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Here are other topics for consideration:
As mentioned previously the pragmatism of William James is intrinsic to an examination of this story. For, LeGuin wrote "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" as a response to this theory that states that a person's thoughts should guide his or her actions, and that truth is a consequence of a person's belief. (This almost sounds like Hamlet's remark: Nothing is neither good, nor bad; only thinking makes it so.) Is, then, the belief that the good of the many is worth the sacrifice of one? That is, does pragmatism hold here? Or does moral responsibility supersede this belief?
Another topic concerns the definition of happiness. While there is no pain, no sickness, no sorrow in Omelas, there does not appear to be real joy, even though the intrusive narrator declares "they were happy." Yet, LeGuin writes that the people no longer have the need of smiling: "all smiles had become archaic." In what appears to be a utopia, there is still some doubt, and LeGuin's narrator asks, "Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy?" Some have not. They are the ones who walk away, who know of the child and do not forget. They
seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
Here the question of moral responsibility to oneself emerges. Can there be happiness without sorrow?
Finally, a third topic concerns the morally ambiguous last line quoted above. If the ones who walk from Omelas [meaning "Peace, alas"] do so because they cannot be happy at someone else's expense, how is it that they can leave the child without trying to help him/her?
I like Ursula K. LeGuin's short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," but I'm not sure that I completely understand it! I think I understand it well enough, though, to throw out a few possibilities:
1. Why is the story considered science fiction?
2. Is this an initiation story of some sort?
3. The story is subtitled "Variations on a Theme by William James." What does William James have to do with the ideas of the story?
In addition to those possibilities, consider searching through the previous question & answer items on this story. See the q-and-a link below.
Some interesting (though more than three) topics that you could discuss or write about are:
1) What is the narrator trying to do by asking so many questions throughout the story?
2) Why is the narrator so uncertain about what Omelas looks like and the kind of technology it depends on?
3) Why is the narrator so tentative about describing the qualities of a happy community life?
4) How might one interpret the locked-up child? What does it represent?
5) Why does the child’s presence and the citizens’ attitude toward it make the imaginary picture of Omelas more believable?
6) Why is the destination of those who reject Omelas and walk away "even less imaginable … than the city of happiness?" Can you give a name to this other place?
These could make great discusion topics or topics for essays.
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” contains symbolism, which are the roots that make up the story’s allegorical traits. The title of the story is a paradigm of an ethical dilemma faced by mankind. Occasionally, the citizens of Omelas descend to the underground cellar to view the imprisoned child, and each person reacts differently, choosing from 1 of 3 different reactions. The first reaction is that people who see the child try and rationalize the suffering of the child, and realize that the child is too far beyond saving because it would never live properly if brought up to the world above, so the people move on. Some of the citizens of Omelas decide not to view the child because they know that the child must suffer for their lives to be happy and free; in their case, ignorance is bliss. The third reaction by people is that after viewing the child, they feel guilty for making a child suffer for their happiness in life and they no longer want to be part of a lifestyle where one must suffer, so they choose to leave Omelas forever, and travel into the unknown, but with peace.
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