In the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," how do symbol, allegory, and fantasy play a role in the story?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What is unique about LeGuin's story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is the fact that she does not tell the reader much.  Indeed, there is even a moral ambiguity created at the end of the narrative as the ones who depart Omelas yet leave the child in misery.

Nevertheless, LeGuin did state that she had written her story as a fictive allegory of the scapegoat "as the American conscience."  For instance, LeGuin's story can be read as an allegory of American capitalism in which a small percentage of wealthy executives give themselves raises while laying off other employees or exploiting their employees as in the case of Enron which misrepresented their stock prices in order to profit for their executives while depriving the lower employees.

Or, the symbolic child can be allegorically interpreted as the impoverished in America who suffer while a select wealthy class is untouched by even severe economic times.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The fundamental concept of the short story is the relationship between those that have power and those who lack it in any social or political order.  The story is exploring the connection that exists between prosperity and poverty, and that one gain might be made at the cost of another.  LeGuin's writing style does much to enhance this and other themes related to power and happiness.  The idea of creating "Omelas" as a far away land where there is a great deal of joy and elation at the state of being is a realm that is constructed through proportions of fantasy.  The first half of the story is entirely driven by this idea of fantasy, that Omelas is a world where there is an almost idyllic state of human consciousness.  Her descriptions of the festivals, the regal nature of the horses, and the entire surroundings as an almost Camelot, fantasy style setting helps to raise the reader's expectations that Omelas is a realm that is perfect.  It is only through such an inflated sense of description that LeGuin is able to raise the other side to this condition of being.  It is here where the symbol of the child, who makes grunting noise, sitting in their own filth, and representing the pinnacle of neglect and abuse resonates in the mind of the reader.  There is a stunning contrast between both worlds.  The realm of Omelas and the dungeon of the child is the fundamental paradigm, symbolic of the power relationship that not exists in such stark terms in Omelas and in other settings.  This becomes almost allegorical in its telling of how social and political orders are constructed, with success coming at the cost of another.  It is through this employment of language where LeGuin is able to generate reflective thought about the condition of Omelas and its similarity to other orders in our world and about our own senses of self.

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