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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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What does LeGuin's attitude in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" seem to be, based on point of view, tone, and language?

Quick answer:

LeGuin's descriptions in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" develop a tone of resignation tinged by hopefulness. LeGuin knows that most people will be cynical about Omelas and that many would certainly trade another's sorrow for their own happiness. Omelas becomes much more believable when we learn about the suffering child. However, she also points out that some people are unwilling to barter their own happiness for another's abject misery, so they leave; this is hopeful.

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Tone essentially refers to the author's attitude toward the text's subject. The narrator tries to describe the inhabitants of Omelas as real people; they are happy and peaceful, yes, but they are not simple. "They were not less complex than us," she writes, nor are they naive or bland. She wants us to understand that they are realistic, even if their lives seem ideal to us. "If an orgy would help, don't hesitate," she says. They even have drugs and alcohol. She speaks directly to us, asking, "Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing." She seems to know that we simply cannot relate to the people of Omelas, no matter how human and flawed she tries to make them seem.

She is sure, however, that we will believe in the neglected and abused child in the basement. Her descriptions of this child seem designed to elicit our sympathy: the child is "nearly ten" but looks "about six," is "feeble-minded" and endures "fear, malnutrition, and neglect"; the child "is afraid of the mops" and it knows that "nobody will come" to help it. The child cries, saying, "I will be good" or "Please let me out." It is absolutely pitiful, and even the narrator's use of the word "it" instead of "he" or "she" shows us just how much the child is dehumanized by the citizens of Omelas. They tell themselves that "to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one," one who would likely only enjoy "a little vague pleasure" because of its "imbecil[ity]," would be pointless.

She claims, via rhetorical question, that the inhabitants of Omelas have become "more credible" to us now that we know this. This, to me, seems to signal a kind of resignation. She knows how people are, and she knows that we can only believe in a place that seem completely idyllic if we understand that there is something savage or brutal or horrible about it. She expects our cynicism and then confirms its validity. What is "incredible" to her are those individuals who see the injustice of the child's life and cannot trade its misery for their happiness, those who actually do leave Omelas. For them to be incredible means that they must be extraordinary, atypical, and of the minority. Only a few people out of thousands are brave enough to "walk ahead into the darkness." She does not seem to judge the people of Omelas harshly; they are no different from many of us. We know that people suffer in our cities and towns while we enjoy warmth and comfort in our homes. The narrator is resigned to this fact. However, there is also a tone of hopefulness in that there are a few people who are willing to exit this system, who will not build their joy on another's sorrow. That these people exist at all is a wonder to her.

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