Category Archives: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

class notes 9/28/2017

 Omelas

 

Terms used to describe the child in the basement:

“feeble-minded”(4)     “defective”(4)    fearful   “it”(showing that it is sub-human)(4)  “imbecile”(4)  “miserable”

“hunched”  neglected  “lost track of time”(4)  “looks about 6 but is actually 10″(4)

 

The terms show that the child was stunted physically, mentally,  and emotionally

the child was not always treated like this and pleads “I will be good”(5)

the people do not respond to the pleas and don’t say good words to the child

society knows about the child and show the child to other children when they are the same age

after seeing the child the people of omelas feel disgusted, feel contempt, feel that they can not do anything , for the younger citizens they may feel that the child could be them, all ending with the majority of them becoming complicit after mulling over the problem.

child is seen as the darkness of the city as it can not have light without darkness

they do not let the child out as it would “destroy omelas”- massive utilitarian bargain –  possibly out of the guilt the citizens will feel for putting it in it’s situation

where do those that walk away walk to?

-commit suicide (the great unknown)

-intentionally into  the unknown to get away from the great injustice

vocab

Vapid- shallow

speculative- What If?

extrapolation- what if?/ taking something to it’s logical conclusion

 

There Will Come Soft Rains Group Notes will be collected Tuesday 10/3

9/26 Class Notes

Housekeeping:

  • For future reference, notes should be categorized  as Class Notes AND under whatever stories we discuss that day Ex: Today’s notes will be under Class Notes and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
  • OpenLab issues? E-mail Professor Belli to let her know and send a copy of your work as well.
  • “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Give yourself wiggle room to allow for contingencies, it’s encouraged to work on your blogs sooner rather than later.
  • Read and think about short poem (in Schedule)
  • Watch Russian short film
  • No new readings until the end of next week
  • Staring at the end of next week we will begin with Station Eleven, if you are slow reader it is suggested you begin reading soon

Text:  The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

“How much are we willing to overlook for happiness?”

FreewriteWould you walk away from Omelas? 5 Minutes

Key Points from Freewrite Discussion:

  • Happiness
  • What does it mean to walk away from Omelas?
  • Trolley Problem; Utilitarianism

   Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number

• Consider: What gets elided (glossed over) under Utilitarianism?

  • Take control of our own happiness, life, and destiny
  • Scale over Possibility
  • Leave to another form of control; risk; is what you leave better than where you’re going?
  • “the grass is always greener on the other side” “the known” is certain
  • Settling vs. Seeking; the heart of possibility
  • Pragmatic; we are accepting of our country’s faults, we don’t care, we live in injustice
  • Taking action in Omelas; walking away from Omelas but also walking away from the child

Utopia –  an imaginary perfect place; perfect; peaceful; heaven; ideal; unrealistic; Utopias are usually pejorative

Etymology: Topos (land), Eu (good), Ou (no) → “The good place that is no place” ; Eu and Ou are an Allision

Pejorative – having a bad connotation

Utopian – focused on the ideal of what could be

Generic – adj. of Genre; related to Genre

Coined – create

Eponymous – having the name of something; to be named after

Etymology: Onoma meaning name

Utopia comes from a book titled Utopia written by Sir Thomas More in 1516

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is an earlier work of author Ursula LeGuin, she won the Hugo Award for TOWWAFO.

Hugo Award – yearly sci-fi work award

Parable – short story that teaches a moral lesson; often biblical

 

Handout: Will be available online soon! While we read texts going forward, this is a guide to to help, if you’re stuck on a blog post and don’t know what to write about you can make a post answering/about the questions

People’s Choice: Daniel

 

Discussion:

Here’s the world as it is → Here’s what it could be

Is vs. Ought

What is the gap between what the world is and what it could be? → Utopianism

Soma – things people do or take in order to be distracted from reality (ex: Drooz in TOWWAFO)

The idea of the “Other”; the marginalized figure

POV/Narrator in TOWWAFO?

