Explication of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Ursula K. Le Guin describes a glorious and glittering city free from fetters and chains, pristinely perfect and decorated with streamers, engulfed in sweet smelling air and enraptured by magical music. This city seems too good to be true, and in just a few simple sentences Le Guin validates the readers’ unrest with profound paradoxical storytelling, enchanting imagery and shape of story, and a semi-closure that leaves the reader longing for justice.
Le Guin opens the story by describing a shiny utopia, where one must assume there is little to be desired from the city’s inhabitants. In fact, the ...view middle of the document...
This statement offers up a challenge of sorts to the reader. It is almost as if Le Guin dares the reader to out-imagine her. What would a fairy tale city be to you? One might argue that this approach is a lack of story teller, but this invitation to let the imagination run wild is only makes the story more vivid in the mind of the reader. Correspondingly, the freedom to take this story wherever one pleases leads the reader to know that the theme of the story is deeper than the shenanigans on the surface. Through this sentence Le Guin lets the reader know that she is approaching a more meaningful purpose and prepares the reader to receive this moral lesson.
As the story continues Le Guin draws the reader firmly in by narrowing her perspective from a wide view of the city to a minute scope of one ill-fated child:
They all know that it has to be there. … 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 masters, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weather of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery. (1318)
The juxtaposition of the sweet and agreeable words of the cities niceties intensifies the bitterness and repulsiveness of the child’s inescapable lifestyle. This also serves to communicate a theme to the reader: good does not exist without evil, or rather: good cannot be known without the experience of evil. Also, the numerous descriptions of pleasant attributes of the city serve to highlight the isolation and singularity of this child. The splendor and glory of Omelas is tangible in the imagery of these words, and next to them the darkness that the child faces is like a festering elephant in the room. After this sentence the reader is no longer interested in the joy the city holds, but vies to find out what happens to this poor child. Therefore, Le Guin keeps the reader engaged and enchanted by feeding off of the curiosity and disgust that is broached.
What of the child, then? What of the people of Omelas? What purpose is served by weaving this dichotomy so closely together? As the reader fervently tears across the final paragraphs a moral is unearthed:
Night falls. The traveler must pass down the village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone… they go on. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to...