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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What literary devices are used in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

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Polysyndeton refers to using several conjunctions in a row to achieve a dramatic effect. That can be seen in this sentence about the child:

The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, "eh-haa, eh-haa," and it speaks less and less often.

Comparing this long string of clauses to the ones above it show a much longer sentence structure. It is at this point that the child is dehumanized, moving from actual speech in the sentences prior to losing the ability to communicate due to lack of human stimulation. Therefore, polysyndeton is used to mimic this loss of semantic control as language devolves in structure as well.

Imagery is used to show the contrasting lives between the citizens of Omelas and the child held captive. Consider the following imagery used to describe the processions:

A marvelous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children are amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled. The youths and girls have mounted their horses and are beginning to group around the starting line of the course. An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men wear her flowers in their shining hair.

The imagery here connotes a lightness, a carefree existence of friendly faces and hair adorned with flowers. Of course, this carefree lifestyle is only possible because the townspeople are willing to sacrifice one child. Consider the contrasting imagery provided to show the life of this child:

It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and ... sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes—the child has no understanding of time or interval—sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up.

These two scenes are juxtaposed with only authorial intrusion (when the narrator steps away from the story and speaks directly to the reader) between them to bring into sharp contrast the startling ways the townspeople are able to live at the expense of the great suffering of one child. The close proximity of these very differing images show the reader both all the people have gained and at what expense they have achieved it.

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Le Guin writes in a poetic style in this short story. In the opening paragraph, as the narrator describes the beauties of Omelas, she uses alliteration to create a sense of rhythm with repeated "p" sounds in the following:

past great parks and public buildings, processions moved.

Throughout the story, she uses similes (comparisons using the words "like" or "as"). For example, she likens the voices of children at the festival in the opening scene to:

high calls rising like the swallows' crossing flights, over the music and the singing

Later she compares nudes to soufflés:

Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine souffles

The horses are personified when it is said that they:

boasted to one another

Le Guin uses an exclamation as she writes of the people of Omelas as "not wretched. O miracle!" Additionally, the word "wretched" is an example of an archaic term in the context of 1970s American English.

The narrator also steps into the text to directly address the audience, pointing to the fictiveness of the story. The direct address below also uses repetition, a literary device that adds emphasis:

If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate

The poetic diction of the story's description of happiness has a tongue-in-cheek or ironic quality, foreshadowing that the fact that all of this happiness is founded on a horrific crime.

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In the second paragraph, the narrator describes the way we tend to think of happiness as "something rather stupid." We think that pain and evil are more intellectual and more interesting. The narrator says, "This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain." Thus, the narrator uses a metaphor to compare the tendency of artists and writers to depict pain and suffering rather than happiness as a kind of treason against their fellow human beings.

The narrator employs another metaphor when they say that the citizens of Omelas are "not naive and happy children." The narrator compares these "mature, intelligent, passionate adults" to children—whose happiness is often thought of as the result of their innocence and naivety—to show that the citizens' happiness is more legitimate somehow, that it isn't a default state that results from their ignorance (because they are not, in fact, ignorant).

The narrator uses a simile when they describe the "beautiful nudes"—people that can wander around, offering themselves "like divine souffles to the hunger of the needy." The narrator compares these people to an elegant and often beautiful type of food.

The narrator also uses metonymy when they say that "A boundless and generous contentment . . . is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas." Now, the citizens' hearts do not actually swell up and get bigger, but rather, the citizens feel emotionally filled up, satisfied, and happy. As hearts are often connected to emotion, they stand in here, figuratively, for those feelings.

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The opening paragraph of this short story has a few good examples of various literary devices. When the story begins, readers are introduced to a large celebration that is happening. It is called the "Festival of Summer." People are gathered and having a great time, and music is playing along with their procession.

Readers are told a great metaphor here. We are told that the "procession was a dance." The very next sentence has a simile that further develops the happy gathering of people. The children's calls rose "like the swallows' crossing flights." A little later in the same paragraph, the author provides readers with some personification of the horses that are in the procession. We are told that they wear minimal gear and have manes braided with streamers. They look amazing, and the horses know it. They flare their nostrils and "boasted to one another." Horses are perfectly capable of flaring their nostrils, however, boasting and bragging is a human trait, so this personification provides a great, concrete image to readers of how the horses are behaving.

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What is the main rhetorical device used in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin?

The main rhetorical or persuasive device Le Guin uses in "The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas" is pathos, or an appeal to emotion.

Le Guin would like us as readers to have an emotional response of dislike and revulsion to the idea of Omelas, a city based on the ideal of "the greatest good for the greatest number."

Imagery is the best rhetorical strategy to use for eliciting an emotional response. Imagery is description using the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. We tend to react to details we can specifically see, hear, smell, and feel.

Le Guin first describes the beauty of Omelas, drawing us in to perceive this land as a lovely place, such as in the following quote:

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved.

She then shows us what all the happiness is based on: the suffering of an innocent child. But she doesn't simply tell us that all of this is based on the suffering of an innocent child. She shows us the child and provides vivid details of its life:

The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, "eh-haa, eh-haa," and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.

The details repulse us and cause us to have an emotional reaction. Suddenly, all of Omelas seems stained and tainted by the existence of the cruel truth of an abused child at its core. Le Guin wants us to feel that it is not all right to base everyone else's happiness on the suffering of one person, and descriptive details are the main way she makes her case.

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Whats are some literary/rhetorical devices in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

The story begins with a great deal of imagery:

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved.

The description of the bells constitutes auditory imagery (images you can hear), and the description of the swallows taking flight, the bright buildings, the sparkling boats, the red roofs, the mossy gardens, the trees, and so on all constitute visual imagery (images you can see). Further, in the first two sentences of the quotation above (the first of the story), slant rhyme is created by the repetition of the "s" sound in bells, set, swallows, soaring, Festival, Summer, city, Omelas, sea, boats, sparkled, and flags. This repetition might remind us of the "shooshing" sound water makes as it comes in waves upon the shore. In this way, then, the author introduces the harbor by sound, even before the narrator describes it in the second sentence. It adds to the positive connotation of these descriptions, helping to establish the mood of the text, making later revelations all the more shocking.

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Whats are some literary/rhetorical devices in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

Clearly any given piece of literature is going to employ literary and rhetorical devices as part of their attempt to depict scenes and character, and this text is certainly no exception. In this incredibly rich text, the author asks us to imagine a supposedly perfect world, and then challenges us with its utilitarian manner of achieving that perfection, and asks us whether it is worth it. However, along the way, many literary terms are used in describing the kind of perfection of this city called Omelas. One of my favourites is a simile describing the priests and priestesses ready to "copulate" with anyone as part of their worship of the god of Omelas. Note how they are described:

Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine soufflés to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh.

The simile obviously strikes a wryly sardonic note at our need to imagine some kind of orgy to make this city more believable.

Consider too the imagery employed to help us picture the scene of the opening of the Festival of Summer:

A marvellous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled... An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute.

Note how the author here combines as many of the five senses as possible to bring this scene to life and to help us as readers see, smell, hear, taste and touch the scene that she is bringing to life.

Hopefully these examples will help you to revisit the story yourself and find more literary and rhetorical devices of your own that you can comment on. Good luck!

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