Author Archives: Calvin Ly

Dec. 5 Class Notes

Upcoming Assignments-

  • Essay 2 is due Thusday, Dec 14 before 2:30PM, worth 30% of grade. Upload on dropbox, paper copy not needed. Must have a satisfactory cover letter one page long that is a reflection on writing process, NOT SUMMARY. Papers with unsatisfactory cover letter will not be graded. TIP: Keep a log of what you are doing while writing the essay; will be easier to write the cover letter. See Assignment page for more info. If you want comments on the graded essay, email the professor. OPTIONAL: Email professor to schedule a meeting, bring two copies of a 4 page draft, must have an intro paragraph. Students attending a meeting will have essay grade bumped up a letter grade. First come, first served.
  • Final Course Reflection, worth 10% of the grade. Due Tuesday December 19. Finish Essay 2 before working on this. Submit on dropbox. See Assignment page for more info.
  • Extra Credit Opportunity: Scifi Symposium Blog Post. See Post for more info.
  • No new HW for Thursday except reading the Assignments.


Topics of Discussion: Historical Notes; Ending of the story; The Salvaging (Ofglen and May Day); Commander/Offred Relationship, Offred/Nick Relationship; Serena Joy finds evidence of Commander’s adultery; Moira/Jezebel’s

Continued Discussion of Historical Notes:

Many of the academics attending the Symposium dismissed the value of the Handmaid’s Tale, questioning its authenticity. On Pg. 300, Professor Pieixoto says the talk is about determining the authenticity of the Handmaid’s Tale. The Professor is only interested in information about Gilead, does not care for the plight of the Handmaiden in the recordings. He wishes instead for historically substantial information from the Commander’s private computer to better describe the Gilead Empire.

Discussion of Ending:

Feelings on the ending: Cliffhanger; Resignation; Abrupt

Offred considers suicide, regrets how she didn’t act out a plan of escape or rebellion (Pg. 293). Apprehensive of Nick when he asks Offred to trust him, despite of saying “Mayday”, the codeword of the resistance. Offred decides to trust him, because that is all she has left. “But I snatch at it, this offer. It’s all I’m left with” (294).

Last paragraph is left to interpretation, Offred has no way of knowing if her capture is a good thing or a bad thing. “Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light” (295).

Discussion will continue on Thursday, take note of the scene(s) in Jezebel.

Contrast Between the Handmaiden and Commander

In Parts IX-X of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood focuses on the relationship between Offred and the Commander, in regards to the way they are treated in this society, as the male Commander is regarded is powerful, while the female Handmaid is thought of as weak.

The Commander has been asking Offred to come visit him, and Offred is always very anxious every time she is signaled to go to his office. It is strictly forbidden for Handmaids and Commanders to interact with each other outside of the required duties of the Ceremony. Offred explicitly says at length that “my presence here is illegal. It’s forbidden for us to be alone with the Commanders. We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything  possible has been done to remove us from that category. […] No room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all…” (136). If caught, there would be a heavy punishment, and Offred believes that if she were caught she “could become an Unwoman” (136). However, despite the risk, Offred is forced to go, as Commanders have total control over the lesser women, and he can order them around at his whims. Offred confirms this when she says that “to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power” (136).

In all of their meetings, Offred is always anxious, while the Commander is unabashedly ignorant to the plight of Handmaidens. During the first meeting, Offred describes her feelings about it as “an inner jeering. But it’s panic. The fact is I’m terrified” (137). Even though the Commander only asks Offred to play Scrabble with him, she is always apprehensive of him and his motives. It is revealed later on that the Commander had wanted to spend time with another woman because he had become estranged with his Wife Selena Joy: “How about your wife? He seemed to think about that. No, he said. She wouldn’t understand. Anyway, she won’t talk to me much anymore. We don’t seem to have much in common, these days. So there it was, out in the open: his wife didn’t understand him. That;s what I was there for, then” (158). The Commander was using his power to have some interactions with Offred because he was unhappy with his relationship with his Wife.

