Study Guide

Lord of Light Society and Class

By Roger Zelazny

Society and Class

"Coldness?" [Mara] asked, extending his arms. "I can break a giant with these hands, Yama. What are you but a banished carrion god? Your frown may claim the aged and the infirm. Your eyes may chill dumb animals and those of the lower classes of men. I stand as high above you as a star above the ocean's bottom." (1.355)

It's telling that the first member of the gods—of the upper class—that we meet in the novel believes he's above and beyond death. Yama soon proves just how wrong he is.

"There is no room for evil in their minds, despite the fact that they suffer it constantly. The slave upon the rack who knows that he will be born again—perhaps as a fat merchant—if he suffers willingly—his outlook is not the same as that of a man with but one life to live." (1.435)

Social injustices are not only commonplace in this society, but accepted. The idea is that if you suffer the social ill quietly, you'll be rewarded later. Of course, rewards never come, or when they do, they are in paltry amount compared to the suffering.

"I can tell you something of them," replied the captain, "since you should not go unwarned. The body merchants are now the Masters of Karma. Their individual names are now kept secret, after the manner of the gods, so that they seem as impersonal as the Great Wheel, which they claim to represent." (2.94)

Whether it's capitalism, communism, or the Great Wheel itself, those who benefit from the inequalities of a system always claim it's not their doing. It's the system's—a thing that is above and beyond man's ability to fix. But any system can be fixed given enough know how or creative license.

"Having your brains scanned has become a standard procedure, just prior to a transfer. The body merchants are [sic] become the Masters of Karma, and a part of the Temple structure. They read over your past life, weigh the karma, and determine your life that is yet to come. It's a perfect way of maintaining the caste system and ensuring Deicratic control." (2.158)

Karma here is not the karma of Hindu of Buddhist philosophy. Good karma is doing what you are told, bad karma not doing so. And who determines which is which? Hint: not the people who have to get their brains scanned.

[Videgha] is wealthy because he levies high taxes upon his subjects. When his subjects begin to complain, and murmurs of revolt run through the realm, he declares war upon a neighboring kingdom and doubles the taxes. (4.8)

Death and taxes are inevitable, doubly so in any society with real jerks for kings or rajahs.

He had seen the city pass through all the stages through which a city can pass, until now it was inhabited by those who could spin their minds for a moment and transform themselves into gods, […]. (4.346)

In all fairness to the gods, they did build the Celestial City up from pretty humble beginnings. Sam just thinks that's no excuse to force humble beginnings on others.

"Accelerationism—it is a simple doctrine of sharing. It proposes that we of Heaven give unto those who dwell below of our knowledge and powers and substance. This act of charity would be directed to the end of raising their condition of existence to a higher level, akin to that which we ourselves occupy. Then every man would be as a god, you see." (5.172)

Accelerationism seems to just be concerned with technological equality, but it moves beyond that and becomes a symbol for social equality in general. Don't believe us? Then head over to our "Symbols " section. We might just change your mind.

"Brahma recommended the transfer, and he would be pleased for me to appear at the wedding party at Milehigh Spire in my new form. Shall I inform him that the Great Wheel is unable to comply with his wishes because it turns exceeding slow?" (5.393)

Ah, the Great Wheel—that which is supposed to be impersonal, above and beyond any member of society, while favoring none. Yeah, notice how well that theory works.

And elsewhere in the world there were those who remembered bifocal glasses and toilets that flushed, petroleum chemistry and internal combustion engines, and the day the sun had hidden its face from the justice of Heaven.

Vishnu was heard to say that the wilderness had come into the City at last. (6.799-800)

Interesting how Vishnu compares the beginnings of an equalizing system with a wilderness. Is he saying civilization is being destroyed? Or is it simply a part of the society that's reintegrating itself into its rightful place? Since we may never know the definitive answer, feel free to start the discussion.

"Then there is the matter of the new religion. Men no longer fear Heaven so much as they used to. They are more willing to defend themselves; and now that they are better equipped, the gods are less willing to face them."

"Then Sam is winning. Across the years, he is beating them." (7.16-17)

We hear freedom ringing. By changing the mindsets of a society, Sam has changed the society. In other words, society is what we, the people, believe it to be—a social and cultural consciousness. Thanks for letting us get all psychological for a moment.