“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”

This week’s published work is by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the very few successful female writers of modern fantasy and science fiction. She wrote this story in 1973, and the next year it won both the Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the Locus Award for Best Short Fiction.

The story is a philosophical parable, asking the question “What atrocities could you put up with to live in (almost) perfect happiness and harmony?” The city of Omelas (the name comes from Salem, Oregon, as seen in Le Guin’s rear-view mirror) is a place of joy and peace. There is apparently no crime, no disease; everyone lives happily, everyone except for one child that is kept wallowing in misery, cut off from everyone else. Each inhabitant of Omelas is shown this child when they reach maturity, and told that all the good things of Omelas depend on this one child’s suffering. Most learn to live with this atrocity, indeed living their lives to the fullest so that it is not a waste. Some, though, are unable to stand the thought of that child, and so they walk away into the unknown reaches beyond the horizon.

Questions to think about:

  1. Le Guin has no characters to speak of, no dialog, not even a real plot.  How is this story constructed, how does it communicate the subject matter?
  2. We spoke last meeting about the writer’s mantra, “Show, don’t Tell.”  Does Le Guin follow that rule?  If she breaks it, how?  And how does she do it in a way that supersedes the rule?
  3. What would you do, if you were living in Omelas?  Would you stay, or… would you walk away?

See you soon.  Feel free to post comments here on the blog, too.

-Anthony

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