Relative Factual/Fictional Quality of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is a fantasy short story that depicts a summer festival in the utopian city of Omelas, a city whose perfection is dependent upon the eternal misery of a young child. The combination of intentionally vague and strong descriptions can make it difficult for the reader to believe the credibility of its perfection or if the city is even real. However, the narrator goes on to reveal the final element, the one blemish in order to keep the city perfect: a single child condemned to eternal darkness and despair. Many people in their lifetime, usually when they are just old enough to understand, will go to visit the child and as petrified and disgusted as they are by the mere sight of it accept its circumstance which guarantees the happiness of the rest of the city. There are citizens, however, that choose to walk away from Omelas instead, and where they are headed is left undetermined and vague in the story.

In much of the story apart from the facts known about the child, the narrator does not even know full truths about Omelas. In fact, the narrator frequently questions aspects of the city and tells the readers to imagine what it might be like if they themselves were there. Aspects of the story such as this bring in questions of the narrator’s credibility, therefore adding very fictional qualities to the story.  The narrator also frequently asks the readers to imagine Omelas as if they were there and make decisions as if they lived in the city, which in turn makes readers question what they would sacrifice for happiness and if they could live in a utopia where a perfect life is dependent upon one person’s misery. The depiction of a utopia where everyone is happy and it is “a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time” makes it seem entirely fictional and impractical just for emphasis on the true meaning of the piece.

I honestly think that every piece of writing is in at least some way based upon fact, whether it is the relationship between characters, a description of setting, or the overall plot of the story. However, I think this piece evaluates the inconceivable. Through the elements of craft, idea, and point of view, the story really is just blown out of proportion for readers to discuss morality and the possibility of a world to exist without evil. The story is written about an impossible situation with an indifferent perspective/narration which is exaggerated merely to question certain themes that can connect in some way to real life. Themes such as “Good can’t exist without evil” and “Knowledge can be more painful than physical pain” are worked into this story in a completely fictional way in order to allow readers to connect them into real life somehow.

One thought on “Relative Factual/Fictional Quality of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin is a fantastic writer, she really puts a lot of work into constructing fantasy worlds that are fully formed. I do agree that fiction is certainly based somewhat from fact, as Le Guin has shown to put emphasis on human experience in her writing, and drives her characters to search for a deeper understanding of themselves, and of the world around them. I highly recommend reading The Left Hand of Darkness, which although is science-fiction, includes all of the elements of a fantasy world. Furthermore, it provides a look at what a truly androgynous and genderless society would like and how it would run, which is possibly even more relevant to today’s culture then it was when it was published in 1969. The novel also features extensively elaborate political systems and religions which provide even more social commentary, and show just how interconnected fiction is to real life.

    By the way, A Wizard of Earthsea is a really great read too. Also, I’m definitely going to check out this short story when I get a chance. Interesting Post!

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