Later on in the same chapter, Offred and the Commander have an exchange that is very telling of their positions in the social hierarchy of Gilead. Offred asks the Commander to give her some hand lotion: “Hand lotion, I said. Or face lotion. Our skin gets very dry. […] Dry? the Commander said, as if he’d never thought about that before. What do you do about it? We use butter, I said. When we can get it. […] Butter, he said, musing. That’s very clever. Butter. He laughed. I could have slapped him” (158-159). This shows that the Commander is very ignorant to the lives of the Handmaidens, and he doesn’t very much understand how they live compared to his own life. Commanders are very high up in the social rankings while Handmaidens are very low. Commanders enjoy many luxuries of life, that Handmaidens cannot experience. Something as minor as lotion is not allowed, and Offred asks the Commander to give her some. The way the Commander reacts to her request shows that he thinks lotion is trivial, but Offred thinks otherwise, as it is a very rare commodity for her. This conversation shows the contrast between the lives of the Handmaidens and the Commanders.

Offred compares past and present

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Parts III-VIII, Offred the Handmaid spends a lot of time remembering parts of her past. She creates more images of her life both before and after the change of society. She has many memories of her friend Moira, who she reminisces a lot about. Moira used to be a college classmate friend of Offred’s, and she also became a Handmaid along with Offred. Offred reminisces of her time in college, before the societal change: “I had a paper due the next day. What was it? Psychology, English, economics. We studied things like that, then” (37-38). Another important memory of hers was a time at or right after the societal turning point, when people were burning pornographic magazines. “There were some men, too, among the women, and the books were magazines. They must have poured gasoline, because the flames shot high, and then they began dumping the magazines, from boxes, not too many at a time. Some of them were chanting; onlookers gathered. Their faces were happy, ecstatic almost” (38). The most revealing and surprising thing about this excerpt is that the women (who were the majority in the crowd) were very happy with burning the magazines, which implied that they were happy with the change in society.

Later on in the same chapter, Offred has an internal monologue in which she thinks about her new life as a Handmaid: “I would like to believe this is a story I am telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then  there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off. It isn’t a story I’m telling. It’s also a story I’m telling, in my head, as I go along. Tell rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden “(39). This shows that Offred is very depressed with her life as a Handmaid, and she wishes that she is able to change her life at will, as she says that ‘if it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending’. She further emphasizes her lack of freedom when she describes that she has ‘nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden’.

In Chapter 22, Offred pieces together the accounts of Aunt Lydia and Janine to tell the story of Moira’s rebellion and escape from being a Handmaid. It is revealed that Moira had used an improvised weapon to steal the clothes and cattle prod of Aunt Elizabeth, and fled under the disguise of an Aunt. This story spread throughout the ranks of Handmaids: “Moira was out there somewhere…Moira had power now, she’d been set loose, she’d set herself loose. She was now a loose woman. I think we found this frightening. Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us feel dizzy…Moira was our fantasy” (133). This story had given hope to all of the Handmaids, and they now knew that escape was possible. Offred fantasized of pulling off her own escape attempt, but was it was put off when the Commander showed signs of affection towards her.

Describing a bleak society

Author Margaret Atwood uses much of Parts I and II describing how the society of Gilead works, and the protagonist’s role in it.

The novel is written in first-person narration, through the perspective of a yet-to-be-named Handmaid.  Margaret Atwood uses the first few chapters to paint a bleak description of the society. The novel first describes a sleeping area with other women, “in the army cots that have been set up in rows, with spaces between so we could not talk” (4). These women are not able to talk, or not allowed to; instead they have “learned to lipread, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each others mouths. In this way, we exchanged names…” (4). Immediately in the first chapter, Atwood establishes that these women are in poor living conditions. It is also revealed  that these women are kept under guard: “Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts. No guns though, even they could not be trusted with guns. Guns were for the guards, specially picked from the Angels” (4). This reveals that these women were kept in a prison-like environment.

Later, the protagonist overhears two women, Rita and Cora, gossiping about her behind her back. Rita says that “she wouldn’t debase herself like that” (10), and she would rather “go to the Colonies […] with the Unwomen” (10). This conversation shows that other people in this society don’t have a high view of the protagonist’s role as Handmaid, and find it degrading. Upon the protagonist’s meeting of the Commander’s Wife, she finds that the Wife has little respect for her. The Wife says to her: “I want to see as little of you as possible […] This is like a business transaction. If I get trouble, I’ll give trouble back. You understand?” (15). This shows that the protagonist is very low on the social hierarchy in this society.