A shift from Our/We to I/They, separating themselves from the people of Omelas

Why do we have to become invested?

Utopias can become quite boring because nothing happens, everything is fine, as opposed to dystopias where everything is not fine.

Complicit – culpable; if you know and do nothing you are complicit

The is another child in Omelas

Juxtaposition between the two children; both children are alone

The child is referred to as an “It” throughout the story; objectification of the child

Objectification – treat something/someone like an object

Class Discussion #2: Favorite Excerpts from Student Blog Posts on “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Just like we did for “The Yellow Wallpaper” posts, I would like everyone to read through all reading response blogs on “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” choose a favorite post, and explain the rationale for choosing it.

Just like we did last time, share the post/excerpt/rationale by “commenting” here on this post. Don’t forget to link to the post you are citing (please provide the link in the same comment: don’t make a separate one with just the link).

Comments should be made no later than Friday night (9/22). I’m looking forward to seeing what you choose, and why 🙂

A dream city built upon a little boy’s misery

In the story of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” written by Ursula Le Guin, the author talked about a dream city named Omelas – a city which full of happiness. There is no crimes, no drugs overdose and no harmful things. Everything seems so fine or dream like, however, all these wonderful things were built on a boy’s misery, even though he might get used to it and don’t know to blame on his current situation. If you are the teenagers who had visited the little boy, what would you do next? Stay quiet and continue living your good life that built upon the suffering of the  boy  or try to leave the city with fake happiness and start your pursuit on the real happiness built by your own struggle?

By reading this article, I was completely shocked by the contents in the middle of the story, the author decorated the current society with a lot of fancy things and created a dream like city which only occur in fairy tale. As the author said, “The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across  the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky” (Page 1, Paragraph 1, Ursula.) Everything in the land was fantastic and untouchable in the real society.

Just like a normal society does, in order to build a prosperous city, there must be some sacrificing like underneath crime or hard working. Omelas is not a dream like city that build by nothing, it was built upon the misery of a little boy. The author mentioned, “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 markers, even the abundance of their harvest  and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery” (Page 5, Paragraph 2, Ursula.) The little boy was taking most of the unfortunate conditions at the time other people were actually enjoying their happy life.

Why did this boy have to take all these burdens himself, he should be saved from all these misery. Yes, some people in the story, especially the teenagers who had heard about or visited the poor little boy and thought about saving the little boy from this unfortunate life, but this seemed to be impossible. Just like the author said, “To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single , small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed” (Page 6, Paragraph 1, Ursula.) By facing the actual benefits which related to their own life or properties, people usually choose to be selfish, and all the unfortunate things happened to the little boy seemed to be natural in their mind, someone will had to sacrifice for all people’s happiness in the land, even though it’s unfair to the little boy.

Many teenagers who had visited never go back to their home but chose to leave for other places, because they felt like they are not able to live their life under the suffering of the little boy. They seemed to know where exactly they are going which was a place less imaginable than the one they lived before – Omelas. Through out the whole story, we found a Utopia which slowly faded away and showed its real identity which was cruel, and people over there were just enjoying their unreal happiness because they know where it come from, the misery of the little boy. After reading the entire article, you may be also wondering, if we experience the same situation, are we going to do the same things as the people living in Omelas did – being cruel and quiet on what happen to the boy and stay with these fake happiness, or we are going to do the same thing as those teenagers did? Maybe someone may say, who cares is it fair to the little boy or not, life is like that, you either suffering for others’ happiness or you enjoy your happiness upon the others’ misery, but I do.

