Bedap was Shevek’s childhood friend (and lover) growing up at the Regional Institute. They lose touch when Shevek moves to Abbenay to study with Sabul. They meet again, by chance it would seem, in front of the Music Syndicate auditorium, and their relationship rekindles.
Bedap jars Shevek’s out of his funk, developed over three years working in the highly politicized environment of Abbenay. He radicalizes him, opens his eyes, to the corruption around him—and necessity of reclaiming the authority of his own mind.
In some ways, Bedap presages the frank talk that Chifolisk will share with Shevek on Urras:
“You are aware, then, that you’ve been bought?”
“Call it co-opted, if you like. […]”
But Bedaps says these things as a friend. Essentially, he is arguing on behalf of Shevek’s soul. He is funny. But he also has a bit of a cynical, if not sardonic, edge.
Regarding Shevek’s orange blanket…
“It’s definitely an excremental color,” Bedap said. “As a functions analyst I must point out that there is no need for orange. Orange serves no vital function in the social organism at either the cellular or the organic level, and certainly not at the holorganismic or most centrally ethical level; in which case tolerance is a less good choice than excretion. Dye it dirty green, brother! What’s all this stuff?”
“Excess is excrement,” Odo had said.
Shevek confides to Bedap that he has been contemplating suicide, and they recall the conversation they had had Shevek’s last night at the Institute:
"It’s hardly the way to come out on the other side of suffering.
Shevek smiled stiffly. “You remember that?”
“Vividly. It was a very important conversation to me. And to Takver and Tirin, I think.”
"Was it? Shevek stood up. There was only four steps’ pacing room, but he could not hold still. “It was important to me then,” he said, standing at the window. “But I’ve changed, here. There’s something wrong here. I don’t know what it is.”
“I do,” Bedap said. “The wall. You’ve come up against the wall.”
The wall is the power structure represented by Sabul and the other Abbenay power players:
"No. We have no government, no laws, all right. But as far as I can see, ideas never were controlled by laws and governments, even on Urras. If they had been, how would Odo have worked out hers? How would Odonianism have become a world movement? The archists tried to stamp it out by force, and failed. You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. you can only crush them by ignoring them. By refusing to think, refusing to change.
Shevek resists the notion that his society is “sick.” Bedap responds:
“But you spoke of physical suffering, of a man dying of burns. And I speak of spiritual suffering! Of people seeing their talent, their work, their lives wasted. Of good minds submitting to stupid ones. Of strength and courage strangled by envy, greed for power, fear of change. Change is freedom, change is life—is anything more basic to Odonian thought than that? But nothing changes any more! Our society is sick. You know it. You’re suffering its sickness. Its suicidal sickness.”
“…We’ve let cooperation become obedience. On Urras they have government by the minority. Here we have government by the majority. But it is government! The social conscience isn’t a living thing any more, but a machine, a power machine, controlled by bureaucrats!”
“…It’s always easiest to let yourself be governed.”
Then he tells Shevek about their friend Tirin ending up in the Asylum, after having written a critical play and being ostracized by the community, and turning bitter.
And then he stays the night (and the next few decads) with Shevek. They become lovers again.
“All right. Where’s the shittery?”
Shevek realizes that Bedap “had attained a freedom of mind that [he] craved, though he hated its expression.”
And Le Guin comments: “Bedap had forced him to realize that he was, in fact, a revolutionary.”
I post this because I feel it’s such a wonderful example of how a critically awakened perspective (especially when offered in the spirit of love and friendship, and not without a certain ruthlessness) can jog us out of our complacency/complicity with power structures that don’t serve us, or serve life.
Shevek argued against Bedap and resisted what he had to say, but ultimately recognized (and accepted) the truth he spoke—and this finally allowed him to break away from Sabul and the rest of the stagnant Odonian culture on Abbenay.
I’ve had a couple important friends in my life do the same for me (which is an invaluable gift)—and it reminded me of those friends.