In Chapter 4, the protagonist has a short conversation with another Handmaid named Ofglen, and the way they speak is very telling. First, they exchange strange greetings: ” ‘Blessed be the fruit,’ she says to me, the accepted greeting among us. ‘May the Lord open,’ I answer, the accepted response” (19). They exchange small talk about “a war going well” (19) against “Baptists. They had a stronghold in the Blue Hills” (20). Now it is revealed that the society they are in is in a war with a religious group, implying a war of ideology. The most telling thing about the conversation is when the protagonist thinks to herself: “I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if its false news, it must mean something” (20). This shows that the society they are in does not have freedom of information, and the information that is available may be false, implying censorship or propaganda. In the next chapters, there are many hints showing that the society has regressed from days past, like how “doctors lived here once, lawyers, university professors. There are no lawyers anymore, and the university is closed” (23). Overall, these first two parts of the novel show a society that has changed for the worse compared to the past, and women of society have very few rights.

Possessions Define the Individual (Pre-Draft)

Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel, writes Station Eleven, a 2014 science fiction novel with a post-apocalyptic theme. It has a strong focus on everyday life after a cataclysmic event that devastated the world population. The main catalyst of the story is the spread of the Georgian Flu pandemic, which had killed ninety-nine percent of the global population. In the story of Station Eleven, characters cling onto memories of the past by attaching themselves to items of great sentimental value. These personal items become important in defining the characters’ motivations and values.

One of the major protagonists, Kirsten Raymonde, has two important items in her possession that she is very attached to. One of them is a glass paperweight with an image of a storm cloud inside of it. Kirsten is a member of a traveling troupe called the “Traveling Symphony”. They are a large group of musicians, artists, and actors that travel from settlement to settlement performing plays for the populace. The Traveling Symphony has grown especially fond of Shakespeare plays, because they feel that Shakespeare represents the best of humanity. The motto of the Traveling Symphony, written on the side of a caravan, is “because survival is insufficient”. Kirsten likes the paperweight because she believes it is the most beautiful object she has ever seen, and she keeps the paperweight in her possession, despite it being dead weight and impractical in a post-apocalyptic environment. Kirsten reflects on her feelings on the paperweight in an interview with Francois Diallo for the New Petoskey News: “DIALLO: You’re still the only person I know who carries a paperweight in her backpack. RAYMONDE: I know, but I thought it was beautiful. I still think it’s beautiful” (184).This is representative of Kirsten’s appreciation of art and beauty, which goes hand-in-hand with the motto of the Traveling Symphony. Appreciation of art and beauty goes beyond simply surviving in life, and leads to development of culture.

Another one of Kirsten’s most important possessions is an incomplete set of Station Eleven graphic novels. These books were given to Kirsten by Arthur Leander when she was a small child, before the spread of the Georgian Flu. The main quote from the graphic novel that defines Kirsten’s struggle with reconciling with the end of the pre-disaster world is “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth” (42). This quote particularly resonates with Kirsten’s character, because Kirsten has problems with remembering much of her life before the Georgian Flu pandemic, as well as Year One of post-pandemic. Though the quote in the comic book is melancholic, Kirsten yearns to remember more of the past, and her most cherished possessions, the paperweight and the comic books, are her only connection to the pre-apocalyptic world.


I decided to focus on the possessions of the characters of Station Eleven, because I feel like their belongings are important in determining the motivations of the characters. I might change to a different topic if I discover a more interesting topic to write about. So far the first two body paragraphs are focused on Kirsten, I plan on writing more about August, Clark, the wandering man with rifle, and the prophet.

A jarring shift in tone and pace.

Author Emily St. John Mandel concludes the novel with a rather jarring change of tone and pace with some character arcs,  which I think proved to be detrimental to the story of Station Eleven.

Previously, in Parts 1-6, the story is told as a kind of commentary to the way people have lived in their respective environments, both pre and post apocalypse. The story had focused more on the mundane, day-to-day activities to show how people have lived out their lives. The storylines of the people pre-apocalypse had more to do with the character’s complex relationships with others, for example, Jeevan’s relationship with his girlfriend and his brother Frank, or Arthur’s relationship with his ex-wives Miranda and Elizabeth. The storylines of people after the apocalypse focused on more complex subjects, like how the characters deal with death, loneliness, longing for the past, survival in a hostile world, and hope for the future. Several examples include Kirsten’s knife tattoos reminding her of her kills (run-ins with death), August’s intense nostalgia for the comforts and amenities of the old world, and Jeevan’s new life living with a wife and son.