The Cruel truth many of us wish we didn’t know but All too well understand

Reality in of itself is large, full, and sometimes overbearing. There are a multitude of information that are ingrained in us every single day from the day we are born till the day we die. How many of us comes to said information differs wildly from one individual to the next. As a society, we have similar ways of viewing certain things such as, acceptable behavior, acceptable ways of reacting, acceptable ways to discern. Many of us don’t know it but a large part of how we think and act are largely thanks to the society that taught us whether it be from our family, our teachers or even our friends. Many of these teachings ingrained in us are taught to us when we’re young and constantly taught to us until we’re old enough to make our own decisions. This is how a culture is farmed and cultivated over and over and over again. There are many things in our culture that we don’t fully understand or we may even find a bit..disturbing but, many of us learn to deal with it because that’s just what it takes to be part of a society.  This is how reality is in a nutshell which is why looking at it from an outsider’s point of view can be pretty difficult and sometimes, outright impossible. This is also a reason why when specific facets of our reality (or a specific society if you want to localize it) is brought up and intently focused on in a story, our opinion of said facet ends up changing. We get the “outsider looking in” point of view and can really understand and contemplate it. For us, The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin is that story.

The story (as I’m sure all of you know well by now) Is a jovial town of jolliness and wonder. There is no sadness, there is no suffering, just a never ending paradise. Or so it may seem at a first glance, however, as we get to know the town more through a narrator  (who is  never  given a name or  a gender) we come to learn more and more about the city.  Now before i continue I have to give this narrator a name. I really don’t like talking about character or any living story set piece  without any sort of name of its own so, I’ll just call it Ukno. Ukno (from what I can tell) seems to be at the very least a resident of Omelas. Throughout the story, he talks about the city and it’s people. As he regains us about the city and it’s people. He’d sometimes talk about the people such as “merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked” and the “old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey.” He’d talk about horses who wore know gear and ran and were ridden all with very little hindrance. The narrator acknowledges the fact that the city is something of a fairy tale, a wondrous place that he himself can’t describe as well as your imagination would be able to if it were up for the task. So, as the story goes on the narrator asks the reader one simple question “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No?” As many of us know, these kinds of places can’t possible exist in reality. The very concept of a place where there is happiness and joy. The very concept of a place where there is no suffering, no sorrow. Is outright impossible. Such a place couldn’t possibly exist because of the very thing it’s supposed to represent. Which is an all compassing paradise. So, the narrator goes on to explain to you why this city is perceived at a glance to be a perfect paradise. In a basement under a beautiful and magnificent public building, there’s a basement. A cold, dark and grotesque basement with no light, no warmth and no hope, there’s a child. The child has no name, it’s age, nearly ten years old. This child has very little to eat, very little social contact and sadly enough, no hope to reach to. The child suffers everyday of malnourished and exercise. It doesn’t even know what love is anymore.. Now you may be asking “what do you mean when you say anymore” Well, the child itself didn’t always live there. As the narrator would explain “the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice.” It desperately wants to leave, or so, that’s how it did at the beginning when it was first thrown in to the room it would always repeat words like “”Please let me out. I will be good!” but, as time went, all resistance and hope slowly drained away because of the futility of its struggle. Now, it just sits there, in its own feces. It does have some human contact “as I have said before” but, it only gets to meet other kids, and only briefly. The kids that are brought into the room are there to bare witness to why the city is able to be so happy and joyous. It’s able to be so because of the suffering of this one, solitary child. A child who had cruelly been ripped away from its normal life only to be put in a place where all he can do is suffer and accept the unfair conditions that were brought upon him.

