Study Guide

The Lathe of Heaven Analysis

  • Tone

    Humorous, Matter of Fact, Natural

    You have to give Ursula Le Guin her props: even in a novel where billions of people are killed for the sake of a greater cause, she manages to make us laugh. In between all of the shifting realities, the drama, and the sadness, we get little nuggets of humor.

    Try this example on for size:

    So great a joy filled Orr that, among the forty-two persons who had been jamming into the car as he thought these things, the seven or eight pressed closest to him felt a slight but definite glow of benevolence or relief. The woman who had failed to get his strap handle away from him felt a blessed surcease of the sharp pain in her corn; the man squashed against him on the left thought suddenly of sunlight; the old man sitting crouched directly in front of him forgot, for a little, that he was hungry. (3.82)

    We can't help but imagine this is a cartoon where George's glow of joy radiates off of him, shining on all of the other passengers like a halo. Thank goodness for passages like this, because otherwise this would be a very depressing novel, right?

    The tone of The Lathe of Heaven doesn't call attention to itself. Even though Le Guin uses it to make us feel different emotions, it never gets in the way of enjoying the story. Actually, it helps us enjoy the story precisely because it doesn't give too much away.

    The matter-of-fact tone helps create a feeling of surprise in us when we finally discover how George's dreams have transformed the world. Get a load of this, for example:

    It was not until he had got off the subway at Ross Island Bridge West, and had walked up the hill several blocks and taken the elevator eighteen floors to his one-room 8-1/2 X 11 flat in the twenty-story independent-income steel-and- sleazy-concrete Corbett Condominium (Budget Living in Style Down Town!), and had put a soybean loaf slice in the infrabake, and had taken a beer out of the wallfridge, and had stood some while at his window—he paid double for an outside room— looking up at the West Hills of Portland crammed with huge glittering towers, heavy with lights and life, that he thought at last: Why didn't Dr. Haber tell me that he knows I dream effectively? (3.83)

    In this passage, we discover that George's future is very different from our current life, but still, the tone never gets dramatic or sensational. Le Guin never up and says, "Wow, look how weird and futuristic this is!" It's just a matter of fact. It's normal and everyday for George, so that's how it's presented to us.

    What, you mean to tell us that you don't love a toasty soybean loaf from your infrabake?

  • Genre

    Science Fiction, Dystopian Literature, Philosophical Literature

    The Lathe of Heaven probably isn't what you think of when you think of sci-fi, which is usually full of strange languages, aliens, space travel, and epic battles. Yeah, the novel has aliens, but even they are more like giant sea turtles than anything else.

    So what makes this novel science fiction? Well, there's still a lot of classic sci-fi stuff, like parallel universes, strange new technologies, and speculation on what the future will be like for humanity. But Ursula Le Guin's novel is a little different, because it focuses more on inner space than outer space.

    That's because Le Guin was a part of a new wave that rejected genre-based science fiction, which only focused on external things like outer space, aliens, laser guns, and that sort of stuff. Instead, these new-wave writers focused more on things common to literary fiction, like the psychological effects that science has on people. The Lathe of Heaven follows in this tradition because it focuses on George's reaction to his new power and to the world changing around him.

    Dystopias and Taoism

    The Lathe of Heaven opens up in a future that seems pretty dystopian, but as the novel continues, Dr. Haber attempts to change the world into a utopia. His plan doesn't work as well as he imagined it would, and he gradually makes the world even more of a dystopia than it was before.

    So why does that happen? That's where the philosophy and the Taoism come in.

    In another novel, Dr. Haber might have been the hero—after all, who wouldn't root for a guy who is trying to make the world a better place? Well, Le Guin is all about examining motives. In the context of Taoism, Dr. Haber is a destructive force. He wants to change things and take them out of their natural order, and he wants to do it primarily because he wants power, not because he really wants to help without reward. According to Taoism, this will only lead to destruction and death. So even though Dr. Haber thinks he's trying to do a good thing, it's precisely that trying that makes more bad things happen due to his motivations.

