is possible to state that Ursula K. Le Guin, while extending her art in all directions in The Dispossessed, has continued to explore the metaphysical paradoxes which light and dark have represented in her work from the beginning.



This brief analysis of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is intended as an extension of the analysis of light and dark imagery, wholeness and balance, in my earlier essay "Wholeness and Balance in the Hainish Novels of Ursula K. Le Guin" (SFS 1:164-73). It is important to add The Dispossessed to my discussion of the earlier novels because it is not only an important addition to the small shelf of superior SF works but also a large and central piece in the Hainish mosaic.

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