Now, let me ask you. Do you know that feeling that’s welling up inside? That feeling of sadness, anger, frustration and animosity you have towards the people of omelass and their downright selfish behavior towards their own happiness. Well, hold on to that feeling while we look at the society of Omelass as a whole. Omelass is a society that can only exist off of the suffering of a minority (when I say minority I don’t mean race, I just mean a person or a group of people who comprise of less than half of a population.)  Now, doesn’t that sound somewhat familiar. A City that may be perceived as a land of paradise by those looking in at a glance but, is only like this because someone, somewhere suffers. Some of you might already see the point I’m trying to make but to those who don’t see it right away, this situation is exactly the same as almost every single society that exists today. Sure, some of them don’t have it to such an extreme as Omelass but, the concept is very much the same. In the past, back before the civil war, the prosperity of this country thrived on the slaves in which were forced to suffer horrible amounts of labor all for the sake of the country. Europe, during medieval England, the lower class constantly had to work for very little return. And they all lived this way day in and day out, constantly suffering from famine and disease of their poorly maintained living quarters just so the upper-class aristocrats could live very happy and somewhat carefree lives. This sort of concept still exists even today. Countries such as North Korea who thrives off of the back of its suffering citizens through hidden taxes just so it can use them on frivolous projects such as, museums, weapon development and army funding. Forced child Sweatshops in Somalia, Afghanistan and Yamen that have thousands of children constantly making products such as clothing and electronics for huge worldwide corporations. They work for the financial benefit of their family or even their country.  And let’s not get into the extremely disheartening events such as forced prostitution and that unfortunate individuals have to do for the sole gain of their captors. Bottom line is, there are all sorts of suffering that many, many individuals go through all of the benefit of one person or a group of people. Some of these individuals are forced into it while others have no choice but to suffer for the sake of others just to survive. This is a truth that we all know too well, just like the children who are bared witness to the horrid and down-right disgusting nature of their very own city. To the children of Omelass who bear witness to the child with no hope, this is a reality that they themselves eventually encounter. You can say that it’s a part of them growing up and growing more knowledgeable of the world that they dwell in. It’s the same as us. When we were young, we were innocent, we went through days without a single care in the world. But as we get older, we learn more, we learn about the reality that encompasses our very lives. To the children of omelass, the child of no hope is that rude and disturbing reality. And how they deal with that reality differs from one child to another. “Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years.” Ukno would explain. But Each child differs when it comes to how they deal with this new information. Some acknowledge the fact that it exists but continue to live on feeling as if they can’t do much about it. This sort of rationalization comforts them. Thinking that you can’t do anything about a horrible situation is a huge relief them and helps them cope with the sad reality. Others however, Leave. They leave to go to a place where Such a sad reality doesn’t exist. Now, in my opinion, the people who leave Omelass don’t exactly leave per se. I think the story itself is telling us that the people who are leaving omelass are leaving the very concept of omelass. Them going to a place that can’t be fathomed by the citizens of omelass is more of a symbolic look at individuals that try to break down and recreate their society into a place where every gets to live somewhat happy lives. A place where no one must be forced to suffer for the sake of others. Individuals like, Martin Luther king who fought for equal treatment of black Americans in a society in which he couldn’t accept, Gandhi, who fought against the wrongful British rule of India using nonviolent civil disobedience. And Nelson Mandela, the man who (with much resistance) fought for the civil rights of the people who were mistreated because of color and in doing so became the first black south African president. And, because of how society usually transforms and changes (usually for the better of everyone living in it) I can no doubt see omelass changing as well. Sure, it won’t be a jovial paradise as it once was but, it can at the very least by a happy place where everyone gets to live equally with one another. No one will have to be forced to suffer for the sake of others. It’s just a matter of time. Sooner or later, the individuals that “leave” the whole concept of what omelass stands for transforms it into a society that that everyone can accept and not have to feel disgusted with.

So, all in all. Fictional stories themselves are extremely important pieces of literature that society can learn from. They can offer the reader the rare perspective of looking at a society from up high outside of it’s metaphorical social dome. And in doing so, are able to immediately see the faults of the characters and their environment. And, when the reader conjures up enough resolve in their beliefs on the society that they read about in a story, that belief is then used to judge the society that they themselves live in. And, who knows, maybe some of the readers will use their new beliefs to change their world for the better. (Well, that’s how I’d like to think of it anyway)

 

 

PS: Sorry for the long response. I didn’t even think that the response would be this long until i looked at i finally looked it over after completion.

Would you stay or leave Omelas?

Omelas, a city of prosperity, where the house’s roofs are red and walls are painted in between those houses. The people loved and respected one and another. They enjoy music and dancing with each other. The mothers and their children and the old enjoy their time in the park while gazing upon the clear skies. The dark truth is that this paradise is built upon one child, who is forced to suffer eternally torment and anguish for others happiness. Now imagine yourself as person living in Omelas!