    Get it?

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title of this novel is actually a terrible mistake.

    Wait, let us explain. First of all, it's from a quote by Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi that shows up as the epigraph to the third chapter of the novel. Check it out:

    Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
    —Chuang Tse: XXIII

    So, the problem here is that it's a terrible translation: China didn't even have lathes when this was written. Not to mention that a lathe is a pretty weird thing to choose for destroying stuff. We mean, look at it.

    Okay, putting aside the silliness of the translation, why did Ursula Le Guin choose this line and this passage to represent her novel? To answer that, it might be a good idea to look at the whole passage in a slightly better translation:

    He whose mind is thus grandly fixed emits a Heavenly light. In him who emits this heavenly light men see the (True) man. When a man has cultivated himself (up to this point), thenceforth he remains constant in himself. When he is thus constant in himself, (what is merely) the human element will leave him', but Heaven will help him. Those whom their human element has left we call the people of Heaven. Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.— Chuang Tzu: XIII (Legge Translation)

    Or this one:

    He whose inner being rests in the Great Serenity will send forth a Heavenly light. But though he sends forth a Heavenly light, men will see him as a man and things will see him as a thing. When a man has trained himself to this degree, then for the first time he achieves constancy. Because he possesses constancy, men will come to lodge with him and Heaven will be his helper. Those whom men come to lodge with may be called the people of Heaven; those whom Heaven aids may be called the sons of Heaven.

    Learning means learning what cannot be learned; practicing means practicing what cannot be practiced; discriminating means discriminating what cannot be discriminated. Understanding that rests in what it cannot understand is the finest. If you do not attain this goal, then Heaven the Equalizer will destroy you.— Zhuangzi: XXIII (Watson Translation)

    As we said before, this passage is quoted in the epigraph of the third chapter of the novel. All of the novel's chapters have epigraphs, and nearly all of them (like this one) have a Taoist influence. The majority of them are either by Zhuangzi or Laozi, and it's clear that this is where Ursula LeGuin draws her understanding of Taoism.

    It would take forever to analyze every single one of the epigraphs, so let's focus on the one that also gives us our title. After reading the novel, it's pretty obvious which parts of this passage are evident in the story.

    The second sentence refers to the sons of heaven being constant. Doesn't that sound like our favorite protagonist? Heather tells us over and over again that George's personality is incredibly constant. He doesn't change. Even when he's sleep deprived and hopped up on caffeine, he's still the same person.

    Then there are the series of sentences that tell about how the sons of heaven don't learn, work, or reason things out. Well, we're explicitly told that George isn't a reasoner, and he's often depicted as kind of stupid because he doesn't have a lot of "book learning" or any desire to work hard. According to this translation, this sort of personality is a high achievement, and that is the way Heather and the aliens think about George's personality when they get to know him.

    Then there is the final line, and our title. Those who can't do the things the sons of heaven (like George) do will be destroyed in the lathe of Heaven. Well, that's pretty much exactly what happens to Dr. Haber, who is all about reason, work, and learning but fails massively, anyway.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    "Thank you very much," Orr said, and shook hands with his boss. The big green flipper was cool on his human hand. He went out with Heather into the warm, rainy afternoon of summer. The Alien watched them from within the glass-fronted shop, as a sea creature might watch from an aquarium, seeing them pass and disappear into the mist. (11.59)

    The novel ends the same way it began, with more sea imagery. In fact, the whole story has been kind of fishy. We began with the jellyfish floating along in the sea that turned into dry land, then we figured out that the jellyfish might have been George, and then, after a particularly weird dream, we get aliens that just happen to look like giant sea turtles, flippers and all. Last but not least, these aliens keep talking about "crossings in the mist."

