Critical Analysis of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K.Le Guin
August 14 2021 · 6 min read
The ones who walk away from Omelas by Ursula K.Le Guin has been published in 1973. The author has picked on an imaginary utopian society to reveal the cost one has to pay for perfect happiness: the nature of people to reject morality and suppress the weak has also been discussed through sensory deprivation and the suffering of a child. The author wants us to envision the perfect society the way we want when she says “Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids,” (Guin, 1973, p.1). Moreover, she has used an objective approach at the beginning of the story and has introduced the utopia with the help of a festival. “Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay.” (Guin, 1973, p.1), this vividly shows her technique to construct a scenario of the festival. A festival where people have been coming from different places to witness the perfect happiness of Omelas, which is considered to be very simple to have. “The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting.” (Guin, 1973, p.1) the author has clearly stated how we take happiness for granted and romanticize suffering as something to enjoy more. This grounds the concept of individual versus society later in the story. And finally shows people walking over morality to taste happiness.
Ursula has used third person narrative to present herself as unbiased and fair. Furthermore, she has appealed to ethos to sound fair and build credibility in eyes of the reader. And her objective approach accomplishes this goal. She makes direct contact with the reader when she invites readers to fill in perfect details about utopia as it suits them. “Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time.” (Guin, 1973, p.1) and a part of this invitation to the reader is because Omelas is an imaginary city as it has been said in this sentence. As well as there are points in the story where an author wishes if she could describe the utopia more effectively and prudently. The author writes “O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you….for certainly I cannot suit you all.” (Guin, 1973, p.1). This expresses that Omelas exists only the way readers anticipate for themselves. To strengthen her point here she has used conditional clauses while talking about the imaginary Omelas, which instead has made the author unreliable. Because the conditional clause reflects that idea of this utopia is not well-grounded in the narrator’s mind. “I do not know the rules and laws of their society,” this reveals that the narrator is not sure of the reality of utopia and its reality depends on the reader. Thus, its reality has been changing with each reader.
The author lets the reader create a utopian society of Omelas themselves in the beginning. Whereas her tone shifts in the other half of the story Ursula has left no room to imagine the devastating situation of the child. “It lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and greases a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.” (Guin, 1973, p.3) she has given exact details about the child’s miserable life leaving no room for justifying the dreadful suffering of the child. Moreover, the gender of the child is not exactly told. The author refers to the child as ‘it’. Exclusive use of ‘it’ unveils how the child has been an object to the society of Omelas. Not giving it specific gender further proves that the child has been the awful secret of Omelas, which everybody knows. The child has not been allowed socialization or nourishment. The story lacks any personal information about the child because it was given none. Spending its life affected by malnutrition still begs for the end of the suffering “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!” They never answer.” (Guin, 1973, p.3). The Omelas never answer because their utopia has been grounded on its suffering and it shows their selfish nature.
The author has created an idyllic image of utopia even leaving readers free to add perfect details that leave the reader curious to explore the reason behind such joy. The author introduces an element of doubt in the reader’s mind when she directly questions the reader “Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How to describe the citizens of Omelas?” (Guin, 1973, p.1). The doubt and curiosity are spiced together when she adds “They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy.” (Guin, 1973, p.1), this implies that there is something questionable behind the excellent happiness. In addition, the absence of evidence to justify the complexity of the people mentioned makes them suspicious folks: and after the author openly admits that they are not simple, readers suspect the city of Omelas and the citizens. Moreover, the author mentions “One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.” (Guin, 1973, p.2), it misleads the reader to think that there is no guilt because there exists only joy for some reason. Therefore, there is nothing to feel guilty about, only later does the reader finds out the truth about the suffering of the child and understands the absence of guilt. The thought that sacrificing one’s happiness is better to create greater happiness is hammered in the people of Omelas. Thus, people don’t feel guilty about letting the child suffer. And also the children who are outraged after seeing the suffering of the child for the first time become indifferent towards the injustice later. They also adopt the behavior of the rest of the people and reject to feel guilty.
The reader has played the main character in this story thus he gets to choose between morality and happiness and stay or walk away from Omelas into the dark. Ursula has added the element of utilitarianism a bit in her story. “It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science.” (Guin, 1973, p.4), though the details are not given exactly but the connection developed between wretched misery of the child and pure happiness of Omelas represents the theme of utilitarianism. And those who choose happiness are in favor of the greater good while those who value morality walk into some unimaginable place. They knowingly erode their happiness and accept guilt and in exchange,, they might get live their lives in a land of sorrow but fairness.
Ursula has appealed to the sensory perception of the reader using charming words. The reader can clearly see the use of simile, onomatopoeia, and evocative language to visualize the utopia. “neigh..” (Guin, 1973, p.2), such usage of words has breathed life into words bringing them to life and creating the sense of hearing the sound while reading. The sentence structure and vocabulary have supported the literally devices to describe the people of Omelas, the joy, and themes the author wanted to put forth. Symbolizing the child to portray unjust happening in real societies and she has accomplished her goal well.
Guin, Ursula. (1973). Those Who Walk Away From Omelas. New Dimension Volume 3. http://sites.asiasociety.org/asia21summit/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/3.-Le-Guin-Ursula-The-Ones-Who-Walk-Away-From-Omelas.pdf