In Parts 7-9, I felt like there was a shift in regards to the storytelling of the novel. Unlike the previous parts, in which the narrative was “describing” the story (like a day-in-the-life documentary), the last third of the novel leaned more toward “telling” a story. In Parts 1-6, the story was a very realistic and grounded portrayal of how people would react and act in a post-apocalyptic world, with great descriptions of settlements like the airport at Severn City, the authoritarian cult-town of the Prophet, and a post-apocalyptic version of wandering minstrels in the Traveling Symphony. However, the last third of the novel was written more like an adventure story, and it portrayed several characters unrealistically. Kirsten, who was previously a portrayed as a realistic person dealing with a post-apocalyptic world, suddenly turns into an action hero with throwing knives, which I found to be totally unbelievable in the scope of the novel, especially when it was long established that the author had taken a more realistic approach to the story. One especially jarring instance was with her interview with the newspaper:  “ ‘When you think of how the world’s changed in your lifetime, what do you think about?’  ‘I think of killing.’ ” (265). This was the last thing I expected Kirsten to say, as it was already established that she was very interested in the performing arts, I would have thought she would have said something about the loss of generations of music and theater. It was also established that Kirsten does not remember much of Year One, which she described as very violent so that had established Kirsten’s aversion and/or reluctance towards violence. But in this instance, she comes off as a gruff, edgy killer which was totally at odds with her characterization.

Also I felt that the conclusion of the Prophet’s story arc was rushed and abrupt. The Prophet’s (Tyler’s) motivations were never established; he believes that he is destined to repopulate the earth, but it is never established why he believes that. Tyler is revealed to be deeply religious as a result of his constant reading of the bible, but a person doesn’t become a sociopath with a god complex simply because they were religious. It is never explicitly revealed how and why Tyler becomes a cult leader and prophet. The author also does not finish Elizabeth’s storyline, and she simply disappears from the story after she walks away from the Severn City Airport with Tyler in tow. Is this meant to imply that Elizabeth’s death(?) pushes Tyler to create a cult? Furthermore, in the forest, with the Prophet holding Kirsten at gunpoint, Kirsten is saved by a deus ex machina when a young man has a sudden change of heart and shoots the Prophet, which was an extremely disappointing ending to what was otherwise an interesting character.

Loneliness and Longing of the Past

Throughout Parts 4-6 of Station Eleven, I felt that there was a sense of sadness, loneliness and isolation in all of the character’s story lines, but especially with Arthur Leander.

As with the previous parts of the novel, the chapters are constantly shifting in perspective from character to character, and are disjointed in time. The chapters would usually denote the time that it takes place usually within the first few sentences, in relation to the day of the Georgian Flu pandemic. For example, the start of Chapter 32 begins with “On day forty-seven…”(182), and Chapter 39 begins with “Two weeks before the end of commercial travel…”(205).

Loneliness and isolation is prevalent in almost all of the character’s story lines in Parts 4-6, beginning with Kirsten and August’s separation from the Traveling Symphony at the end of Chapter 23. They begin searching for the missing scouts Dieter and Sayid, but end up being abandoned by the Symphony. Later, while scavenging, Kirsten and August find several items from before the pandemic, and are swept with feelings of nostalgia for the old world. “In the en suite bathroom, Kirsten closed her eyes for just a second as she flipped the light switch. Naturally nothing happened, but as always in these moments she found herself straining to remember what it had been like when this motion had worked: walk into a room, flip a switch and the room floods with light” (150). In this moment, Kirsten shows a longing for things that she had experienced in the world before the collapse of civilization, as evident in hoping that there would be working electricity in a derelict building. She even “admired the rows of Q-tips inside [the china box] before she pocketed them” (150), which is a particularly strange item to admire, as we consider Q-tips to be a trivial thing, but this shows how much the world has changed after the Georgian Flu pandemic.

In Part 5, we see the return of Jeevan Chaudhary, whose storyline wasn’t explored since Part 1. Jeevan’s story is particularly saddening, as he is left alone after the suicide of his brother Frank. I assume Frank had decided to commit suicide because he was paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, and would be unable to fend for himself in the new post-apocalyptic world, and he did not want to burden his brother Jeevan with the responsibility of caring for him. This is a particularly depressing situation to imagine. Jeevan, now all alone in a hostile world, walks aimlessly in the cold winter snow, in hopes of finding the military.

