Summer reading: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

We have been drawn to stories from the time our ancestors huddled around the fire and listened and learned and were entertained and enthralled by the tales of others.

Those stories with mythic qualities have even more power, for they tap into our collective unconscious, those memories that seem hard-coded into us. The Hero’s Journey, what Joseph Campbell called the “monomyth,” borrowing from James Joyce, has always seemed right to me in its depiction of an underlying collective memory that storytellers tap into (Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers admirably decodes literary myth-making with its incisive analysis of both classic literature and more popular fiction). The power of storytelling and myth is real, whether or not Jung’s theory about archetypes is correct. We respond instinctively to certain symbolic tales, and find literary themes that address elemental human concerns to be compelling.

Continue reading “Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas””…

9 thoughts on “Summer reading: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

  1. I disagree that there is something “hollow…and contrived” about this story. There may well be an inhuman quality to the city of omelas, with such pleasant, painless rythms everywhere and citizens stoned and sleepily complacent. Yet what LeGuin depicts is human nature. We can and will accept the suffering of others if it benefits us. This is even easier if we are not constantly reminded of the injustice, but instead are convinced that it must be so, or that our peaceful survival is threatened.

  2. I am new to this “story” and writer, however I feel I am very familiar with the theme and the intent.
    I would have to agree with the above commentator, that it is not contrived nor hollow.
    In my world/work/life I am consistently and constantly coming-up against the “mainstream” dominant, Euro-Anglo society and culture, and its abhorrent and limited views on the Aboriginal people and there “way of life”, and in my POV, what they “re-present” to a culture that is so white-washed and homogenised, they no longer experience diversity whilst locked-in to an economic-centred paradigm called living.
    So, without harping on on see many parallels between this story and that as the “scapegoat” in this country has been placed upon the lives of the Aborigines, so all the rest can get on with their way of life…. pursuing “happiness”.

  3. Do you think the “ones who walk away” are an archetypal example of hero, rugged individualist or both?

  4. There are a lot of evil people in this world who do not want good people to prosper. evil people have no conscience for the neglected child, especailly if it is not them or their child. True happiness and true freedom only comes to those that do intervene and do the right thing even though this is not the POPULAR thing to do. In the end, the one’s that do walk away from Omelas and do not accept the injustice so prevalent in this world are the only ones who are TRULY happy!

  5. Your question “Where in Omelas is Spartacus? Andrei Sakharov? Joan of Arc? Cesar Chavez? Harriet Tubman? Rosa Park? William Wallace? Oskar Schindler? Aung San Suu Kyi? Nelson Mandela? Lech Walesa? ” re,minds me of someone who asked Dorothee Solle where God was on Good Friday. Solle merely answered “on the Cross.” of course, the bulk of humans are embarrassed by the notion of a suffering God. They’d rather have a Big Daddy. cf., John Updike, Seven Stanzas for Easter.

  6. Dear Mr. Buehler,

    Haven’t read Girard.

    Even in the Passion story, someone stands against injustice. Remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane when the Temple guards arrest Jesus, Simon Peter draws a sword and cuts a man’s ear off–and Jesus rejects the notion of violent resistance and heals the cut. But the point is that I don’t see the universal passivity in the face of evil depicted by Le Guin.


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