The story explores many ideas and themes, including anarchism and revolutionary societies, capitalism, individualism and collectivism, and the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.
The book also explores the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis, that language shapes thinking, and thus, culture. The language spoken on the anarchist planet Anarres, Pravic, is a constructed language that reflects many aspects of the philosophical foundations of utopian anarchism.
For instance, the use of the possessive case is strongly discouraged (a feature that also is reflected by the novel’s title). In one scene, Shevek’s daughter, meeting him for the first time, offers him “You can share the handkerchief I use,” rather than “you may borrow my handkerchief”, thus conveying the idea that the handkerchief is not owned by the girl, merely carried by her.