31 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Word for World is Forest

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1972

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Symbols & Motifs


Dreams are linked to consciousness and subconsciousness. Selver describes the yumens as insane because they are able to dream only while asleep. He says this because he knows the subconscious level of the mind takes over when one is dreaming. But because the yumens can access their subconscious only while asleep, it limits the amount of control they have over their minds. It robs them of what the Athsheans consider a balanced mind and leads to insanity.

The Athsheans are able to access their dreams even while awake. To an extent, they can control their dreams because they use them as screens upon which to test out theories and courses of action. The most skilled among them—such as Selver—are able to interpret dreams on behalf of the rest of their people. However, it is Selver’s interpretation of dreams that leads him to the idea of killing. It is open to debate whether his interpretation is a mistake that could have been avoided or an acknowledgement that violence and murder will always exist, infiltrating even a pacifist society like that of the Athsheans. Selver and his people are more conscious than the yumens, but this does not place them beyond harm or guarantee that they will make good interpretations or decisions.