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 ringing of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In thestreets 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.Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and gray, grave master workmen,quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the musicbeat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the processionwas a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flightsover the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city,where on the great water-meadow called the Green Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air,
with mud-stained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms,exercised their restive horses before therace. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided withstreamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to oneanother; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted ourceremonies as his own. Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encirclingOmelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the EighteenPeaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky.There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutternow and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music windingthroughout the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetnessof the air from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyousclanging of the bells.
Joyous! How is one to tell about joy?
They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of
cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one
tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next
for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps ina golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords,or keep slaves. They were not barbarians, I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but Isuspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they alsogot on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet Irepeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians.There were not less complex than us.
The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of
considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting.This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom ofpain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemndelight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost
Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” Defies Genre
Teaching Ursula Le Guin’s famous, resonant little tale, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (the final word of which I had apparently pronounced incorrectly for years) taught me something in turn: that rigid genre classification sometimes hurts more than it helps. Le Guin’s story asks as much about ethics as it does about how we—and even the author herself—may instinctually define certain works.
“People ask me to predict the Future,” Ray Bradbury wrote in an essay in 1982, “when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it.” According to Theodore Sturgeon, Bradbury had already expressed this sentiment around 1977, though others attributed it to the author of Dune, Frank Herbert. Regardless of who originated the phrase, the start of Bradbury’s essay—which presents a set of highly optimistic technological and societal goals for the world post-1984 (the year, not the novel)—reminded me of something Ursula Le Guin would say a few years later in 1988 about Bradbury and defining science fiction as a genre. “How much do you have to know about science to write science fiction?” Irv Broughton had asked Le Guin. The primary requirement, Le Guin answered, was that “a science fiction writer be interested in science. He may hate it; I know Ray Bradbury hates it. I know he hates technology, and I rather think he hates science. But he’s interested in it.”
A Summary and Analysis of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’
‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ is one of Ursula K. Le Guin’s best-known stories, and it has the force of a modern myth: indeed, Le Guin herself, in her note to the story, used the term ‘psychomyth’ to describe it. How should we respond to this troubling and powerful story? Before we provide an analysis of ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, it might be worth recapping the story’s plot. The story, by the way, is available in Le Guin’s bumper collection,which contains some of the finest SF short stories of the late twentieth century.
‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’: analysisThe Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ takes its cue, first and foremost, from a passage from the American psychologist William James (1842-1910), the brother of the celebrated novelist Henry James. In his essay ames wrote:
Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier’s and Bellamy’s and Morris’s utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a sceptical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
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