What is an analysis of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" that connects to the theme of the American identity?

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

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Le Guin offers a nice metaphor for the emerging social realities that exist as a part of American identity.  Essentially, Le Guin makes the case for if a society can exist effectively and morally if the happiness of many is dependent on the suffering of a few.  This connects to American identity in a couple of ways.  The first is that Le Guin is demanding a reexamination of the American Dream.  The notion of individual happiness begs the question as to how much one must keep in mind the maintenance of the social order.  The American Dream, by its own admission, is subjective and highly individual.  It does not necessarily embrace a wider perspective and Le Guin offers her own take on American identity by asking whether or not one should pursue a dream that fails to account for the maintenance of the social order.  

Another aspect of American identity that is present in the story would revolve around those who suffer.  The child endures pain and untold humiliation so that others can be content.  In American society, Le Guin is suggesting that can a nation predicated on fairness and equality within the law progress if there are a targeted few who suffer for others' happiness.  The time of the story's writing features American involvement in the Vietnam War, questions about President Johnson's "Great Society," and the future of the Civil Rights Movement.  All of these realities have to do with the happiness of some at the cost of others.  American identity is fundamentally challenged with the paradigm that Le Guin offers through "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas."  The story is one in which there is significant questioning as to how happiness for some can be morally, politically, and socially sustainable if it comes at the cost of another.  Through doing so, she offers a paradigm or way to evaluate American identity. 

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