The people of Omelas knows the dark truth that there is child suffering for their prosperity. It mentioned “They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas”(pg 5, line 16), and they fear because of it. They describe if child leave that place “If the child were bought 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 that it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed.”( pg 5 line 30) They fear if that child leave that cellar, then Omelas would be ruined. A person living in Omelas know all this!

A person going into that cellar to see the child! The child in the cellar is described ” it is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.”(pg 5 line 14) The child is busied around the thighs. The child screams “I will be good, it says. Please let me out. I will be good!”(pg 5 line 10) The people of Omelas ignore these screams. They describe what is the child fed as “it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day”(pg 5 line 13), so he bare kept alive because he fed with corn meal and grease everyday. All young adults wanted to help that child, but they couldn’t because they feared that Omelas would be ruined. A person living in Omelas will see this!

The young ones are different from adults and elders. All adults know this, but the children doesn’t know the dark truth because “This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding.”( pg 5 line 23) They explain to children about this matter when they reach a certain age of understanding. This explain why people of Omelas were described as “They were not naive and happy children–through their children were, in fact happy.”(pg 2 line 16) The children of adults were happy because didn’t know the truth, but adults knew so they weren’t naive and happy children. This goes into the why the quote “All smiles have become archaic”(pg 1 line 30) this mean the smiles become old because the children learn the truth their smiles become old.

If you were person living in Omelas, I would suppose be ready face the harsh reality what you see is painful and disgusting for yourself. The child in that cellar is suffering because you. This why people leaving Omelas into the darkness because this light is no better than the dark. Decide whether stay or leave from knowing this.

If I was person living in Omelas, I would done what those people did and leave the places as well because this happiness given to me because another child must suffer is disgusting.

The Moral Dilemma Behind Happiness In Omelas

In Ursula Le Guin’s, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, we see a paradoxical dichotomy presented that questions our morals. It asks us to question something that may work well in theory but perhaps not as well in real life. It asks us about the whole over the part and whether this is a good model for society. Is the city of Omelas a true utopia? This is the overall question presented to us. Utopia’s are imaginary, idealistic, and often times impractical worlds, the city of Omelas being a perfect example for this. Omelas is an impractical utopia, everyone is deserving and worthy of a good life, humanity is not something to be decided upon.

The child is dehumanized throughout the story by referred to as “it”. In this post I will be using the words they/them/their (singular) in effort to bring my point of the worth of the child’s humanity across.

The model for Omelas is inherently flawed. It would be different perhaps, if the child wasn’t a child, or if the child had spent it’s whole life not knowing much else. However, this is a child who was once part of the exterior world “the child, […] has not always lived in the tool room.” A tragic hero, they have fallen from their status of normalcy to being slave to a societies need for happiness.  This is not an adult who understands sacrifices and can willingly accept and take on the responsibility of an entire populations happiness; this is child, they do not know about commitment or the need of greater good, the child is living a miserable life against their will. Which brings up the question, are the people in Omelas subject to an Ella Enchanted like curse where their feelings are redundant? Do they assure themselves that the child is fine? Are they also subject to a logic of “it can always be worse”? If that is what happens, the truth is things can always be much worse, but our measure for progress shouldn’t be be, “how much worse can things get?” but “how much better can things be?” We can see from the ending of the story, that the former is exactly what the people in Omelas tell themselves, “it [the child] is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy” the people delude themselves into believing that the child is deserving of whatever pain and suffering befalls on them. Why, after initially feeling such rage over the the the captivity of the child, do they eventually “realize” i.e. convince themselves, that the child “would not get much good from of its freedom”? Guilt. This is the ultimate moral dilemma in Omelas, to choose between the happiness of the whole or the happiness of one, and the guilt of having to live with both decisions. Who is included in the whole though? Definitely not the child. The most telling part about our humanity however, might not even be with how the people lie to themselves in order to sleep at night, but in the reaction of” those who walk away from Omelas.” What they tell us when they walk away, is they are not trying, they are avoiding the guilt of Omelas by not trying to liberate the child but also not trying to help the city if the child ever were to be liberated. Perhaps, there is nothing they can do but leave. The people in Omelas live pleasantly, with nothing nagging their minds, but those who leave, what nags at their minds?