    All of that comes together in this last paragraph. While the jellyfish in the beginning was wrenched out of its natural environment, George and Heather find themselves surrounded by sea like imagery, as if it has become their home. As they disappear into the mist, it's almost as if they are returning to their natural place in the ocean. Order has been restored, the world has returned to nature, and everything is going to be okay.

  • Setting

    Welcome to the future. Location: Portland, Oregon. Year: 2002. Wait, what?

    So, okay, The Lathe of Heaven was published in 1971, and back then 2002 was the future, while for us, it was just the year the first Spiderman and Austin Powers movies came out.

    Anyway, Ursula Le Guin probably chose Portland as the setting for this novel because she had been living there since the early '50s. Even though she was born in California, by the 1970s Oregon had become her home.

    But that's not what's really important about the setting. What's really important is how Portland—not to mention the whole world—changes based on George's dream. Some novels change location, but this novel changes realities, and Portland is at the center of those changes.

    Reality 1

    Life in the first reality of The Lathe of Heaven is grim. Food seems to be so scarce that people develop diseases from their vitamin deficiencies, incest is totally normal and expected, and the mixture of overpopulation and global warming has led to some big bad consequences:"There was more scurvy, typhus, and hepatitis in the Old Cities, more gang violence, crime, and murder in the New Cities" (3.4). Let's not forget, of course, that there is terrible weather and constant warfare.

    Honestly, when you look at it this way, it's no surprise that Dr. Haber wants to change the world. If you could get out of that situation, wouldn't you want to?

    Reality 2

    With the second reality, we see Dr. Haber make his first baby steps at changing the world. What does he do with this newfound power? He fixes the climate a little bit so that it's not constantly raining in Portland. So far, so good. There are probably a lot of people in Portland who would be ecstatic if someone did that.

    Yeah, well, then we find out that not all of Dr. Haber's changes are quite so… humanitarian. While he was at it, Dr. Haber just happened to get himself a fancy new job as the director of the Oregon Oneirological Institute. He even threw George a bone by getting him that cabin in the woods that he always wanted.

    We can already see what type of guy Dr. Haber is: he's the sort of guy who kind of maybe wants to help humanity, but what he really wants is to have power.

    Reality 3

    This is where things get real.

    Dr. Haber takes a big jump forward in his experiments with George's power. He decides to tackle overpopulation, for example… which results in the deaths of 6 billion people in a disease outbreak: "The Crash, the carcinomic plague which had reduced human population by five billion in five years, and another billion in the next ten, had shaken the civilizations of the world to their roots and yet left them, in the end, intact. If had not changed anything radically: only quantitatively" (6.44).

    Yeah, that's just a bit more intense than making it rain a little less.

    This reality marks a turning point for George and Dr. Haber. First of all, we see that Dr. Haber is perfectly fine with being a mass murderer as long as the ends justify the means. We also see that George is starting to get very disturbed by what Dr. Haber is making him do. We don't know what will happen if Dr. Haber pushes him to the edge.

    Reality 4


    Yep, aliens.

    Okay, here's the scoop. Dr. Haber tries to get George to end warfare, and he does… by getting all of the nations on earth to band together against a hostile alien takeover. Obviously.

    It works, but we can see that George's mind is getting stretched to its limits.

    Oh, and let's not forget that Dr. Haber is still in it for the bling and the power. By now he has a gigantic office, and he's even given George a large apartment full of fancy furniture.

    Reality 0

    We know what you're thinking. Reality zero? Shouldn't it be reality five?

    Not really. The thing is that it's not until this point in the novel that George reveals to us that there was one more reality before the first one we encountered. In this reality, the world ended in April 1998.

