Class Discussion: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Sunday (3/2).

Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Wednesday (3/5). 

The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about this short story. You can respond to one of my “discussion-starter”prompts/questions below, or you can discuss any other aspect of the text that isn’t mentioned there.

Your comments need not be very long: for example, you can provide a quote/citation and a few sentences of explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc.).

Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • Discuss the initial imagery of Omelas (3-4).
  • Discuss the varying ways happiness is described in the text.
  • Who is the narrator?
  • How does the narrator invite the reader (“you”) to imagine the utopian city of Omelas (2-3)? Why does the narrator want the reader to co-create this utopia? What purpose might it serve in the context of what happens later in the text?
  • Why does the narrator keep asking the readers if they believe him/her (middle p. 4; bottom p. 6)? How have things changed in the story (and the readers’ perception of it) by the time the questions are asked the second time around towards the end of the story?
  • Discuss the characterization of the child in the room (and perhaps compare it to the boy flute player at the top of p. 4).
  • Why does everyone in the city have to be aware of the existence of the child? (5)
  • Is it possible to have a happy/good/just society at the expense of someone else?
  • Is ignorance bliss? Would the people in the story be better off not knowing of its existence? What would be gained from this ignorance? What would be lost?
  • Can you think if any analogy of the child in the room in our society? If so, who is the child, and who suffers at its expense?
  • Why do some people walk away from Omelas? Who are these people? Where do they go?
  • Explore how an element of fiction (or multiple ones) plays out in the text.
  • Explore one (or more) of the items on the Utopian/Dystopian Framework within the context of this short story.

45 thoughts on “Class Discussion: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

  1. I’d like to give an opinion as to why everyone must be aware of the child’s existence.
    I believe this part of the story was placed there to simply keep everyone in line. To make sure everyone knows what is keeping them happy and what keeps this society “normal”. Without this child’s suffering a whole society can collapse…or can it? Maybe the fear of not know what can/will happen to them if they did away with this child. We know they definitely will not even try to find out, they leave things as is. Some, morally know this is wrong which is why I believe they “walk away”. They walk away from this heavy-ness of knowing an innocent young child is suffering for the wellbeing of an entire society.

    • I agree! I think they have to be reminded or informed of the reason why things are so great! This perfect world wouldn’t be possible without the suffering of this child! One question I have though, is this. Is this child somehow related to the child who was playing the musical instrument? In the store LeGuin writes ” They know that if the wretched one were not there sniveling in the dark, the other, the flute player, could not make no joyful music……” (page 6) I wish LeGuin would expand on this topic more.

    • I think that they use the child as a trophy in a way since they enjoy letting citizens and outsiders see the child so they can then explain why the town is so bright and happy. It’s actually disturbing behavior the citizens portray as if it’s something normal yet they take pride in no matter what reaction they get from others…..

  2. I agree with Brian, the child was used as an example/guideline. The way it was explained in the story however I think was a bit much but maybe LeGuin did that intentionally. The more detail she added the more the reader got an idea of what these citizens saw. The child was a reminder to the people to think twice before doing anything bad. However I don’t think it’s fair to have a place be “happy” at a child expense, because the child itself itsn’t happy at the expense of someone else. Maybe who ever was in power or held with high regards could have made up a story with the same scenario the child was in rather than having the child actually living in it. for example, all the children who went to school would be told this story at an early age, and reiterate as they went on in school and at home. kind of like in Brave New World, the citizens are taught things early on and thats how they based their life because thats all they know.

    • I agree that the child shouldn’t have to endure suffering to keep everyone else happy it’s cruel and who ever walks out of the town and never returns again understands that it isn’t right to treat the child that way. They rather find happiness somewhere else without the guilt of knowing that someone suffers for them to feel joy.

    • I completely agree with everyone on why the child is there and why everyone has to witness what the child goes through. I really feel that the child is there so that everyone else knows that they have it good. Without the child they wouldn’t know the difference between what it’s like to have nothing and to have everything.

  3. The narrator invites us to this utopian city of Omelas and makes us feel as if we were there physically giving us a vast amount of imagery in order to set the setting. An example of his imagery can be seen such as “The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags” (LeGuin 1). There are many examples of imagery in the beginning in order to make the society seem happy and festive. In my opinion I think LeGuin did this in order to show to us that nothing in reality is perfect. Also wanting us to basically know both sides of the story, the superficial side and the internal side which is the child’s suffering for the town and I agree with both Naomi and Brian perspectives.

    • I agree with you Alejandro she really did use powerful imagery in the whole story to really bring us into the setting of Omelas. and it definitely did show the superficial side of what we really think is happiness.

