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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin - A Literary Essay Example

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Harvey Mudd College
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The short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is based on the daily lives of people of Omelas. Omelas cannot be referred to as utopia as the working of everything was close to perfect harmony, but all was not as it seemed. The story is told by a narrator who seems to sympathize with the situation of the people of Omela although their life appears to be perfect. The narrators voice leaves a print on the story as throughout the story appears to pity the people of Omelas. The young ones are happy, and the adults are mature intelligent and passionate (Guin, Ursula). Omelas is not utopia as beneath the happiness on the surface lies a dark secret. The people of Omelas even though saddened by the secret, are unable to do a thing to help, and therefore they are trapped in the false happiness in the city and are thus are not free.

The writer challenges the notion that people who are happy are naive in the story. The writer says, although the people of Omelas were delighted, they were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians (Guin, Ursula). The writer criticizes the existing belief in our society that is promoted by sophisticates and pedants that pain is intellectual and regards happiness as something stupid. The same society has lost its meaning of what constitutes happiness, and this according to Le Guin is treason. The writer describes the people of Omelas as a group that was happy yet not naive in any sense.

The story also brings out the theme of freedom. The people of Omelas neither have many laws nor a king or queen to rule over them to maintain the smooth flow of affairs. Without these, Omelas is a peaceful city, and there is harmony. The people are disciplined and engage in leisure responsibly. There is also beer and drugs in Omelas. As the writer puts it I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical (Guin, Ursula). Despite the City portraying the aspects of a fairytale-like place, the people still enjoy the pleasures of drinking and other pleasures such as sexual pleasures though they do this responsibly. The people of Omelas live without religious leaders such as priests, yet religion exists. Therefore, Omlelas is depicted as a city without any strict laws, but its inhabitants can maintain law and order by having a sense of responsibility.

Through symbolism, Le Guin criticizes our society today where people are aware of the existence of evil but do nothing to help. The people of Omelas know about the suffering child and most have at least been at the prison where the suffering child is locked once but none has done anything to help the child. They are just filled with compassion for the child and disgust at the sight of it. The same is the case as in our modern society today where all are familiar with the suffering of others in other parts of the globe and even in the country. People are familiar with images of starving children on television and at times change TV stations so as not to see the disgusting and disturbing pictures of those suffering. Most people just do nothing about the plight of those people only because they have been made to believe they cannot do a thing to change the situation of those suffering. The child embodies the ancient idea of a scapegoat, someone who suffers for the sake of the rest of the more significant population (Brandt, Bruce). The people of Omelas are aware of the childs presence and suffering but believe that the child has to suffer for the rest of the people to be happy. Lifting the childs pain even for a second would mean throwing away the happiness of all in Omelas. Hence, for the people of Omelas, it is logical that the plight of one child is a worthwhile price to pay for the happiness of all. When children in Omelas come at an age where they begin to understand and are bothered by the suffering of the child, they are made to know that the happiness of all rests on this childs suffering. Most make peace with themselves and the few that do not eventually leave Omelas and what becomes of them we are not told, but the writer says, they seem to know where they are going, those who walk away from Omelas (Guin, Ursula). The idea of a scapegoat s common even in our society today as we see in the decisions made during a war for instance. For the good of many, the interests of the few have to be stepped on.

The story brings to light the oppression of underdeveloped nations by those that are developed such as the United States. The city of Omelas represents a developed country, and the suffering child describes the deplorable conditions that exist in Third World countries. The dumping of substandard goods in the Third World countries is an example of this. The people of Omelas know of the suffering of the child but have found a way to live with this knowledge and accept the terrible justice of reality (Guin, Ursula). The developed countries are aware of the impact of their actions of neglect have but have chosen to act blind to it. Most learn to suppress the image of other peoples suffering and live their lives normally. In some cases, cultural differences are blamed for this.