    But if that's the case, then how is anyone still around? What's up? We'll let George tell you about it himself:

    "It isn't evolution. It's just self-preservation. I can't— Well, it was a lot worse. Worse than you remember. It was the same world as that first one you remember, with a population of seven billion, only it—it was worse. Nobody but some of the European countries got rationing and pollution control and birth control going early enough, in the seventies, and so when we finally did try to control food distribution it was too late, there wasn't enough, and the Mafia ran the black market, everybody had to buy on the black market to get anything to eat, and a lot of people didn't get anything. They rewrote the Constitution in 1984, the way you remember, but things were so bad by then that it was a lot worse, it didn't even pretend to be a democracy any more, it was a sort of police state, but it didn't work, it fell apart right away. When I was fifteen the schools closed. There wasn't any Plague, but there were epidemics, one after another, dysentery and hepatitis and then bubonic. But mostly people starved. And then in '93 the war started up in the Near East, but it was different. It was Israel against the Arabs and Egypt. All the big countries got in on it. One of the African states came in on the Arab side, and used nuclear bombs on two cities in Israel, and so we helped them retaliate, and...." He was silent for some while and then went on, apparently not realizing that there was any gap in his telling, "I was trying to get out of the city. I wanted to get into Forest Park. I was sick, I couldn't go on walking and I sat down on the steps of this house up in the west hills, the houses were all burnt out but the steps were cement, I remember there were some dandelions flowering in a crack between the steps. I sat there and I couldn't get up again and I knew I couldn't. I kept thinking that I was standing up and going on, getting out of the city, but it was just delirium, I'd come to and see the dandelions again and know I was dying. And that everything else was dying. And then I had the—I had this dream." His voice had hoarsened; now it choked off." (7.141)

    What else is there to say?

    Not only is Portland affected by George's dreams; it's also a dream city in a dream world. Everything—literally everything—in all of the realities we've experienced so far has been a product of George's mind.

    Realities 5, 6, and 7

    Even though George has managed to keep things more or less together, the world starts to fall apart from here on out. First, he dreams that aliens land and start to invade the world. Then he dreams that the aliens are peaceful. Soon after that, everyone on earth turns gray, a U.N.-like organization starts to manage the world, and Dr. Haber finds himself—surprise—at the top of everything, running the earth from a giant skyscraper in the middle of Portland.

    Realities 8 and 9

    When Dr. Haber gets his hands on a machine that can give him effective dreams, he destroys the city of Portland with his mind: "The buildings of downtown Portland, the Capital of the World, the high, new, handsome cubes of stone and glass interspersed with measured doses of green, the fortresses of Government—Research and Development, Communications, Industry, Economic Planning, Environmental Control—were melting. They were getting soggy and shaky, like Jell-O left out in the sun. The corners had already run down the sides, leaving great creamy smears" (10.140).

    Before, things had just been shifted around, expanded, or made in two different versions of themselves—but Dr. Haber's dream destroys all of this. A city that managed to survive an alien invasion without so much as a scratch is now melting like Jell-O, and if that's not a sign that everything has gone wrong, we're not sure what is.

    But the final reality of the book happens when George stops Dr. Haber from dreaming. Just like the last time he saved the world, things still suck pretty hard when it is all said and done: many people go insane because of Dr. Haber's dream, and world governments are completely shaken to the core. But, hey, Portland becomes like Portland again.

    Blah Blah Blah... Why Portland?

    We know. That explanation seemed to take forever. What was the point?

    Well, did you see all of the things that happened? Did you see how the city was rearranged, stretched, imploded, exploded, melted, and finally returned to normal?

    That's why it's Portland. Portland is a city that's large enough that you've probably heard of it, but it's not large enough to have its own mythology, like New York City or Los Angeles. It's a normal American city, and by making it the only location in the novel, Ursula Le Guin draws our attention to just how transformative George's power can be.

    Think about it: a regular old city in a state like Oregon became the capital of the entire world. Imagine if that happened to your hometown. If Le Guin had set the story in multiple places, the transformations may not have been as clear, and if she had chosen a larger city, the distortions may not have seemed as dramatic as they are here.

