Sunday, September 2, 2012

Response to "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"

For an assignment, my FYS class was told to read Ursula K. Le Guin's short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".

We were first told to answer the following questions:

a.)    This is an unusual short story in that it has no named characters and no action takes place during the story. The setting, is described in interesting detail, but the reader is invited to imagine a completely different setting if they choose.  Why do you think the author took this approach in telling the story?  Explain your answer.
b.)    Despite the nuanced details provided for the setting, the author offers very little explanation for how this situation came about, why it works this way or what the consequences of violation are.  How does this ambiguity impact your response to the story?
c.)    Is it morally wrong to live in Omelas?  Give your reasons for your answer.
d.)   Is it morally wrong to walk away from Omelas? Give your reasons for your answer.

My responses are as follows:

A.    It seems as if the author took the approach of vaguely describing the setting and actions of the characters because it allows the reader to shape his or her own viewpoint on both entities. The story revolves around the idea that everyone in the town of Omelas lives without ever being subjected to any sort of horror, with the exception of viewing a small child who lives alone in constant fear. The story invokes a desire for social justice in the reader, which is somewhat subjective to every individual. It has the same core values, such as promoting human rights, equality, and helping those who are not prospering in life, but different people have different circumstances to which they would apply such values. I believe that the author wrote this story for this reason; anyone from any walk of life can relate this story to their beliefs.
B.     The lack of knowledge of what caused the situation in “The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas” really does not impact my response to this story. In my opinion, it does not matter what caused an innocent child to be locked away for others to view. It does not matter why a child living in misery is used as an example of why people must ignore any possibly misfortune just to go on living their lives. Either way, it is despicable.  It seems to me that the author wrote the story in this manner because the reasons behind the child’s condition are not meant to be the focus of the story. Instead, the focus is meant to be the idea that all of the citizens of Omelas choose to ignore the misfortune in front of them as opposed to helping to greatly improve the situation.
C.     (see below; the answers are combined)
D.    I believe it is immoral to live in Omelas. The citizens live in what they choose to believe is a perfect world, without despair or sorrow. In reality, when each person comes of age, they are subjected to viewing a small child that lives in constant misery. About it, the narrator says, “perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect”. The child is the one individual in Omelas who lives without happiness, yet no one chooses to help it. Rather, most simply accept that, if anything were to change, the “…beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed”. On the other hand, those who cannot accept the idea simply “go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas…”. Leaving Omelas, like living there, I find immoral as well. Both actions require complete ignorance of the fact that in the town there is a young child who is suffering. The townspeople choose to believe that helping this one, lonely child would destroy the happiness they have in Omelas, so they go on with their lives in one form or another. I find this intolerable because they have no proof that this would cause them to live in despair. They have no evidence that sorrow would be the outcome. The citizens of Omela opt to adapt the “ignorance is bliss” attitude, which is, in my opinion, utterly unacceptable and thus, immoral.

We were then asked to write three "thoughtful questions" and answer them in response to the short story. In addition, one of the questions had to involve our own personal definitions of social justice. These are mine:

1.      According to your definition, do you believe that the citizens of Omelas had their own system of social justice?
a.       My definition of social justice reads as such: “Social Justice: Going about the act of advocating equality among people, human rights, as well as providing service in order to assist and improve the lives of individuals living without prosperity.” Where the last part of my definition is concerned, it does not apply to this story. There is no question that the citizens of Omelas do not provide service to those who need it. They have all seen the fearful child, yet choose to ignore it. They never help, but continue to live as if they have never seen it. As far as the second condition of advocating human rights, I believe that it also does not apply, for the exact same reason as stated previously. The child has no rights. The child is forced to live in torment by no fault of its own. Where I differ, however, is the subject of equality. While there is no question that it does not exist where the child is concerned, the rest of the citizens are viewed as equals. There is seemingly no difference in social class. Every citizen of Omelas is made to see the child, regardless any economic or social status. Everyone, other than the child, is viewed as equal. This makes me wonder if they do have their own version of social justice. While it greatly varies from my definition, it does not mean that the citizens of Omelas of do not possess their own concept of social justice.
2.      How would keeping the child engulfed in sorrow keep the citizens of Omelas happy?
a.       Ignorance is the only thing that allows the townspeople of Omelas to be content. They are all forced to see what a blatant need for help is. As far as the reader knows, there is nothing keeping people from improving the life of the child in the closet. Most of the people feel some sort of emotion about the child’s situation, but it is only temporary; within a few weeks they have all decided to forget about the child and move on with their lives in some way. What I wonder is this: does ignorance truly bring happiness? Does the child’s life eat away at the conscious of anyone in Omelas? We know it does for the people who leave; however, it doesn’t cause them to stay to help. Instead, they walk away in fear. Past that, we know nothing of their lives, only that they put their individual wellbeing above that of an innocent individual.
3.      Is Omelas a dystopia? Utopia? Explain.
a.       I believe Omelas is a dystopia. In a utopia, there is absolute peace and joy without knowledge of misfortune and sadness. In Omelas, however, there is one instance of such woe: a small child left to dwell in fear and solitude in a cellar that is “…three paces long and two wide…”. Every person in Omelas knows that this child exists, yet they choose to ignore it and merely focus on their own lives, believing that intervening would mean the end of bliss for themselves. This fact is, in my opinion, what causes Omelas to be a dystopia. In reality, we as people grow up in a world that is more or less balanced in fortune and misfortune. Both are all around us. Our world is far from perfect, but it is not in shambles either. We recognize what is wrong and most of us do what we can to help improve those situations. This fact is what separates reality from the lifestyle of those in Omelas.

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