    • Personally as an artist, the description of these utopias really get the mind going. I can just imagine and picture the colors and decorations described in the village. This makes it a lot easier to set a scene in my mind for the characters and to ultimately understand the story a little better.

    • I agree with Alejandra. Just like the other utopian stories we have read so far, none of them really describe perfection. In most of these stories we have read about things that might seem perfect but in reality they are not. Juts like in Omelas. LeGuin is trying to show that no matter how hard its tried, perfection cant be accomplished.

  4. I think the one’s who walk away are the ones who see the society for what it is. They see past the festival and happiness and they see the evil that lurks within. I think they feel horror and disgust. They probably somehow feel dirty. Not physical dirt, but just emotionally and mentally dirty. They can’t comprehend the situation They are at first in shock that they don’t speak for a few days, then they just start walking and walk right out of the city. LeGuin writes “The place they go is even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness” ( page 7) These people who walk away would rather live with misery and pain then to live in a place where such monstrosities happen to a helpless child.

    • I agree maybe they use the festival and its happiness as a cover up of whats actually going on behind the scenes. They rather walk away from it all, then have to go on living their everyday lives with fear that what happened to the child can happen to them and pretending to be happy when they’re not because they know whats actually going on is cruel.

    • I agree also. I believe the festival is used to distract and cover up what is really happening. With the imagery provided, the town seems to be a vivid and colorful place to live in with many events happening. It gives the illusion of peace and happiness, when really they themselves are responsible for the suffering of a child. The ones who walk away know it is wrong and have decided to not base their happiness on something so disturbing.

  5. LeGuin uses imagery to get the reader into thinking Omelas seems like a nice place with “a cheerful faint sweetness of the air” and “joyous clanging of the bells” (pg 1) LeGuin uses all this imagery on the first page of the story so that is in my opinion an opening on how the rest of the story will be like until LeGuin “drops” the news of the child living in the basement. You then start to feel that there is something wrong.

    Denise, I agree with your opinion about the one’s who walk away are those who “see the society for what it is”. I think thats exactly what the title is meant for, for those people in Omelas who see everything for what it really is, and that their society is not “perfect” like the way its described through imagery on the first page.

  6. The child within the story of “The Ones Who Walked Away” is used as a way to remind all the people what unhappiness is. A way to teach everyone what they have is happiness and to appreciate what they have by showing them what having nothing really is like and what true misery is.

    • I agree with your statement. I didn’t think of it that way, I initially thought that the young child did not qualify to be a known citizen in their world.

  7. If people in this society weren’t aware of the child, they probably wouldn’t be as happy. Knowing about the child is probably what makes them appreciate their happiness. Just like in real life you appreciate more what you have after you realize how others suffer.

    • I agree. Its almost like a balance system. They see that their is this innocent child in grave dispair and if they “walk away” then they can end up like this.

    • Yes, i agree!! In my opinion i think that was the reason why some people ended up walking away from Omelas. The truth hurt and decided their happiness was not worth the suffering of the innocent child.

    • Hmm that could be true, but I wonder why that particular child was “chosen” to be separated from society?

  8. If people in this society weren’t aware of the child, they probably wouldn’t be as happy. Knowing about the child is probably what makes them appreciate their happiness. Just like in real life you appreciate more what you have after you realize how others suffer.

    • There’s some really sick people in the story and I believe what you say is true. It makes light of what society is in real life in that people feel better about themselves because someone else isn’t as popular, or have better looks then them.

    • This is true, once you realize how other people suffer you appreciate what you have that much more, but my whole thing is why just one person, and why the child. The way she makes it seem to me is as though the child did something wrong and therefore is being punished, but why just one person and not more then one?
      I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the first to do something “wrong” he just got “caught” but all in all I still think its wrong to have a society be “happy” at the expense of one child’s unhappiness.

  9. I think that’s the children are their to remind the other that at anytime they can be replaced when one doesn’t want to follow the rule , I don’t think their is to much happiness in omelas because once they start to venture out they start to thinking about how life could be if they weren’t living off the drug

  10. After reading over the story again, I think the narrator of the story is probably a passersby. He has not been part of their society for too long but long enough to know some of its traditions. For example in page 1, ” They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer any more.” The We in that sentence clarifies that hes part of their society now and any more suggests hes been there for a while. The narrator also mentions in page 2 that he does not know the rules and laws of the society. This probably means that he isn’t to familiar with rules even with his time spent there.

