illustration of a young boy in a cage in the center with lines connecting the boys cage to images of happy people and flowers

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Start Free Trial

Critical Overview

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Although "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" won a Hugo Award for best short story in 1974, it has not received much scholarly attention. The critics who have commented on the story have focused on its complex themes, including scapegoatism, morality, the duality of human nature, and political ideology. For example, Jerre Collins wrote in Studies in Short Fiction that "The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas'' is "a critique of American moral life," while Shoshana Knapp observed in The Journal of Narrative Technique that Le Guin's subject is "the proper morality of art itself." Reviewers have also commented on how Le Guin's narrative technique and symbolism advance the themes of the story. The narrator of the story, for example, tries to convince the reader that Omelas does exist by inviting the reader to take part in its creation: ''Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all." Knapphas noted that because the story's readers "are drafted to be partners in creation, they work together [with the narrator] to construct the hideous moral universe of Omelas."

Critical reaction to Le Guin's career as a whole has been positive. She is a highly respected author of fantasy fiction and has been praised for expanding the scope of the genre by combining conventional elements of science fiction with more traditional literary techniques. Le Guin has also been lauded for working in a wide variety of genres and for incorporating social analysis, reality, and moral conscience into her works.

Le Guin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), for which she received Hugo and Nebula Awards, is generally regarded as among her best works. This book centers on an androgynous alien culture and examines such themes as sexual identity, incest, xenophobia, and fidelity and betrayal. Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), another highly regarded novel, also won Hugo and Nebula Awards and earned praise for its complex characterizations and well-integrated social and political ideas. Le Guin's Earthsea cycle, which is comprised of four novels, is considered a major achievement in fantasy literature, comparable in stature to such popular works as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In addition to her novels, Le Guin has written numerous short stories, many of which are collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975), Orsinian Tales (1976), and The Compass Rose (1982). Orsinian Tales has been acclaimed for the manner in which it weaves elements of European history, specifically references to events in Central Europe prior to the outbreak of World War II, into fantastic narrative. Le Guin has also been praised for her works of children's fiction, including The Adventures of Cobbler's Rune (1982) and Catwings (1988).

Although Le Guin has experimented with numerous genres, and her works are quite diverse, critics have noted that there are thematic and stylistic similarities running throughout her fiction. Theodore Sturgeon wrote in the Los Angeles Times that ''there are some notes in her orchestration that come out repeatedly and with power. A cautionary fear of the development of democracy into dictatorship. Celebrations of courage, endurance, risk. Language, not only loved and shaped, but investigated in all its aspects; call that, perhaps, communication. But above all, in almost un-earthly terms, Ursula Le Guin examines, attacks, unbuttons and takes down and exposes our notions of reality."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Essays and Criticism