    That's why she chose Portland.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Tree Line

    Normally, we'd say a book is tough because of its vocabulary, or because of its writing style, or even because of the historical information needed to understand it. But that's not what's going on here: Ursula Le Guin is pretty over the top in explaining the philosophy behind her work, and the writing is clear and simple.

    Nope, what might trip you up is the fact that reality is constantly shifting right underneath your feet. It's hard to keep up with what's changing, and who's there, and if the things you remember are from one reality or another. It's so confusing that even the characters have a hard time keeping it straight. We're sure that feeling of uncertainty is completely intentional, but it still makes The Lathe of Heaven a little more difficult to read.

    But hey, at least we're not living through it.

  • Writing Style

    Poetic, Subtle, Self-Referential

    You might not have expected poetics and subtlety from a science fiction novel, but that's what you're getting with The Lathe of Heaven. The writing style used in this novel would not be out of place in a piece of fancy-pants literary fiction. Here, though, it's used describe a futuristic world of reality-transforming dreams.

    We mean, come on, can you really get more poetic than the very first paragraph of this novel?:

    Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will. (1.1)

    Instead of painting George's world with bright, brash colors, we get subtle tones—and since we don't have giant flashing signs telling us what to think, it's easy to get confused about all of the realities happening at once. We end up trying to figure out how the world has changed right along with the characters. We end up thinking things like, "Wasn't that horse a mountain a few seconds ago?" In that way, we're actually able to feel what the characters might be feeling—we're just as lost as they are.

    But Ursula Le Guin knows what people expect; she knows she's writing sci-fi, and people want made-up words and fancy slick buildings. So every now and again she jokes with us. For example, we get something like this:

    "Hardly. To dream of a battle in cislunar space—" Haber stopped as abruptly as the tape. "Cislunar," Orr said, feeling a little sorry for Haber. "We weren't using that word, when I went to sleep. How are things in Isragypt?" The made-up word from the old reality had a curiously shocking effect, spoken in this reality: like surrealism, it seemed to make sense and didn't, or seemed not to make sense and did. (6.95)

    This moment works in the novel because reality has shifted, but it also points out how absurd some of these made-up words may seem to the reader. They don't actually make sense in our world, but we assume they do just because we are reading a sci-fi novel. And in moments like this, Le Guin makes a little fun of us by pointing it out.

    Haha. Very funny.

  • Jellyfish

    Jellyfish are the very definition of spinelessness. Because, you know, they have no bones and just seem to float wherever the ocean takes them. So it's kind of weird that in a novel about dreams, the very first thing we see is a jellyfish.

    Well, if you really think about it, it's not so weird. Jellyfish are kind of like sleepwalkers: they move in all kinds of directions without being able to control it, and they don't even know where they are. Sounds like symbolism to us.

    Let's dig a little deeper, starting with the first line of the novel:

    Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will. (1.1)

    Perhaps the most important part of this passage is the last sentence. Even though the jellyfish seems vulnerable and defenseless to us, Le Guin points out that its strength and defense is the power of the whole ocean—and that's a lot of power.

    George is frequently compared to a jellyfish. Just as the jellyfish seems to be defenseless, George seems to be a wuss for most of the novel. He just moves along, not really taking action or forcing his will on anyone—but, just like the jellyfish, that is exactly what makes him strong. That is why he's the only person who is able to save the world when Dr. Haber starts dreaming.

    Think about it. The jellyfish doesn't rely only on its own strength; it has the strength of the ocean to protect it. Well, George has the strength of the whole universe helping him. He's not alone, and he's only able to do anything because his friends help him out.

  • Mount Hood

    We have to guess that Ursula Le Guin really loves Mount Hood. We see it so many times in this novel that it's striking. This isn't a novel about mountaineering, after all.

    But Mount Hood's appearance is actually very helpful: it's always there, but its form changes every time George's reality does. That makes it kind of a barometer for how weird the world has become and how reality is changing.

