“The Day Before the Revolution” serves as a prologue to Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed, which centers around an anarchist movement spearheaded by a young revolutionary named Odo. In “The Day Before the Revolution”, Odo is referred to by her given name, Leia, and she is now an old woman who has recently suffered a stroke.
As she feels death drawing near, she spends more and more of her time thinking about the past. She is transfixed, seemingly frozen in her memories of her young husband Taviri, who is known to the public as Asieo. She thinks about their romance, and his death in a prison at the hands of the authoritarian government. His death acted as a catalyst for her revolutionary writings, which became the words upon which the movement took hold.
The world Leia now finds herself in is largely of her design. While she admires the young people who live with her in the Odonian House (everything about their way of life bears her name), she feels distanced from them by the fact that she did not grow up with the freedoms that they did, freedoms that she herself created.
This is seen as she expresses a sense of shame over her wizened body, while the rest of the house parades around in various states of undress, used to the principle of freedom of dress, a policy that she herself created. The occasional discomfort between Leia and the rest of the people living at the Odonian House manifests itself again when Leia refers to Asieo as her husband and the rest of the Odonians wince, as they prefer the word “partner”.
Even so, Leia still feels close to the rest of the house, and even develops a sexual attraction to a young man named Noi, around whom she feels self-conscious. When around Noi, she feels the most shame about her body and her age. As Noi plays the role of her personal assistant, he dictates letters for her and helps her when her memory fails. This only serves to further her shame.
Ever since her stroke, Leia has been cooped up in the house, so she decides to go for a stroll, following a chat with some foreign students who came to see her. While on the street, she arrives in a rough part of town, which had once been a very lively black market area. Though happy to be away from the house, she soon grows weary and fearful that she will fall. Starting on her way back to the house, she is met by another Odonian who helps her home.
Once at home, she listens to the buzzing of the rest of the house as they plan a revolution. She is content because she feels as if it is time for the young people to lead their own revolution rather than leaning on her. Amidst the commotion, she is able to slip away unnoticed, slowly making her way up the stairs. She then quietly passes away.
Le Guin actually provides a partial analysis of “The Day Before the Revolution” herself at the start of the story. She writes, “My novel The Dispossessed is about a small world full of people who call themselves Odonians. The name is taken from the founder of their society, Odo, who lived several generations before the time of the novel, and who therefore doesn’t get into the action – except implicitly, in that all the action started with her. Odonianism is anarchism... not the social-Darwinist economic ‘libertarianism’ of the far right; but anarchism, as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism’s principal target is the authoritarian state (capitalist or socialist). Its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories. This story is about one of the ones who walked away from Omelas” (285).
To Le Guin, Leia’s refusal to accept the status quo and live in a society built on the back of a suffering individual makes her one of the ones who walked away from Omelas. However, unlike the rest of those who left, her fate is not unknown. She starts a movement that gains popularity and allows for the creation of a new, more ideal world.
In many ways “The Day Before the Revolution” celebrates this feat, discussing at length the ways in which society has improved. People are free to clothe themselves as they choose, relationships are seen as true partnerships rather than the owner-property model that has been used throughout history, and cooperation is paramount. Leia celebrates this world but feels separated from it, as she is old and was not raised in it.
To an extent, Leia represents every revolutionary leader who sees his or her vision come to fruition. She accomplishes her goal of creating this new world, but then finds that though the world is of her own creation it is not for her, as her time has passed. Leia herself eventually realizes this and comes to understand that the reins of the movement have to be passed down to younger people if the movement is going to continue to grow and survive.