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A Brief Introduction of “The ones who walks away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin
“The ones who walks away from Omelas”was written by Ursula K. Le Guin, an American writer. It is a work of short philosophical fiction which was written in 1973. The narrator depicts the summer festival using both vivid and vague descriptions deliberately. The story reflects the description of festival in summer in the utopian city of Omelas. The prosperity of Omelas is dependent on perpetual misery of a single child. This work by Ursula K. Le Guin was also nominated for Locus award for Best Short Fiction in the year 1974. It had also won the Hugo Award for best Short story in 1974.
The writers can obtain their ideas from strangest of places. The name Omelas is distinctive-sounding but entirely fictional city in the work of Ursula. The idea for ‘The ones who walk away from Omelas came from one of the reading roads signs from Oregon. The idea behind the story was came from both William James and Fyodor Dostoevsky, the nineteenth century psychologist. It was considered to be one of the best work of Ursula as it has the force of modern myth. The writer herself had used the word ‘psychomyth’ in the notes to the story and described it.
As narrated by the author, Omelas is the fictional city where people seem to live a fulfilling and happy lives. The story begins with the Summer Festival, an annual festival which is celebrated for the arrival of the season. It was celebrated using the procession throughout the city. Youth including adult men and women rides horse. There is singing, music and the clanging of bells. The narrator states that the Omelas people are not just simple folk but they were happy. People in the city does not keep slaves and there is no king. There are no barbarians as well. Later, the people confesses that there is a lack of detailed knowledge regarding the rules and laws prevailing in the city of Omelas. The concept of consumerist culture is still unknown to the people of the city. There exist no advertisements, no stock exchanges all around the city. It sounds just like the utopia and have no need of a secret police. The narrator explains the city as that of a fairy tale.
After the description of the city of Omelas, the narrator returns to the procession of the festival of the summer. The final detail of the festival is given by the author as the beautiful public buildings of the city or perhaps in cellar somewhere in a private house in a basement. There is a child around the age of six years old, and it is of indeterminate gender. This particular child was imprisoned in a room that does not even have a window. Sometimes, the child was given just enough food to keep him alive. Every now and then, the child promises to others that they will be good once out of the room. But no one allows the child to come out and set free.
This was identified as the dark, dirty and unpleasant secret which ensures the happiness of other people in the rest of the city of Omelas. It means that the rest of the city will be happy only if this one child is kept at abominable misery at all times. When the children within the city become old enough to understand, they are told about the one child in the room. More often, those children are brought to see the miserable child on whom their happiness is dependent. Most of the children become shocked, sickened, and outraged to view the sight of the maltreated child. However, they are not in a position to help the child on their own. They knew the fact that the child should be freed from captivity as it is the most right thing to do, however, they are also aware that the beauty and the prosperity of the city of Omelas would vanish by doing so.
At the end of the story, the narrator says that were some people in the city who were appalled by the condition of the society and they just walked away from the city, heading towards some other place. The destination of those people were not known to the narrator, but they seem to know where they are going, “The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas”.
In the story, the James is reflecting the most desired and idealistic societies of the authors fiction. Th philosophy of Utilitarianism is shown with the help of statement, ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ is relevant in this context. The story revealed that the happiness of the society is dependent on the fact that minority should be oppressed and kept unhappy. But what if the greatest happiness for the society would be depended on everyone, while keeping the minority as an active part in the society. The story ‘the ones who walk away from Omelas’ reflects on this particular moral question. However, the narrator does not focus on this moral issue in detail, letting the readers to respond with questions after the completion of the story.
In addition, there was no explanation as to why the happiness of the society is dependent on the misery of one child. It lead to the conclusion that the narrator was not having enough knowledge about the city of Omelas, as the author readily confesses that they do not where the people of Omelas are headed. It reflects the characteristics of the uncertain narrator.
However, Ursula was one of the foremost literary stylists of her generation, and was considered as one of the finest stylists working on a speculative fiction and science fiction. As mentioned earlier, Le Guin herself describes the work as a ‘psychomyth’ a good myth attracts resonances and new meanings in which the author would have been unaware of certain event or scenarios.