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A Short Story Fable on Omelas

Ursula K. Le Guin, in her short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," intends to create a moral fable about the price a "happy" community pays for its happiness. Specifically, the town of Omelas is shown to be a paradise, but there is a problem in paradise. Le Guin tells us that the happiness of the town, for some unknown or at least unexplained reason, depends on the imprisonment, abuse and torture of a ten-year-old child who is kept "in a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas" (829). Le Guin is deliberately vague, ambiguous and/or contradictory about a number of aspects of the story, but she leaves no doubt about the role the torture of the child plays in the happiness of the people in Omelas:

They all know that [the child] has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery (830).

Perhaps Le Guin is trying to fashion a fable as compelling as Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." Her success depends upon the reader's response not only to the story but to her style of telling that story. The deliberate post-modernist exposing of the wires and pulleys involved in the creation of a story distances both the author and the reader from the story and from the impact of the "moral" of that story. Le Guin wants us to be aware of two things--first, the story and what it is saying, and second, the way the author or narrator is telling that story.

The title of the story tells us that there is a significant difference between the ones who leave the town and those who stay. Everyone in the town has become used to the knowledge of the suffering child, and everyone apparently has gone thr...

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A Short Story Fable on Omelas. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 14:43, March 18, 2019, from