It is significant that those who leave, leave alone. I believe it speaks to our unwillingness to bring about change on our own. They walk away from the city but they also walk away from the child. They do nothing in an effort to change, but this shouldn’t just be attributed to us as people, but us as a society. In practice, would we actually go through with this? Probably not, this would spark outrage. Why though? Why not exist with perfect happiness? I believe it is because we are all, whether consciously or unconsciously, aware of the fact that justice is not based on equality but on equity. If we can not exist in such a way, we are all subject to the captivity of each other. Just like in Omelas, “they [the people], like the child, are not free.” Their mistake, however is in believing “there is nothing they can do.” Ironically, the views of equity in justice might be more idealistic than the city of Omelas, but it is what we want, true happiness. What Omelas has is unbound happiness, not tied to or rooted in anything but the misery of a single child. What they have “it doesn’t matter”, as long as they are happy, but is this really true happiness?

Once Upon A Time

What a wonderful place Omelas would be to live in, right? Positivity all around. Every corner you turn into all you see is people enjoying their lives. Not a worry in the world, just pure happiness. But is this happiness really pure? Did the people of Omelas really find the secret to eternal happiness or is it some sort of facade?

The people of Omelas lived each day as if it were their last. There seemed to be no government here. Everyone did as they pleased. “Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.” (Guin, page 2.) They were not naive, but rather mature. The happiness that surrounded everyone’s life here was an understood happiness. “The victory they celebrate is that of life.” (Guin, page 3)  What better a reason to be happy than enjoying another day, a new day full of new adventures. These people lived without regrets.

How can it be that every single person in this city was happy? The reason behind their happiness was all because of this one child who has been locked away in a room. “It has one locked door, and no window.” (Guin, page 4.) This child was locked away as if it was a animal. People come to see the child. “One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes.” (Guin, page 5.) It was as if the locking away of this child was the only way for them to happy. Was this child looked upon as bad luck? If he/she was let out to roam as the other people did, would all of these people really become miserable? “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.” ( Guin, page 5.)

Although, it was said that the people of Omelas had no guilt earlier on in this story, “one thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.” (Guin, page 3.) this was not true at all. For the sake of their own happiness, because of their own little story made up in their head about this child they allowed that child to stay locked up. “To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement.” (Guin, page 6.) This “small improvement” was keeping that child locked away. This was the one thing they were okay about feeling guilty over.

Surely, not everyone could sleep in peace without worrying for or having an effect because of this child. Every now and then people would walk out of the city. “At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all.” (Guin, page 7.) What is unclear is what did these select few realize for them to just walk out? Was it the shame that finally hit? Was it realization that everyone around them believed in superstitions? Or did they realize that things weren’t really all that perfect in Omelas the way they were raised to believe?

The utopia that was not

“Imagine if you will, a utopia that was dependent upon the suffering of a single child” I smugly asked a fellow employee (a philosopher) , as I popped a Keurig into the coffee machine. Without raising his head, he continued to pour hot water over the  green tea in his infuser mug. He lifted the mug, which was now full, turned and stopped for a moment before departing, to say ” If a single child suffered, then there was no utopia”.  Deflated, I sprinkled creamer upon my coffee, and returned to my desk to ponder the best approach to my blog post.

Ursula Le Guin was inspired by “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”  written by the psychologist and philosopher William James, who contended that “[If people could be] kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain soul on the far off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torment,.. how hideous a thing would be  [the enjoyment of this happiness] when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain”.