    When we begin, we only see Mount Hood as a picture on Dr. Haber's wall:

    Dr. William Haber's office did not have a view of Mount Hood. It was an interior Efficiency Suite on the sixty-third floor of Willamette East Tower and didn't have a view of anything. But on one of the windowless walls was a big photographic mural of Mount Hood, and at this Dr. Haber gazed while intercommunicating with his receptionist. (2.1)

    So our first glimpse of Mount Hood is a painting on a wall put up by a low-ranking doctor who's trying to have something resembling a view.

    That doesn't last long. Mount Hood is the very first thing that we see transformed by George's power: it gets changed into a horse. And that's just the first of its transformations.

    Later, when he's become more powerful and famous, Haber gets a beautiful view of Mount Hood through a fancy window instead just of a picture. When the alien invasion begins, Mt. Hood wakes up and spouts fire that burns the surrounding forest. It's not until George stops Dr. Haber's dream that the mountain goes to sleep again.

    Again, the mountain is functioning as a measure of what's actually going on in the world. We can tell where we are by keeping track of what's going on with Mount Hood.

    Now, one more thing: not all mountains are volcanoes, but sleeping volcanoes are called mountains. Isn't that strange? Isn't it a little weird that we say mountains sleep? Can you see where we're going with this? Yeah, it's probably not a big leap to say that mountains might actually dream… and actually, Mount Hood is associated with dreams several times in the novel.

    But which dreams? The ones that go too far, to be specific. Mount Hood wakes up when the aliens invade, for example. Later, when the aliens talk about what happened, they mention that this is the kind of thing that should never have happened. As they put it: "We also have been variously disturbed. Concepts cross in mist. Perception is difficult. Volcanoes emit fire" (9.78). In fact, Mount Hood doesn't go back to sleep until some kind of normalcy is established at the end of the novel.

    Mountains should sleep. They shouldn't turn into volcanoes. And some dreams (like Dr. Haber's) should never be dreamed.

  • Bear God

    Did you know that lots of cultures worship bears? The Ainu do, many Native Americans do, and even the Greeks did. It makes sense, since bears are pretty impressive and frightening creatures, right?

    So it's probably worth paying attention when Ursula Le Guin consistently refers to Dr. Haber and bear gods in the same breath. For example: "'Irrelevant,' said the doctor, smiling his broad, hairy, bear's smile, like a big bear-god; but he was still wary, since yesterday" (3.11). Just like a bear, Haber is large and physically impressive. He's also scary, because if you think about it, bears don't actually smile. They are probably just showing their teeth right before they're about to eat you.

    Le Guin takes this association to unexpected places when she throws Christianity into the mix. Take a look at this passage, for example: "He had straightened up and towered over Orr, who was still sitting down. He was gray, large, broad, curly bearded, deep-chested, frowning. Your God is a jealous God" (9.105). The God Le Guin is referring to here is pretty clearly the angry God of the Old Testament—you know, the guy in the sky with the big gray beard, the plagues, and the flood. You don't want to mess with this God.

    As you've probably noticed from other sections of the analysis, this book is pretty down with Taoism. So in this case, the Judeo-Christian God is set up as the opposite of Taoist belief. This God, like Dr. Haber, is depicted as powerful and angry, whereas George and Taoist beliefs are depicted as peaceful and easy going. It's like Le Guin is asking which side we would rather be on.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Omniscient)

    The narrator in The Lathe of Heaven is like a chameleon. We have a third-person narrator, but sometimes this narrator gets so close to the main characters that it almost seems like we're dealing with a first-person narrator. At these times, we get to see into the thoughts of Dr. Haber, Heather, and George. We learn how they really feel about each other, we learn all about their unspoken fears, and we find out all kinds of secret stuff about each of them.

