What is the narrator's opinion of Omelas in Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" does not seem capable of giving a straightforward account of Omelas.  For one thing, Le Guin subtitles her story parenthetically, "Variations on a Theme by Williams James."  Reliability is, therefore, questionable for the narrator since she is ambiguous about several ideas, serving several variations for her audience to consider.  For instance, she writes,

a cheerful faint sweetness of the air from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.

Joyous!  How is one to tell about joy?  How describe the citizens of Omelas?

The narrator also creates doubt in the mind of the reader by asking,

How can I tell you about the people of Omelas!?"...I wish I could describe it better.  I wish I could convince you.

She continues, using "I think" and "I think there ought to be," guessing, rather than telling the reader.  Asking the reader,"Do you believe?  Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy?"--or if the ones who walk away are more credible, suggests that the reader should have doubt, and should "reflect" upon the pragmatism of James that what is good for the many is worth the price of one.  This intrusive quality of the narrator brings the moral ambiguity of the final situation into question as well, as she invites the reader to place himself in the position of the people of Omelas.  thus, the reader is forced to face the moral dilemma of the people:  Should the happiness of a community be paid for by a single wretched creature?  In answer to this question, the narrator, certainly, is ambiguous, if not unconvinced as she asks the reader to approve the details of the story while still not passing any judgment:

Now do you believe in them?  Are they [the citizens of Omelas'] not more credible?...I cannot describe it all.  It is possible that it does not exist.  But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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