An Analysis of Fear in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Short Story “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas”

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Fear plays a very important role in Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” as it pertains to the story’s main theme of the collective’s needs and wants being more important than that of an individual. Fear helps to develop the plot as well in that it functions as hidden ripple in the perfection of Omelas because how can a person or group of persons be perfect when they still fear things. It also plays a key role in helping to develop the story’s sub themes of the importance of preserving paradise and how easy it is to dehumanize someone when it is beneficial to yourself as well as the need to dehumanize the child in order to succeed in the child’s isolation without opposition from citizens.

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With relation to the story’s central theme of the collective’s needs and wants being more important than that of an individual, fear functions as a constant reason not to doubt tradition. The people who live in Omelas are living in a seemingly utopian society with gay festivals free of civil strife or unhappiness. Yet as Le Guin delves deeper into the story of the little town of Omelas a small child is discovered that is supposedly responsible for all the happiness in the town. Through depriving the child of all but the bare necessities of life the tranquil towns flourishes. Somehow the people of Omelas believe that keeping this child isolated from society and in perpetual suffering keeps the town in its entire utopian splendour. Fear functions as the reason that people do not help the child. The fear of losing their perfect world is much too great to risk losing it for one individual. The people of Omelas tend to make excuses for keeping the child in the small room they say it’s too late and the child could not function in society anyways and that “It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear”. (Le Guin271) This is truer of the people of Omelas than it is of the child. The people of the town have been afraid for so long of what would happen upon release of the child that it would be impossible to cease the tradition without garnering many false reactions. The collective’s fear of what may or may not occur in the town leaves the innocent individual without reprieve from its hell locked in a closet without even a kind word. (Le Guin271)

One of the sub themes of the story is the importance of preserving paradise. The people of Omelas are motivated by the fear of losing their paradise. What led them to the decision of placing the child in the small room is not apparent, what keeps the child in the closet however is, fear of pain, fear of suffering, fear of everything that is not perfect in the world. The child’s torture is not kept secret from the people of Omelas quite the opposite in fact people bring their children to see the child when they are between eight and twelve years old. Some people do not understand why the child has to be in the closet but,

“They all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the weather of their skies depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” (Le Guin271)

The people understand that if the child were to be released every good in Omelas would be instantly destroyed. The people of Omelas are so afraid of losing their perfect reality that they refuse to see the absurdity of their actions or inactions in relation to the child.

Individually it is important to dehumanize the child in one’s own mind in order to be at peace with the situation. This is a sub theme of the story. Fear plays an important role in relation to this theme; fears. effect is that it makes it easier to dehumanize the child. The people subconsciously fear their own conscience and its natural revolt against such inhumane treatment. Every thought of freedom for the child is immediately quelled by reasons why is better for the child itself to be left the way it is. While at first a child of Omelas being shown the child leaves in a certain rage about the situation eventually they grow to accept it for their own good and the good of society. They grow to regard the child as being imbecile” and “too uncouth for any humane treatment” (Le Guin271). Because of this they are able to live comfortably in their paradise without shame of what is being done to the child. If they are not able to dehumanize the child in their own mind they leave the city they cannot bear to live in a paradise created by suffering of an innocent child. The ones who stay are able to dehumanize the child

The effects and functions of fear are also important in developing the related sub theme of how necessary it is to dehumanize the child in order to successfully isolate it without opposition from citizens from a societal viewpoint rather than individual. The people of Omelas have dehumanized the child to a point where it becomes easy to accept the child’s situation. People are not allowed to offer any kinds words to the child. Almost certainly this rule was set about because if people were to come and talk to the child nicely as most people talk to children the inhumanity of the situation would become apparent. The fear of people realizing the absurdity of keeping an innocent child locked up to better society leads to the necessity of dehumanizing the child to such an extent that it seems acceptable to leave a child to rot in it’s own excrement being fed barely enough food to survive.

Fear plays a very important role in Ursula K. Le Guin story the “Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. The functions and effects of fear are very important to its main theme as well as to its sub themes. Without fear to perpetuate the idea that the torture and neglect of the child guarantee happiness Omelas would not exist at least not how Le Guin portrays it. The main theme of the collective’s needs and wants being more important than that of an individual would not occur because without the fear of losing their utopia the citizens of Omelas would not keep the child in the small room. Fear is also important to the second sub theme of the importance of preserving paradise because of the intensity it gives their actions. Such desperate measure can only be motivated by fear. With the two interrelated themes of how easy it is to dehumanize someone when it is beneficial to yourself as well as the need to dehumanize the child in order to succeed in the child’s isolation without opposition from citizens fears function is that it allows the citizens to control their emotions such as compassion and so that they can be at peace with their town and the poor child in the small room. In a story about place where everyone is happy it is remarkable that fear could play such an important role on the themes. Even the ones who walk away are influenced by fear if they weren’t they would do something to they wouldn’t just walk away.

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An Analysis of Fear in Ursula K. Le Guin's Short Story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". (2022, Dec 09). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from
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