    Take this quote about Heather: "Why hadn't she been a detective instead of a goddam stupid third-class civil rights lawyer? She hated the law. It took an aggressive, assertive personality. She didn't have it. She had a sneaky, sly, shy, squamous personality. She had French diseases of the soul" (7.21). Heather herself isn't talking, but the narrator makes us feel as if we are right inside her head. Talking about a "squamous personality," and "French diseases of the soul" is very specific to Heather's character. This couldn't be Dr. Haber or George, right? This has got to be Heather.

    By getting so close to her characters, Ursula Le Guin gives us a story that seems full even though it only has three main characters in it. We get to know them and their world so well that we don't mind when certain things are not explained or when we don't get to see the worldwide reaction to things like an alien invasion. Instead, we get just the right mix of the personal and objective to feel invested in the story.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      Under the Dark Shadow

      In this part of the rebirth story, the hero falls under the shadow of the dark power. Well, guess who that is? Dr. Haber? Ding ding ding.

      George falls under Dr. Haber's spell when he is forced into therapy. Haber is kind of sketchy, but George is not really sure what's sketchy about him yet.

      The Threat Recedes

      After a while, Dr. Haber doesn't seem so bad. We mean, all he wants is to improve humanity, right? How bad could that be?

      At this point, everything seems to be going remarkably well. Maybe there was no problem to begin with? And hey, maybe Dr. Haber really will cure George. That would be cool…

      The Hero Is Imprisoned

      Well, there goes any hope we had for Dr. Haber being a good guy. It becomes clear that he's manipulating George and changing the world to suit his own fantasies. Sure, he's doing some things that help, but his changes seem to make things worse rather than better. Still, there's nothing George can do; he feels completely frozen in Dr. Haber's grip.

      The Dark Power Triumphs

      This is what we were all worried about: after researching George's dreams, Dr. Haber has finally figured out the secret to having effective dreams, and now he can dream for himself. Yeah, well, when he does, it's basically the worst thing that has ever happened. Reality starts to melt, people and buildings are sucked up by an empty void, and it looks like the world is about to end.

      Yeah, not exactly a rosy picture.

      The Miraculous Redemption

      But suddenly George is imbued with a strength that we've never seen in him, thanks to a psychic meet-up he has with some aliens. George uses this newfound power to stop Dr. Haber and return the world to a state of normalcy. Well, normal in a relative sense, that is—this world is still kind of messed up by our standards.

      So, yeah, George is finally out of Dr. Haber's grip. He gets to do a job that he enjoys, and the rule of nature is restored. But the best thing of all is that Heather Lelache is back. Now she and George can finally have that date.

    • Plot Analysis

      (Exposition) Initial Situation: Dream, dream, dream

      George Orr is your average guy… except for one thing: his dreams change reality. He's caught overdosing on pills to stay awake and is sent to Dr. Haber for therapy and, you know, more drugs. So far, so good.

      Rising Action (Conflict, Complication): Controlling the Uncontrollable?

      George realizes that Dr. Haber is using his dreams to change reality. Yeah, so far, so not good. George wants to stop him, but he doesn't know how, so instead, things get worse by the moment. Lawyer Heather Lelache tries to help, but there's not much that she can do either.

      Climax (Crisis, Turning Point): A Nightmare!

      The worst has happened: Dr. Haber has finally learned how to dream effective dreams. The moment he goes for it, the world literally falls apart, and we think everyone is going to die. This is the most fast-paced, scary, and emotional part of the whole story.

      Falling Action: Return to Normal-ish

      George stops Dr. Haber's world-annihilating dream, but everything isn't perfect: the world still has to deal with the aftermath of Haber's destruction. Slowly, everything starts to recover and calm down.

      Conclusion: Better Late Than Never

      The novel ends with George finally in a job that is suited to him, freed of his terrible power, and free of Dr. Haber. But that's not all: Heather Lelache walks right back into the picture. (Yup, she exists again.) Hey, even though the world ended, there's still time for romance, are we right?