In Part 5 and 6, there is more backstory to Arthur Leander’s character. In Arthur’s interview with Jeevan, he is depicted as “…pale and obviously sleep-deprived with dark circles under his eyes” (171). Arthur is very tired of celebrity life, and is depressed and lonely, after having divorced two wives. He tells Jeevan that he gives “too many [interviews] … It was easier when it was just theater and TV work … But you get successful in movies, and Christ, it’s like this whole other thing” (170). Arthur continues: “It’s still somehow embarrassing, all the attention. I tell people I don’t notice the paparazzi anymore, but I do. I just can’t look at them” (170). This shows that Arthur was deeply uncomfortable with fame. I also found it ironic, and truthful, that in Frank’s memoir, he writes that “[actors] acted because they loved acting, but also, let’s be honest here, to be noticed. All they wanted was to be seen” (186). I think that this implied that Arthur had left his home island and pursued acting to escape being unknown and irrelevant and lonely at home, but after he has achieved fame, he finds himself regretting his choices and remains lonely.

A snapshot of the world before it ends

Part 1 of Station Eleven provides an introductory backdrop to the story, set in modern day Toronto. Author Emily St. John Mandel describes the world as it were before the cataclysmic event happens. The author also introduces and fleshes out the main protagonist of the story, Jeevan Chaudhary, and establishes his relationships with his friends and family namely his girlfriend Laura, his close friend named Hua, and his brother Frank.

Part 1 of Station Eleven begins with Jeevan and his girlfriend Laura watching a theater performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear in the Elgin Theatre of Toronto (Mandel, 3). The actor playing King Lear, Arthur Leander, faints in the middle of his performance on stage (Mandel, 3), and Jeevan, who was training to be an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), jumps onto the stage to try and help resuscitate the actor (Mandel, 4). I believe this establishes Jeevan’s competency in medical care, as well as his strong sense of duty in helping others. However, Jeevan and another doctor on the scene fails to revive the actor, and Arthur Leander is declared dead by the ambulance crew. There is a part that I found particularly interesting, where Jeevan converses with a child actor, Kirsten Raymonde, who had witnessed Arthur’s collapse and subsequent death (Mandel, 6). I thought it was very strange how Jeevan had interacted with the girl, trying to comfort her while she was watching another man die in front of her (Mandel, 7). I think this establishes Jeevan’s awkwardness interacting with children as well as his unfamiliarity with consoling distressed people. It also establishes Jeevan’s pessimistic personality, as he had no confidence in Arthur’s survival (“He’s going to die, isn’t he?” [Kirsten] was breathing in little sobs. “I don’t know.” [Jeevan] wanted to say something assuring, but he had to concede that it didn’t look good (Mandel, 7)), and being doubtful that he would find Kirsten’s guardian ( “Come on,” he said, “let’s find Tanya. She’s probably looking for you.” This seemed doubtful. If Tanya were looking for her charge, surely she would have found her by now (Mandel, 7)). Jeevan would later learn that his girlfriend Laura had abandoned him at the theater and went home by herself: “she’d left him onstage performing CPR on a dead actor and gone home, and now she wanted him to buy milk” (Mandel, 12). This is very revealing, as it introduces Jeevan and Laura’s complicated love life.

Jeevan would later receive a series of phone calls from his close friend Hua, who is a doctor working at a hospital (Mandel, 17). Jeevan would learn of an epidemic of an out-of-control deadly illness that is called “Georgian Flu” (Mandel, 17), which originates in the Eastern European country of Georgia. Hua is in a panic, and describes to Jeevan how quickly the Georgian Flu has spread, and how it is killing many patients under his care (Mandel, 18-19). Jeevan is revealed to have paranoid tendencies, and believes in his friend Hua. Jeevan calls his girlfriend Laura and tries to warn her of the epidemic but Laura is flippant and ignoring Jeevan’s sense of urgency (Mandel, 23-25). I think this further cements Jeevan’s strained relationship with Laura, proving that they may be estranged and/or do not like each other very much. The last chapter of Part 1 details what the people of the world would no longer have or enjoy, after the cataclysmic event of what I assume is a worldwide Georgian Flu pandemic.


