What is mood or tone of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narration of this story is very interesting; the narrator speaks of the city in very broad generalities.  He leaves many of the details up to the imagination of the reader.  He gives the basic outline of the city and the people, but not the up-close distinctions, instead leaving the reader to fill in details "as you like it."  This makes the mood of the story very ponderous, very calm and serene, and pleasantly unintimidating.  This is why when the abused child is introduced, it is even more shocking-this contrast with the idealistic, happy, make-it-what-you-want-it-to-be type of storyline is jolting, just as the child is meant to be jolting to that society.  The mood, once the child is introduced, becomes more serious and melancholy, but is still distanced and calm.  The narrator makes no judgments, just states things as the people of Omelas see it:  To release the child from its torture would be "To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed."

The overall calm, ponderous, thoughtful, and distanced mood of the narrator helps increase the philosophical impact of the story; this helps, since the implications of this story are quite significant.

reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," the author poses some serious questions to the reader.

As the story opens, the mood appears quite joyful and idyllic. The Festival of Summer is taking place. There are "merry women," and there is a "sweetness in the air." However, it doesn't take Le Guin long to switch this mood to one of a much darker nature.

When the child in the basement is introduced, the tone is dark and ominous; the mood is somber, brooding, and shocking. The child is treated inhumanely. All the people of the town know this, but most are willing to look the other way. Their own happiness depends on the misery of the child.

Le Guin emphasizes the theme of tragic trade-offs and exploitation; many of us are willing to turn away from misery if we are not affected and can even benefit from it. In today's world, there are many children being exploited. Consider child labor in sweat shops. Yet we still purchase clothes made by those children in developing countries. It is suggested that we should be the ones who walk away. This story is a cautionary tale.

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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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