Another significant theme presented in the story is the justice of reality. The story shows that there cannot exist a perfect harmony in the society. Despite Omelas being a happy city, it lives with a dark secret. The idealistic feeling that no one ought to live wonderfully if one person has to suffer is challenged, and the story suggests that what is embraced in the world is the reality that the world is not perfect and thereby it is impossible to avoid the suffering of all. The theme can be related to our society today, where in many cases established cases of extreme injustice are ignored by people just to be happy. The people of Omelas come up with many excuses to justify their ignoring of the childs plight. They do this through their sense of responsibility for each other and their morality and morals despite doing this, the guilt from our actions does not go away. It sticks with us telling us we could have done something to help. At the end of the story, Le Guin applauds those who chose to leave Omelas by stating that they seem to understand what they are doing and the path that they have chosen. The writers opinion challenges us that we can do something about the real injustice in the world, the very least we can do is to not participate in the unjust system.

The story confronts the troubling contemporary issue of administering justice for all. An example of this in the real world is where George Bush when he was president of the United States wanted to bring General Manuel Noriega of Panama to justice. The act would mean invading a foreign country. The then president was operating on the sound psychological territory as the goal of justice through experiments and observations has been shown to override other issues (Clayton, Susan & Lerner, Melvin). The act was motivated by political reasons other than the reasons President George Bush gave at the time. He justified the invasion by saying that Noriega was a threat to national security of Americans and Americans living in Panama then. He alleged that Noriega had already attacked Americans in Panama and was a security threat, particularly at the Panama Canal. All these were not entirely true but a mere justification for the direction taken by George Bush which was misleading the country. The national security of the US had not been threatened as an attack on the canal was impossible because the US was in charge of security in the channel and the surrounding regions. In this occasion, in my opinion, I can say that George Bush abused the concept of justice for all for personal gains. The invasion was in my view, essential for him to prove a point, to show that he was not the wimp people said he was and that he could take a bold military action. The most basic characteristic of human behavior to maximize situations for their benefits is sometimes placed below the desire for optimizing fair distribution. Studies have shown that people sometimes feel sorry for getting what they think they deserve and also feel guilty when given more than that which they deserve. In most occasions, people will try to behave in a manner that appears fair.

Where concerns of justice are not salient, self-interest plays a role as the most known rule for behavior is the optimization of an individuals comfort and gains. Justice in many instances would be based on that which people desire, and the laws and rules in place put in place will tend to optimize the desired outcomes for the individual or the particular category of people. The objective of justice may supersede individual interests. Someone may not agree with the person that makes the decision, for instance, one may not agree with the idea that for there to be progress there needs to be a loss of life.

Justice is a reasonably complex concept. To some, it means punishing people for their wrongs, and to others, it more so refers to the equal distribution of resources where outcomes are assigned in a manner proportional to inputs or ensuring equality prevails in the particular group (Clayton, Susan & Lerner, Melvin). The concept of justice could be based on an individual or a larger group. The idea brings conflict and serves to bring conflict among people rather than bringing agreement and cooperation which is the primary goal when pursuing justice. In The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, this conflict in the understanding of justice is seen. The broader community thinks that it is just for the one child to suffer if it means thousands will be happy. The conflict eventually results in the leaving of people who cannot stand the injustice on the child, where the child is deprived of the resources availed to others such as food and shelter.

Most people wish for justice but the manner in which they bring it up differs. For an individual, the legitimacy of an outcome implies satisfaction and makes the person feel that they are in control of their fate and that in a just world what they get will be what they deserve. For the society at large, justice serves as criteria through which the functionality of a community can be measured (Clayton, Susan & Lerner, Melvin). Faith in justice would mean the masses can be controlled and those that are disadvantaged can be kept from revolting. The idea of the societal concept of justice is depicted in the story where generally, most people feels Omelas is a just place because the disadvantaged represented by the child is kept in control to maintain law and order in the particular society. In the contemporary world, the underprivileged categories such as the poor are also held in check in the same manner. There are rules in place to ensure that they know their place and do not disrupt law and order in the society by for instance planning a revolution or stealing from others.

People begin to understand the concept of justice which has at its core the ability to differentiate between what is fair and what is unfair, from an early age. In school, for example, a child begins to understand that at a very young age that getting a more significant piece of cake than their classmate when a cake is being shared is unfair, which is the equality principle (Clayton, Susan & Lerner, Melvin). The understanding of what is fair or unfair is critical in shaping a persons view of justice. For the children of Omelas, this knowledge is what determines their perspective on the childs suffering. For some of them, they could not live with the fact that an innocent child who is just like them is only left in misery for the sake of others.

Social injustice just as depicted in the story by the suffering of the child dominates the Society today. An example of social in...

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