    • Three-Act Plot Analysis

      Act I: They May Say He's a Dreamer…

      George Orr is your regular everyday guy except for one thing: his dreams change reality. He's sent to Dr. William Haber for therapy.

      The doctor doesn't believe him when he reveals his power… but once he's convinced, a terrible chain of events starts. Dr. Haber uses George's power to change the world—the only problem is that things seem to be getting worse, even though what Dr. Haber wants is for things to get better. Better on his terms, that is.

      Act II: Maybe Some People Aren't Meant to Dream

      Soon it becomes clear that Dr. Haber is obsessed with George's power. George and Heather Lelache, his lawyer and love interest—don't you know it—try to stop Haber, but nothing works. Heather is even dreamed out of existence.

      Everything goes really crazy when Dr. Haber figures out how to dream effective dreams himself. Look, the dude nearly destroys the entire world. We don't think anything could get worse than this.

      Act III: An Unlikely Hero

      Despite being the most passive character in the novel, George musters up every single ounce of courage he has ever had in order to stop Dr. Haber's dream. It almost kills him, but he succeeds.

      The world is still pretty messed up from the way the doctor shredded reality, but at least everyone isn't dead. After a while, people get used to the new post-apocalyptic world, George settles into a comfortable job, and the final loose end is tied up when Heather Lelache walks back into his life.

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      • A.A. Milne, Winne the Pooh and the Honey Tree (3.5)
      • Zen Buddhism (5.17)
      • The Darmachakra (7.96)
      • ALCU (5.18)
      • William Shakespeare (5.42)
      • Macbeth (11.2)
      • Hamlet (11.3)
      • Gordian Knot (5.103)
      • Lafcadio Hearn, Out of the East (6.0)
      • Aesop, The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs (6.21)
      • Victor Hugo, Travailleurs de la Mer (7.0)
      • Fyodor Dostoevsky (7.153)
      • The Golden Rule (8.54)
      • Jesus (9.17)
      • Buddha (9.17)
      • Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (9.40)
      • Nirvana (9.120)
      • Victor Hugo, Les Contemplations (10.0)
      • "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," Protestant Christian Doxology (10.44)
      • T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets (11.18)

      Science Fiction References

      Taoist References

      • Zhuangzi (1.0 and throughout)
      • Laozi, Tao Te Ching (5.0 and throughout)
      • Historical References
      • William C. Dement (2.97)
      • Eugene Aserinsky (2.97)
      • Hans Berger (2.97)
      • Ian Oswald (2.97)
      • Heinz Hartmann (2.97)
      • Sigmund Freud (2.97)
      • John Kennedy (3.59)
      • Abraham Lincoln (3.71)
      • Thomas Paine (4.40)
      • Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (4.65)
      • Reverend Thomas Malthus (5.33)
      • The Black Plague (6.45)
      • Apartheid in South Africa (6.49)
      • The 1812 Fire of Moscow (7.22)
      • Black Power (7.123)
      • The Back to Africa Movement (7.123)
      • Slavery (7.123)
      • Herbert Spencer, Principles of Biology (7.136)
      • Ludwig Van Beethoven, Große Fuge (8.27)
      • Pre-Civil Rights Era (9.17)
      • Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address (9.18)
      • Martin Luther King, Jr. (9.18)
      • Pompeii (9.30)
      • President Eisenhower (10.5)
      • Franz Shubert (10.19)
      • Napoleon Bonaparte (10.56)
      • Alexander the Great (10.57)

      Pop Culture References

      • Iron Eyes Cody (7.13)
      • The Age of Aquarius (7.13)
      • Bob Dylan (7.13)
      • Hippies (7.13)
      • Mary Had A Little Lamb (8.25)
      • Down by the Riverside (9.34)
      • MAD comics (10.19)
      • The Beatles, With a Little Help from My Friends (10.24)
      • Def Leppard, Rock of Ages (11.2)