What meaning about the world comes from the symbols and the inclusion of the reader in LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?In LeGuin's story, look at how she uses the symbols and what...

What meaning about the world comes from the symbols and the inclusion of the reader in LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

In LeGuin's story, look at how she uses the symbols and what she is saying

"Authors are people talking about the world. Even the most far out science fiction is based on real human emotions, desires, and reactions."
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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That ambiguities exist in the direction of LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is apparent as there exist two titles for this story.  The second one, "Variations on a theme by William James" suggests that LeGuin is exploring James's theory of pragmatism and setting forth an example for the readers to consider by calling them into the narrative.

James, the older brother of writer Henry James, proposed the theory of pragmatism. This belief contends that a person's thoughts should guide his or her actions, and that truth is a consequence of a person's beliefs,  Le Guin's story "takes this belief to its moral consequences" (enotes). 

LeGuin's story begins with an idyllic setting:  swallows soaring over the "bright-towered" city of Omelas by the sea.  Innocence is conveyed with children "naked in the bright air," ready to ride their horses--"the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own"--who wear no gear save a halter.  LeGuin tells the narrator, "They were not simple folk, ...though they were happy."  But, smiles are a thing of the past since there is virtually no unhappiness.  Here LeGuin leaves the intent of these words up to the reader as she writes, "How is one to tell about joy?" suggesting to the reader,

Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, wat is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.

With this definition of happiness, she instructs the reader "As you like it": happiness can include orgies or temples, cars, washing machines, all sorts of technological devices, or none of them--however the individual considers them is what is important, the "just discrimination of what is necessary."  For, in Omelas "there is no guilt." While some who view this incarcerated being go home in tears, LeGuin writes that

Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it.

After her explanation of this pragmatism, LeGuin asks her reader, "Now do you believe in them?"

Only moral indignation is what makes the ones who "walk away" leave.  They are the ones who cannot accept that one creature must suffer, must be the scapegoat, for the happiness of the others:

They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back.  The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness.  I cannot describe it at all.  It is possible that it does not exist.

That there are flaws in this pragmatic society is evident in LeGuin's symbolism: 

A child of nine sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute.  People pause to listen, and they smile, but they do not speak to him, for he never ceases playing and never sees them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune.

The child blinded by his music is symbolic of those who choose the state of happiness willingly and accept that one child surrounded with symbols of evil--foul-smelling mops, with dirt and dampness--must suffer for the good of all.   The reader must decide, to use an old adage, "At what price happiness?"

With her undermining of apparent reality through the use of symbols and mixed images, Le Guin gets the reader to focus on the thematic implication of the theory of pragmatism of William James.

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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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