Ray Bradbury’s warning of nuclear warfare

In “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains”, prominent science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury writes a short story about the benefits and dangers of technological advances, especially of nuclear warfare, which was a major concern during the Cold War era. Disclaimer: I have read this story before.

The short story set in the far future (from the story’s time of writing: 1950), and it describes a fully automated house, with many quality-of-life functions and robots to aid its inhabitants. Much of the story describes the functions of the house’s technological marvels. The house has several automated functions. There is an automated voiced stove that cooks meals: “In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk” (Bradbury, 1), as well as automated robots that clean the interior of the house at timed intervals: “Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean” (Bradbury, 1).  However, it is revealed that the house is empty,  and the house’s automated functions persist even though noone is living in the house (Bradbury, 1-2).

There is a significant reveal: “The sun came out from behind the rain. The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles” (Bradbury, 1). This quote reveals that there has been a nuclear apocalypse, and there is no human life around. All other buildings in the city have been reduced to “rubble and ashes”, and that the “ruined city gave off a radioactive glow” references the grim aftermath of a nuclear impact. There are other quotes throughout the story that emphasize a post-nuclear event, but one paragraph had the most impact: “the charred west side where the house had been burned evenly free of its white paint. The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down. The five spots of paint—the man, the woman, the children, the ball—remained. The rest was a thin charcoaled layer” (Bradbury, 1). This paragraph is a graphic description of “nuclear shadows”, which is a phenomenon of the aftereffects of a nuclear explosion. Because of a nuclear detonation’s intense heat, shadows are left permanently imprinted into surfaces. There are several photographs[1][2] of this phenomenon in the aftermath of the nuclear detonations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. There is also a stroke of irony in the short story, as an automated voice reads a poem describing wildlife in nature not caring if mankind ceased to exist (Bradbury, 3). The poem also draws ironic parallels to the technology in the house, which also does not care if mankind did not exist.

Bradbury’s story details the great benefits that technology has to offer mankind (automated robots, quality of life), as well as its dangers (nuclear warfare). During the Cold War era, the United States and the Soviet Union were deathly afraid of nuclear warfare with each other. This short story was published in 1950, which was shortly after the Soviet Union had completed its first successful nuclear test on August 29, 1949. Nuclear tensions between the superpowers of the US and the USSR would reach many tipping points throughout history, the most famous is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Many people who grew up during the Cold War era had nuclear apocalypse on their minds, as it was a real possibility during those times.

Utopia at a cost

In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Ursula Le Guin describes a Utopian society that exists with a price.

The short story is written in first-person, in the style of the narrator “communicating” towards the reader. The story does not have a plot, as it does not have a protagonist or antagonist, nor does it have a story line. Instead, Le Guin describes a setting with vague details, and the circumstances of how it exists. The narrator describes a city in the middle of a festival, and the citizens “were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched” (Le Guin, 2). However, the narrator does not give a definite description of the society itself. The narrator gives a utopian description, and then retracts it, and says that the city has qualities like the provided description. For example: “they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains, washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that; it doesn’t matter” (Le Guin, 3).

Later in the short story, it is revealed that there is a neglected child locked in a room in a basement: “In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room…In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect” (Le Guin, 4). It is also revealed that the utopia can only exist because of the misery of that same small child locked in the basement: “If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, 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” (Le Guin, 5-6). The citizens living in Omelas must accept this fact, and those who don’t leave the city.

I believe the story is meant to be taken as an allegory, and is meant to be applied to several situations in real life. I see the story as an allegory of the various “contracts” or “trade-offs” we experience in life. We sacrifice one thing so we can enjoy another thing, and we have to decide ourselves if the sacrifice, or trade-off, is worth the outcome.

I personally did not like the way the author provides descriptions in the short story. The author gives half-descriptions and then retracts them, and I feel as if the descriptions have no point to the story. The author could have cut the story well short, without giving meaningless descriptors. I also could not suspend my disbelief of the author’s description of the citizens having “complex lives” in the utopia if everything in their lives is well taken care of and they have nothing to worry about. The author has shown to have disdain towards pain and suffering (Le Guin, 3), when both are facts of life, and people need to experience both for intellectual and spiritual growth.