Ursula K. Le Guin's Choice of Narrative Term Paper

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¶ … Ursula K. Le Guin's choice of narrative point-of-view in the Lathe of Heaven. Show how that choice shapes the reader's response to the text

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Ursula Le Guin's science fiction novel the Lathe of Heaven is a profound and philosophical book that tackles many interesting scientific and psychological themes. The plot is complicated due to the many multi-layered format of the text. The main concern of the novel is with the nature of objective reality and the place of the human consciousness in it. The main character in the novel George Orr, is a "dreamer" who is capable of what Le Guin calls "effective dreams," that is, dreams that are able to alter reality. The action of the book takes place in the near future, approximately thirty years from the time the novel was written in the seventies. At the beginning of the novel, we find out that the world had been destructed by a nuclear war in 1998 and that the world presented in the novel was dreamt into being by George. George is retained by the doctors at a hospital and put under "Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment" because he is believed to have taken drugs, when in fact he is suffering from the side effects of the radiations. His therapist, Dr. Haber discovers George's effective dreaming and tries to use it to change the world according to his own utopian views, by eliminating the main social nightmares of humanity, like overpopulation, famine, consumerism or racism. The world is indeed changed by George's dreams, but the utopias all turn into dystopias that bring even greater problems. Thus, the novel revolves around the Faustian idea man's attempt to gain supreme control and power of the world. The author uses effectively the three main characters in the book, George Orr, Dr. William Haber and Heather Lalache, to convey the main idea, by shifting the point-of-view from one to the other. The message is thus conveyed to the reader by alternating the free indirect discourse from Haber to Heather and George, the first siding with the utopian, perfectionist view of the universe and the latter two the human, actual reality in which we live.

Term Paper on Ursula K. Le Guin's Choice of Narrative Assignment

Thus, one of the most important points-of-view in the novel is that of Dr. Haber. At first, the psychiatrist appears to be a positive character, moved by good intentions. He decides to use George's dreaming to achieve good changes in reality, by eliminating the main threats like racism, overpopulation or war. All the attempts fail however, and George's subconscious produces monsters instead of the desired utopias. Therefore, like in many other science-fiction books, the utopian imaginings turn up to have a terrible effect when applied to reality: while trying to abolish the overpopulation threat Orr's dream kills the great majority of humanity with a plague, then racism is warded off by giving all men the same grey hue of the skin, and humanity is united in peace only after an alien invasion to Earth. Thus, a number of alternative worlds are proposed as solutions to the present reality, but significantly, all fail. Dr. Haber becomes the figure of the mad scientist who tries to subject the world to his own view of reality. The idea of good is replaced by that of power, as Haber becomes obsessed with changing the world. When he feels that George's dreams fail, he construct a machine, the Augmentor, that copies the brain patterns of Orr during sleep and that he intends to use to produce his own effective dreaming. For three chapters in the book the author follows close Haber's way of thinking and gives us his point-of-view. This technique is effective since the reader is not sympathetic with Haber as a negative character, but thus manages to get an even better grasp of his point-of-view. His mania with acquiring god-like powers is obviously wrong and only gives rise to nightmarish situations. Le Guin bases her philosophy on this point on the Taoist philosophy, in which "the Great Way" has to be attained by contemplation and deep meditation and insight into the heart of things and not by the kind of political, communist action used by Haber. The writer quotes Tao Te Ching to show that the true way is lost when it is replaced by mere benevolence, as in Haber's case: "When the Great Way is lost, we get benevolence and righteousness"(78) Haber's view of the world is also highlighted by the probably most important quotation in the text that the author uses at the beginning of the third chapter and that she also uses for the title of the novel. The most crucial message of Chuang Tse is that the human mind must never attempt to take control of the world and submit it to its own vision, or else it "will be destroyed by the lathe 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. "(Le Guin, 45)

Dr. Haber is indeed destroyed by the lathe of heaven, as by the end of the novel he ends up in a psychiatric asylum, as a patient this time. The reversal of the situation is very suggestive as it implies that psychiatry as a science is highly compulsive and controlling for the human mind in general. The author follows Haber's point-of-view directly so that the reader might understand his mind from the inside. The thoughts are not negative for the most part, but they indicate the thirst for power that animates Haber. At the beginning of the novel, Haber looks at a photograph and is nostalgic about the blue sky he had not seen from his childhood because of the "Greenhouse Effect." Le Guin thus revels his thoughts as being positive to a certain extent, but also hints at his future obsession with the utopian, blue-sky view of the world:

Dr. Haber gazed again at the mural and wondered when such a photograph had been taken. Blue sky, snow from foothills to peak. Years ago, in the sixties or seventies, no doubt. The Greenhouse Effect had been quite gradual and Haber, born in 1962, could clearly remember the blues skies of childhood. Nowadays the eternal snows were gone from all the world's mountains, even Everest, even Erebus, fiery-throated on the waste Antarctic shore."(Le Guin, 3)

Haber's favorite phrase, "the greatest good for the greatest number," also seems positive but it is essentially directed at usefulness and socialism, and therefore too utopian to be good. In some parts of the novel Le Guin notates Haber's point-of-view with the greatest exactness, and almost effaces herself completely as a narrator. Thus Haber wonders why the power of dreaming effectively had been give to a weak man, i.e. George, instead of to the powerful, active man, i.e. himself: "Why had this gift been given to a fool, a passive nothing of a man? Why was Orr so sure and so right, while the strong active, positive man was powerless, forced to try to use, even to obey, the weak tool?" (Le Guin, 123)

The question is very significant as it emphasizes the main point of the story: the utilitarian and utopist purposes that attempt at curbing reality according to man's will are disastrous, and therefore, the "weak" man is preferred, the one who accepts humanity and the world for what they are the other two points-of-view in the novel, George's and Heather's are somewhat similar and aim at achieving the opposite impression on the reader. This time this audience can be sympathetic with the two characters, as George eventually saves the world from Haber's disastrous dreaming by stopping the machine. According to George, it is wrong to "force the pattern of things," that is to attempt to change reality according to the will: "I do know that it's wrong to force the pattern of things. It won't do. it's been our mistake for a hundred years" (83). The reader grasps thus a new idea: changing the world has been a "habit" with humanity for a long time, and is one of its greatest mistakes. Thus, on the one hand the alternative realities created by the dreams reflect the great human unconscious. Everything and everyone can be a dream and the paranormal is effective in maintaining the connection between external reality and the human mind:

Confucius and you are both dreams, and I who say you are dreams am a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a wise man may explain it; that tomorrow will not be for ten thousand generations."(Le Guin, 3)

The mind itself is like a jellyfish that is borne by different currents. This is in fact a view of the human unconscious, compared to the jellyfish at the will of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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