Memory's Offspring and Utopian Ambiguity in Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Day Before the Revolution" and The Dispossessed

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Le Guin's overlooked prologue story "The Day Before the Revolution" (1974) is crucial for understanding the onset of social stagnation that plagues the utopian society of Anarres in The Dispossessed. I contend that the way the anarchist leader Laia Odo is remembered and commemorated by her followers in "The Day Before the Revolution" continues to play out in the novel, which is set 150 years later. Using theories and models of collective memory developed by such cultural historians as Pierre Nora, Wulf Kansteiner, and Nancy Wood, the paper demonstrates that Anarres's move toward centralization of power and social conformity stems largely from how Odo and her ideas are collectively remembered. Rather than being the embodiment of ongoing anarchist freedom and development, Odo is remembered as a "monument," an unchanging site of archival memory. To counter the ossifying tendencies of collective memory, Le Guin asserts that such individuals as Shevek must bring the past (and the future) into the present to preserve the utopian impulse.