Reading Response #3 The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin is a tale of revelation. It’s a story about a prosperous city that exhibits idealism.  The city’s residents are celebrating a summer festival. The narrator describes the overall happiness of the people. According to the narrator, “Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights over the music and the singing.” (Le Guin, page 1, paragraph 1). “In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.” (Le Guin, page 1, paragraph 1). The narrator makes Omelas seem as an ideal paradise where all of its inhabitants are living on cloud nine. “I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody,” said the narrator (Le Guin, page 3). “Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time.” (Le Guin, page 2). However, idealism is a false pretense of what reality actually is. The joy that Omelas has is tainted. One can look at the city’s people and environment and probably find their contentment to be plausible. But that’s only seeing Omelas’ exterior. Omelas’ interior is the opposite of its beauty. In the underground is a malnourished child who lives in misery. The storyteller states, “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. It has one locked door, and no window.” (Le Guin, page 4). “The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool 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, page 4). “It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.” (Le Guin, page 5). The child is treated as the city’s prisoner and the the basement room is its jail cell or dungeon. As the narrator states, “They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, 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 kindly weathers of their skies, depends wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” (Le Guin, page 5). “No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. 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 the happiness of one; that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.” (Le Guin, pages 5 and 6). Any city could appear to be ideal and extravagant. However, the city’s infrastructure could say otherwise. The child in the tool room is Omelas’ infrastructure. Without the kid, Omelas has no foundation to preserve its fortunes. For that reason alone, the government makes sure that no evidence of such is accessible to the public. This is the truth and it happens all the time in society. What lies deep within a beautiful town (in the bowels) can be so atrocious that those who discover the secret(s) are appalled. They’re discouraged from continuing to pretend that they don’t know the truth. That is why a handful of people who have seen the child refuse to continue living in Omelas. It’s the only opportunity they have (probably for the first time in their lives) be free from Omelas’ disillusioned fantasy.

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