Considered a political and moral allegory by many, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" has had as an alternate title, "Variations on a Theme by William James." For, Ursula LeGuin wrote this story as a response to James's philosophy of pragmatism, one which held that the value of any truth was completely dependent upon its use to the person who held it.
This is the topic of the writing, and this step in writing helps place the focus upon the intended task throughout. For LeGuin, the subject is James's philosophy of pragmatism is how people handle moral issues using Empriricism, a way of thinking that holds that the world and experience can never be halted for an entirely objective analysis since the value of any truth is utterly dependent upon its use to the person who holds it. This Empiricism is what comes under attack, this value of any truth being dependent upon its use to the person who holds it.
- The Occasion of the Story
The time and place, the context that has prompted the writing. the environment of ideas, attitudes, and emotions that envelop a broad issue constitute the occasion of a story. LeGuin's story was written in 1973, after the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s in the U.S. Again. the pragmatism of James, the value of truth as utterly dependent upon its use to the person who holds it, explores the perception of reality in Omelas. It is Utopia to some, to others it is not, for the conditions for happiness are "strict and absolute."
Interestingly, the readers are drafted to be partners in the creation of this story as LeGuin's narrator switches from telling about Omelas to asking the readers what they think constitutes the happiness or morality of the community since
Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.
This is the ambiguous empiricism of James. For, the environment and experience can never be arrested for an entirely objective analysis. So, LeGuin's narrator turns to the conditional tense and tells the readers, "As you like it," and suggests what the reader may wish to include in Omelas. But, because of the interpretation of truth by James, the narrator states, "One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt." But, the reader is asked, "Do you believe?"
Despite the interpretation of truth, empiricism cannot eliminate evil. And so, there is the presence of a child who holds the town's misery. In exchange for the "goodness and grace of every life" there is that single scapegoat for evil in this world created by pragmatism. This depiction elicits emotional and intellectual responses from the readers--the purpose of LeGuin.
In Studies in Short Fiction, Jerry Collins writes,
Readers are drafted to be partners in creation; they work together [with the narrator] to construct the hideous moral universe of Omelas.