The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin, is a surprise-ending short story that shows how society can create traditions and ways of thinking that very few people can stand up against. The story takes place in an imaginary town where the people are happy and simple. Le Guin constantly reminds the reader that people are happy, but there is phoniness. She says, All smiles have become archaic. The author gives the reader a basis for the towns setting.
The story takes place during a summer festival. Then she lets the readers imagination create what the he or she thinks is a believable, perfect town by giving him or her options. The options are small details like whether there is or are not religion, technology, drugs, alcohol, and even sex without inhibition. The reader is given these options because she wants them to participate in the story. Le Guin does not want a king, monarchy or any person who thinks that they have power over the other townsfolk in Omelas, because that would create rebellion, which would ruin the ending of the story.
The overall tone in the story is sarcastic. LeGuin makes the town out as too good to be true and in fact, it is. Then she goes on to describe a small dark broom closet where a child sits. The child has been there for a long time. It sits in its own filth completely nude and is horribly malnourished. The child has no concept of time and does not ever see light unless a few people come to witness the childs suffering. The townspeople come to see the child when they are between the ages of eight and twelve. When they are able to understand the reason for why the child has been locked up.
The reason is If it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. The deal is one persons complete misery in exchange for a whole towns incomplete happiness. Some of the people would go home and make excuses to themselves why the child should stay in the room; others would not speak for a couple of days and just walk out of town without saying a word.
Why are these few people leaving such a beautiful city and where do they think they are going? This question has two answers. The first reason that they are leaving is to find their own definition of happiness that is outside the idealistic happiness of Omelas. In America, there is a concept called the American Dream. The definition of that perception basically means making a lot of money and buying a big house and a nice car. If Americans choose to look beyond that mind set that money is everything, maybe more Americans could look within themselves to find true happiness. The second reason shows irresponsibility on those who left Omelas. They could have helped the child, but instead they chose freedom; not true freedom, but they chose freedom from guilt. They went off to look for true happiness, but rejected the responsibility for the suffering of the child by not setting him or her free.
Everyone in Omelas knew about the unfortunate child, but everyone in the city and even those who walked away, chose to ignore the awful truth. The ones who stayed in the city made up excuses in their mind why the child should not be free, It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy, Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment and It would not get much good from its freedom. These excuses can relate to the way some may look at the poor, sick or any one else that people have a hard time accepting. The reason for these excuses is fear of the unknown and weaknesses in the next generation. People make excuses every day to justify unacceptable actions that they took to make themselves feel not as guilty. In the past, all kinds of cultures would put the sick to death because they did not want to transfer any weakness down the genetic chain.
If the child was let out, are the people really sure that the child would bring on the unhappiness of all those people, or would their ignorance just bring it on themselves? Having a closed mind to other ideas can hinder someone so that they miss out on the joys that life has to offer. Times change and with that, so do traditions. Hopefully, that society will grow out of their closed frame of mind and realize that they cannot thrive happily on the inhumane treatment of a person and open their eyes to change.
Obviously this town was not all it was cracked up to be. The old saying, Dont judge a book by its cover could be relevant to the facade of Omelas. It is natural human nature to look at someone and immediately judge him or her by his or her appearance. The real facts that make up that person are unknown, but as a human, there are assumptions being made inside our mind. Some of these assumed perceptions could be negative or positive and they could be about the persons life or personality. Omelas looked as if it were a perfect and happy city, but at the core of their blissfulexistence was one completely miserable and neglected child. That small factor made Omelas utterly disgusting.
In every society there are unspoken truths in a culture. The people know; they just do not like to talk about certain taboo subjects because that will bring unwanted feelings to the surface. In Omelas the people never spoke of the child, they just knew it had to be there. To them, it was normal to have a suffering child hidden in a cellar. There are certain topics that the American culture chooses not to talk about like death or a past experience that would be morally unacceptable. The emotion that would be felt if these unspoken truths are discussed would be embarrassment or shame.
The people who left Omelas went off to look for their own brand of joy, but how can they have true happiness when they know that there is someone in a basement suffering for others? It is a good idea to think outside what society makes someone believe, but when that someone knows that there is a person out there who is in a much more unfortunate situation, how can that fact be completely disregarded? There is so much suffering all over the world, but many chose to ignore that fact because they do not believe that they can make a difference. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas urges the reader to think beyond the boundaries of society with a different state of mind and make a difference in this world.
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