    • What I’m wondering is how the narrator knows so much of this society with out being part of it? Did the narrator get information of the town from an outside source? maybe from someone who “walked away”. Whats your take on that?

    • I imagined the narrator as a person who is part of the society but he is kind of keeping distant telling us how they are. It seems to be like he is giving us a tour of their society much like Professor Belli described last Thursday in class.

    • I imagine the narrator to know one of the people who walked away and probably couldn’t imagine it so he went and visited the place himself. He probably was doing his own journalistic investigating based on his experiences of with the ones who walked away. He couldn’t have seen the child because he is not a member of the society and I doubt the people of the town are discussing the child over tea so he must know about the child how. He or she is probably from one of the places the ones who walked away traveled to.

    • I agree with you Brian. perhaps he found out from someone who once belonged to this society and decided to abandon it. This person might be who the title refers to as the one who “walked away”. The narrator might have been interested from what he heard and decided to stay in this society to oversee its events but that is just a mere speculation.

    • I definitely agree with your perspective is very interesting about the idea of the narrator being an outsider or at least some one that over sees it happening at some point to know how the society functions.

    • It was really hard define the real role of what the narrators purpose was , or who they were. But your observation makes a lot of sense.

  11. I believe that the people in Omelas are in a way made to live this happy life. With the idea of this suffering child the grown ups are forced to raise their children to live in their “happy way” in order for their children not to meet the same fate as the child. By reading the conditions that this child lived one questions what would happen once the child dies? For I do not believe that it would have a long life. Would society choose another child to take it’s place? In page 5, the narrator states that the child did have a mother and when he was first placed in the small room his words were, “I will be good.” I think he believed that he was being given some sort of punishment. Every now and then there could’ve been a child who disrupted the flow of this town and of course, that couldn’t happen for it was Omelas and to get rid of it, girl or boy it was placed the small room and replaced the other, dead or alive.

    • I was wondering that too Christina. Who is going to take the child’s place when it dies? When it does die do they go through a process to pick a new child? Or do they pick a child who’s been behaving bad which relates to the comment of the child saying I will be good when placed in the room.

  12. In my opinion, the child in the story is a reflection on the social outcasts of today. We do not want to become one and as a society we sometimes look down upon them. Like we do not want to be them and are ridiculing them because of it.

    • I agree with you Dom, i never really taught of it this way but now that you mention it, it makes a good point. They knew the child existed but basically “put it under the rug” and went on living with their lives.

  13. I think the narrator in “Omelas” is another individual who lives in the town. A random, nameless face that’s writting or talking about what he sees going on , and him interjecting some utopian elements in there while describing the dystopia that Omelas really is.

    • I totally agree with you George, throughout the story it seems like he is questioning their ways of life and is trying to find a answer himself.

    • The way you explained could be one way of thinking who the narrator is in Omelas, but the person who is narrating could also get information from a person who was in the town and recall everything they saw.

  14. The people that walk away from Omelas are the folks that are so scarred from seeing the “hideous” child that they randomly wake up on nights almost possessed, and leave town almost like they’re sleep walking they’re so shaken up.

    The ones that leave are usually all kinds of folks men, women, children.

  15. I think the child who is kept in the room is there to show everyone what their society could look like if they aren’t careful. This is why everyone is shown the child when they are believed to be old enough. So that they can see firsthand what suffering and pain looks like. In doing this everyone fully appreciates that they aren’t in the child’s place and works together to keep their utopia.
    The ones who walk away are the ones who don’t believe their happiness should depend on the suffering of a child and they wish to not be a part of it anymore.

    • I agree with you, Why does it have to be a child, why can’t it be a full grown men, that has actually lived a good life or decent, why a child that has a whole life ahead of him. Such an unfair Punishment.

    • Like Jonathan said, I think one way LeGuin could have changed the story is instead of having a child in the basement there would be an adult. I think it would be interesting for there to be an adult, someone who maybe “rebelled” or “walked away” from Omelas, and the “authorities” of Omelas show these people the adult (man or woman) in the basement as a way to show “this is what can happen to you” almost like the person is in jail. I think it would be interesting for people to see an adult, because they have lived a longer life than a child so they go through more things in their lives, as opposed to a child who maybe has not lived enough years to do something that is “wrong” in Omelas.

  16. In my opinion I think the narrator is trying to give a description of how he would want people to live In his own little world imagine the world we live in today run by some fearless leader whom program us into believing they if we all stay in our race an believe that if we relay on a wonder drug that life would run smoothly at the same time no one is really or comfortable with the way they live .. This book has a lot of twist in it one min it about one thing than as you keep reading you are lead to believe another

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