Contrary to William James who believed that people would not agree to such a social contract, Le Guin shows us a society that, like our American society, accepts the moral ambiguity of the unjust suffering of an individual (or the few or many, as the case may be) for the “happiness” of the privileged (few or many, as the case may be). Privilege by definition, exists at someone else’s expense.

There is little to no plot in the story, just a trap that is sprung upon us on page four “Then let me describe one more thing”, leaving us feeling uncomfortable. After consideration of cruel treatment of the child who pleads” Please let me out, I will be good” (page six), would we walk away from Omelas in protest or in quandary, or would we stay and accept, by the logic of Immanuel Kant that the rationality of the greater good is the ultimate good; that saving a drowning man out of compassion or pity is not a morally good act.

I admit that I would stay in Omelas. My government for example, has in it’s counterinsurgency efforts against al-Qaeda, and in my name also, committed itself to a policy of drone activity in Pakistan, which by the reckoning of Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institute, has caused the deaths of ten civilians for every militant killed. I am thus no better than the citizens of Omelas.

The narrator states that “There was no king, They did not use swords or keep slaves” ( page two). There is no moral authority in the story. The narrator draws us in and makes us complicit when he/she says “Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your fancy bids..” (page two). We can add orgy or drugs if we so choose, to sweeten the deal in our imagination. The narrator switches from the past tense to the conditional tense ” I think that there would be no cars or helicopters” (page two) ….we, the readers, are made partners in the  construction of this story, that is conditional upon our inclination. Each reader may construct his or her story.

There is no escape, no salvation in the story ” The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

 

 

What is Happiness?

The story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin, starts off joyful. The author introduces us to the people who reside in the city of Omelas and they are happy about this Summer festival that is going on. I looked up what Omelas meant and it came out to utopian society. So how I interpreted the story would be about is that there will be people who would leave a society called “perfect.” They would leave the society because it doesn’t suit them or chooses not to surround themselves with certain individuals. Going about the story, everyone seems happy and everyone is truly free. There are children who run around the city with literally no clothes on and it all seems perfect. People can practice their own religion and what would best describe the amount of freedom the people of Omelas has is when it says, “If an orgy would help, don’t hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issues beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover stranger, who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas–at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no” (Le Guin, 3). People can practice what they want and how they want and not be told what to do because it wouldn’t be manned temples and by doing so, they can express how they want to practice. But going back to the title of the story, The Ones Who Walk  Away from Omelas, why would anyone want to leave such a place that is called a Utopia. Why would anyone want to leave such a world where they aren’t told what to do, where there are no wars, where they can practice whatever they want, and where people are happy?

The story then takes a dark turn on page four where we are introduce to a young child the age of 9 or 10 and he is treated like a circus act. The child is described as “It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect…” (Le Guin, 4-5). Under this “perfect” society lies a child who is mistreated and people all over comes to visit this child who is clearly suffering and wants to leave but ultimately cannot because he/she is the source of their happiness.  The child is heavily mistreated and often abused by those who visit him/her to get the child to stand. As the child pleads for help, no one cares for his/her cries and is ignored by the vast majority of the public.

Children ages through 8 to 12, already know about this locked up child. Given these circumstances, normally people would be disgusted seeing a child locked up for the city’s happiness. This stated, “they feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. 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. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the wall indeed”  (Le Gin , 5-6). If the public were to help this child, that would be sacrificing everyone else’s happiness for the potential happiness of a boy/girl who needs to be properly taken care of. He or she that has not seen the outside world, would not be able to function in society, would have to give up his freedom/happiness for others. But is it fair that this child have to suffer just for others to function as a “perfect” society. The visitors choose to leave the society or stay and many choose to leave this “perfect” society. Their point of view of Omelas, is that it isn’t some place that they would return to. They look for something else that is their utopia and thus goes back to happiness. The weight of losing many people’s happiness versus a already unhappy child, is quite a burden. Sure the child would be free, but it cannot guarantee both of their happiness. Those who experienced happiness, also experienced tragedy.