Saio Pae had taken him “shopping” during his second week in A-Io. Though he did not consider cutting his hair—his hair, after all, was part of him—he wanted an Urrasti-style suit of clothes and pair of shoes. He had no desire to look any more foreign than he could help looking. The simplicity of his old suit made it positively ostentatious, and his soft, crude desert boots appeared very odd indeed among the Iotis' fanciful footgear. So at his request Pae had taken him to Saemtenevia Prospect, the elegant retail street of Nio Esseia, to be fitted by a tailor and a shoemaker.

The whole experience had been so bewildering to him that he put it out of mind as soon as possible, but he had dreams about it for months afterwards, nightmares. Saemtenevia Prospect was two miles long, and it was a solid mass of people, traffic, and things: things to buy, things for sale. Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while traveling, while at the theater, while riding horses, gardening, receiving guests, boating, dining, hunting—all different, all in hundreds of different cuts, styles, colors, textures, materials. Perfumes, clocks, lamps, statues, cosmetics, candles, pictures, cameras, games, vases, sofas, kettles, puzzles, pillows, dolls, colanders, hassocks, jewels, carpets, toothpicks, calendars, a baby's teething rattle of platinum with a handle of rock crystal, an electrical machine to sharpen pencils, a wristwatch with diamond numerals; figurines and souvenirs and kickshaws and mementos and gewgaws and bric-a-brac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamented so as to disguise its use; acres of luxuries, acres of excrement. In the first block Shevek had stopped to look at a shaggy, spotted coat, the central display in a glittering window of clothes and jewelry. “The coat costs 8,400 units?” he asked in disbelief, for he had recently read in a newspaper that a “living wage” was about 2,000 units a year. “Oh, yes, that's real fur, quite rare now that the animals are protected,” Pae had said. “Pretty thing, isn't it? Women love furs.” And they went on. After one more block Shevek had felt utterly exhausted. He could not look any more. He wanted to hide his eyes.

And the strangest thing about the nightmare street was that none of the millions of things for sale were made there. They were only sold there. Where were the workshops, the factories, where were the farmers, the craftsmen, the miners, the weavers, the chemists, the carvers, the dyers, the designers, the machinists, where were the hands, the people who made? Out of sight, somewhere else. Behind walls. All the people in all the shops were either buyers or sellers. They had no relation to the things but that of possession.

"The Dispossessed" by Ursula K. Le Guin

"The Dispossessed" is a 1974 science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin which depicts two opposing cultures. The planet of Urras is largely capitalistic, unequal, and modeled after the United States. On the other hand, that planet's moon, Anarras, contains a culture which is anarchistic and cooperative, populated by the descendants of revolutionaries who escaped Urras generations prior. Citizens of Anarras own nothing. The concept of possession is their greatest taboo, manifesting even in the language they speak.

In this passage, Shevek, the first citizen of Anarres to visit Urras in 200 years, is being shown a shopping district in the Urrasti country of A-Io by his guide, Saio Pae.

Curtis Mueller