Study Guide

The Lathe of Heaven Bear God

By Ursula K. LeGuin

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.