UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ursula K. Le Guin : the utopias and dystopias of The dispossessed and Always coming come Clark, Edith Ilse Victoria


The thesis deals with the Utopian and dystopian aspects of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home. To provide a basis for comparison with the endeavours of previous utopists, the first part is devoted to a historical account of literary Utopias, and to an examination of the signposts of the genre. This history is restricted to practical blueprints for the ideal commonwealth and excludes creations of pure fantasy. In tracing Utopian development from Plato to Wells, the influence of historical events and the mainstreams of thought, such as Renaissance humanism, the Reformation, the rising importance of science, the discovery of new lands, the Enlightenment, Locke's Theory of Perfectability, Bentham's utilitarianism, the Industrial Revolution, socialism, the French Revolution, Darwinism, and the conflict between capital and labour is demonstrated. It is also shown how the long-range results of the Russian Revolution and the two world wars shattered all Utopian visions, leading to the emergence of the dystopia, and how the author reversed this negative trend in the second part of the twentieth century. In a study of forms of Utopian presentation, the claim is made that The Dispossessed features the first Utopia that qualifies as a novel: not only does the author break with the genre's tradition of subordinating the characters to the proposal, she also creates the conflict necessary for novelistic structure by juxtaposing her positive societies with negative ones. In part two, the Utopias and dystopias of both books are examined, and their features compared to previous endeavours in the genre. The observation is made that although the author favours anarchism as a political theory, she is more deeply committed to the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, seeing in its ideals the only way to a harmonious and just existence for all. In order to prove her point, Le Guin renders her Utopias less than perfect, placing one society into an inhospitable environment and showing the other as suffering from genetic damage; this suggests that the ideal life does not rest in societal organization or beneficent surroundings, but in the minds of the inhabitants: this frame of mind—if not inherent in a culture—can be achieved by living in accordance with the tao. Lastly, an effort is made to determine the anthropological models upon which Utopian proposals are constructed. The theory is put forth that all non-governed, egalitarian Utopias represent a return to the societal arrangements of early man, when his communities were still small and decentralized, and before occupational specialization began to set in; that all democratic forms of government are taken from the Greek examples, that More's Utopia might well have been modelled on the Athenian clans of the pre-Cleisthenes era, and that the Kesh society of Always Coming Home is based exclusively on the kinship systems of the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest.

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