Dreams. We all have them, but they don't usually make the world end, right? Well, in The Lathe of Heaven, dreams can do pretty much anything—good or bad—and there's no way anyone can ignore the dreams of George Orr. In this world, dreams (George's, at least) are reality. Does that make this world a dream or nightmare?
We're not sure, but we do know that the world of dreams is every bit as important as the waking world in this story, and it makes us wonder: in our world, what's dream and what's reality?
Dreams are irrational, immoral, and violent in The Lathe of Heaven.
Dreams are creative, healthy, and powerful in The Lathe of Heaven.
Taoism. The Great Way. The Middle Path. This philosophy and religious tradition (pronounced Daoism, for the curious) is probably most famous in the West for being the origin of that yin-yang symbol and for inspiring some of the wisdom of Yoda, but more important, it's been a major influence on Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures.
Taoism isn't necessarily the kind of thing you'd expect to come across in a sci-fi novel, but George is its living incarnation. The whole moral of The Lathe of Heaven is, if you don't walk the middle path, expect to get burned.
Taoism influences the actions of all of the characters in The Lathe of Heaven.
Taoism and Christianity are opposites in The Lathe of Heaven.
The greatest good for the greatest number of people—who could disagree with that? Utilitarianism attempts to maximize happiness and minimize suffering, though if you don't agree with the way utilitarians define happiness and suffering, you might not totally agree with their methods. While the principles of utilitarianism might seem pretty reasonable, in The Lathe of Heaven we see how things can go horribly, horribly wrong depending on how you define and try to build up a perfect world. Just look at what happens when Dr. Haber tries his hand at it.
In The Lathe of Heaven, the most important thing is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Utilitarianism is the only way to save the world in The Lathe of Heaven.
It's tempting to think that technology is an inherently good thing. After all, it did give us the Internet and Lolcats, so what could go wrong? Well, a lot, actually. Nuclear missiles, anyone? Pollution? Google Glass? In The Lathe of Heaven, we are shown how the creation of technology does not always lead to the best thing for humanity. In fact, it can lead to its destruction.
Technology only leads to bad things in The Lathe of Heaven.
Science and technology are ultimately good in The Lathe of Heaven.
As the funkiest protest song says, "War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing." There are few of us who feel that warfare is a positive thing, but many of us think it's a necessary evil. In The Lathe of Heaven,Ursula Le Guin wants us to ask ourselves: is it? How could war be avoided? The characters in the novel have a bit of success in their plans to eradicate war, only to have other forms of institutionally sanctioned violence replace it. At least in this novel, it seems that we're just too addicted to hurting one another to give it all up.
Warfare in The Lathe of Heaven is a metaphor for warfare in our current lives.
The characters in The Lathe of Heaven believe that humanity cannot exist without some kind of warfare or violence.
Sci-fi stories are normally more concerned with the conflict between alien races than ones here on earth. But in The Lathe of Heaven, racial issues take center stage, because even though the world is a hot mess and is constantly on the brink of being destroyed, this novel is here to tell you that no time is the wrong time for a little interracial romance. More seriously, though, this romance brings up a lot of questions about the role of race and culture in our world. In the world George experiences, the end of racism also means the end of culture as we know it. The question is: is it worth it?
Race is a complex and complicated subject in The Lathe of Heaven.
The world is a much more boring place without race and culture in The Lathe of Heaven.
Love and relationships are an essential part of human existence. Hey, we're social creatures. We mean, we just like each other. But in the futuristic world of The Lathe of Heaven, love becomes even more important: it's the only way that we can keep the world from completely falling apart. Without it, we might even destroy everything we know. Whether it's romantic or friendship, The Lathe of Heaven tells us that love is a pretty big deal—maybe even the biggest deal.
Love is the only way to deal with George's dreaming power in The Lathe of Heaven
Relationships are not important to the future of the world in The Lathe of Heaven.
Alexander the Great. Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. Crabs.
Megalomaniacs want power. After all, if you have power, you can get people to do anything you want. Sounds okay, right? Well, the flip side is that with great power comes great responsibility. In The Lathe of Heaven, it's pretty clear that some people just aren't ready to have the amount of power they want: Dr. Haber, for one, believes he can rule the world, but all he does is make a giant mess. George doesn't want the power that he has, but he manages to save the world with that power twice. Maybe the key is not to want power but to use it wisely if you somehow end up with it?
Power is a worthy goal in The Lathe of Heaven.
In The Lathe of Heaven, the sort of people who want power are exactly the kind of people who shouldn't have it.