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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Explain how "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" demonstrates how stories function in a society. What stories do we tell ourselves, and what do they do for us?

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Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” shows how stories can define a society. The way Omelas’s society functions on the suffering of one child brings to mind the way in which many contemporary societies function on the suffering of oppressed populations. Many people today live in a society that only works the way it does because others are suffering. For instance, many people live a luxurious materialistic lifestyle in the United States because people in other countries are working for low wages to mass produce products for American consumption. Many people in the United States are aware of this inequity but tell themselves stories to justify the way things are. For example, some people believe the narrative that the oppressed are just not working hard enough or lack the intelligence to create a nicer life for themselves. These explanations are ultimately just stories that allow those who are living a nice life to rid themselves of guilt.

Le Guin’s story itself also shows the power stories have to prompt readers to reflect on the way they live. The story is a political allegory that critiques oppression in the Western world in a strategic way. Consider how the narrator tells the story by asking questions that make the reader constantly aware that this is a work of fiction. For example, the narrator asks questions like,

“Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.”

This method of narration reminds the reader that this is a work of fiction working to convey a particular message while also allowing the reader to place himself in the narrative. The narrator’s questions and objective approach to the story make readers reflect on what they themselves think about the striking situation. The way the story does this shows how stories function to make readers reflect on themselves and the world around them.

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