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

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Student Question

Analyze "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" using a post-colonial perspective.

Quick answer:

A post-colonial reading of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" would involve interpreting the text from the perspective of the little girl who is forced to live in filth and neglect for the benefit of the rest of society. One interpretation would be to see her as a symbol of what rich economies do to poor people in developing nations.

Expert Answers

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A postcolonial way of reading interprets a story using the "view from below." This is a way of reading a text from the point of view of the colonized and powerless rather than the powerful colonizers. For example, a postcolonial reading might look at a classic text such as Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of Friday, Crusoe's native "servant" or The Tempest from the point of view of the native "monster" Caliban.

Therefore, if we were to do a postcolonial reading of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omegas," we would expect to adopt the perspective of the little girl who is kept in filth, hunger, and neglect. We can imagine that to her, it doesn't seem an acceptable trade-off to suffer so that everyone else can be happy. She must, like Frankenstein's monster, long for love and acceptance and wish that one of the many people who walk by to see her would show her some love, such as a smile or a hug. She would notice that other children recoil from her in horror, perceive the pained look in adult eyes, and wonder what is so wrong with her. This kind of reading would raise our empathy for her.

This could lead to an analysis that interprets the girl as the symbol of all the people who suffer in developing countries, working long hours for very low wages in dangerous mines or factories or on coffee plantations so that we in richer nations can have low-cost consumer goods. We often rationalize this away, just as the people of Omelas do. Seeing the girl in the story as representing all those people might cause us to think twice about the ethical underpinnings of our comforts.

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