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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas 
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Post The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

I find this short story by Ursula K. Le Guin to be interesting and thought provoking. Does anyone want to have a go at it?


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Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:21 pm
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Post short stories
Thanks for the suggestion Krys! Count me in!

I've read a small bit of it, it is beautifully written.

Give me a chance to digest it.



Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:34 pm
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I'll read, but it might take me a day or two. Thanks for the suggestion, Krysondra.


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Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:29 pm
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Post short stories
Geo, I've wanted to ask for a long time, what is your avatar?

When I look at it, I see a bird, I see an eye, and an open beak. It has an expression to it, like it is sad, or shocked by something.

Would you please describe your avatar, and what it means to you? Thanks.



Wed Aug 19, 2009 11:23 pm
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Post Re: short stories
Suzanne wrote:
Geo, I've wanted to ask for a long time, what is your avatar?


You'll be sorry you asked. :D

That's actually an image from a computer game called The Dark Eye. It was a point and click game, like Myst, and centered around several Edgar Poe stories, including the Cask of Amontillado and the Masque of Red Death. If I recall, one of the characters, an old man who is mad, spends much of his time painting and this bird is one of those paintings. The game was very spooky and really captured a dark mood of foreboding. I liked the bird painting enough that at one point I did a screen snapshot and saved it to my hard drive. I never did finish the game which doesn't even work on modern Macs, although I just discovered right now that you can see the game in its entirety on YouTube.

This segment here opens with the bird painting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5XBZRgJ ... re=related

I started using this as my avatar as a lark. Last year someone on Booktalk pointed out that several people on one of the discussion threads were using birds as their avatar. (Thomas Hood was one of those people, I can't remember who else.). So I switched to a bird too, albeit, a dark, gloomy, scary one.

Anyway, this painting plays a part in my perpetually ongoing novel. Lydia, the main character, has encouraged her sister-in-law, Amanda, to take up painting again and in this scene, Amanda is showing it to Lydia.

Quote:
Lydia stepped behind the easel. The image startled her. It was nothing like the pretty landscapes Amanda had painted back in New York. The style was vaguely impressionist in scope, some swirls of undefined black and gray, but at the center, the twisted shape of a bird’s head. A black bird, one that was dead or in the throes of dying. The swirls were its wings.

The image looked vaguely familiar, as if she had seen it somewhere before.

“It’s quite grotesque, isn’t it?” Amanda said.

“Yes, but—” Lydia started to say she liked it, but wasn’t sure she’d be telling the truth. It wasn’t a “nice” picture by any means, but clearly it was good. Very good. Someone more knowledgeable than she would be able to say just why. There were undoubtedly technical reasons why some art is considered good, and why some art is bad. All she knew was that there was something about the painting that captivated her. It probably had something to do with color and balance and form, and the small details that the eye doesn’t perceive except when taken together as a whole.

“It’s very good,” Lydia said.

“I’ve never painted anything like it before,” Amanda said, and she got a faraway look in her eyes, as if reminiscing each brush stroke that had brought it to life. “I can almost hear its anguished cry,” she said of her painting’s subject, “the last thing it utters before its death.”


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Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:32 am
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Thank you Geo, I'm glad I asked.



Thu Aug 20, 2009 2:50 pm
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Post love this story
I read this story in hs in around 94-98 and then years later around 2004 i reread it in English and did a paper on it. It's one of my favorite short stories. In hs my answer was of course i would leave later in college when i was in my mid 20's i had to admit to myself i would prob stay. to be honest there are many children who go hungry to keep a few at the top. To end all suffering all pain at the price of only one would it not be worth it. Sad to say i believe i would say yes unless it was one of my family. It is cruel and heartless but after seeing what i have seen in my life it is how i feel.



Thu Aug 20, 2009 6:36 pm
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Post 
That's an interesting response, docxen. So, you wouldn't sacrifice one of your own for the happiness of all the others even though you would accept somone else's sacrifice?

Quote:
It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.


So, what if it was your child that was born defective?

I'm not trying to put you on the defensive here. I just want to discuss this story and the concept of scapegoatting.


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Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:21 pm
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Post 
This story starts out like a fairy tale, it is beautifully written, and then, advertisements, the secret police and the bomb are mentioned. These words just came out of nowhere, they kind of hit me in the face.

That narrator says something interesting, "the trouble is we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticats, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting".

The narrator is describing the people of Omelas in this sentence. The people enjoy visiting this child, they find this child interesting, to me, this sounds evil. The child is a symbol of unhappiness. The point of the child is to have people look at "it" and say to themselves, "Boy, I can't complain, I am very happy, I'm so glad I don't live in the dirt room".

Is is possible that the narrator is someone who walked out of the town and is describing, the best way they can, how the people of Omelas really feel? Another interesting line, "But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else". The narrator is saying here, that the happiness the villiagers feel is not real. How can it be real? They all know there is a suffering child, who is starved and kicked. That's violence. The narrator clearly says, "to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else".

"Often the children go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced the terrible paradox". They identify with this child. I believe the purpose for parents taking their children to see this pitiful child is to show them how furtunate they are. I am not a child and I would be in tears. My happiness does not hinge on someone else's misery. This would take me back to the first quote I mentioned, and I belileve the narrator is correct, happiness is just stupid in this town.

I can understand, sacrificing one for the lives of many, even though I don't think I myself could do it. But, to sacrifce anyone for happiness, no. It think this is certainly a character flaw in many people. Bullys do it, hurt someone to make themselves feel better. This applies to gossip too. "Lets talk about someone else's misfortune, it will makes us feel better". To say that the child is an imbecile, and that the child is incabable of experiencing happiness is just rationalizing. It's like saying, there is no reason to help the poor, they would not appreciate anything nice.

The saddest part for me is when the child pleads to be let out. He says he will be good. This would suggest to me that he blames himself for where he is, and the treatment he suffers.

I don't think I liked this one very much. I'm going to go hug my kids now.



Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:42 am
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docxen wrote:
Quote:
To end all suffering all pain at the price of only one would it not be worth it.


First, I don't think it's possible, and no, it's not worth it. How can you end pain and suffering, when you inflict pain and suffering?



Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:47 am
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Post 
Why would anyone walk away from an omelette? :neutral:



Fri Aug 21, 2009 11:13 am
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Post 
I read the story and had an immediate reaction to it. I think when you have been in the position to be the "ugly" one or the "poor" one...the one that is different or not as good as the others around you, you realize your tenous position in society and how close you could come to being that child in the closet yourself. If one person can be subjected to that type of treatment, anyone could. Who is to say that the definition of defective would not change through some philosophical insight the next go around and someone who least expected to be considered the next child in the closet gets put there. It would be better to live in a society that knows anguish and is not perfect, so that all who live there could share the burden and make it better for others. Perhaps those who walk away from Omelas realize these things.

Of course life is not as happy for those who live outside, but it is less sinister and more straight forward in its construction...and I would not have another's misery on my head for the price of my happiness.



Sat Aug 22, 2009 8:18 am
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Post 
poettess from the krysondra thread wrote:
If you make a pact with others to keep someone poor, you are saying "you will never be anything than what you are because we have decreed it" which makes you in control of that person's life. The first example shows you in control of your life only, the second puts you in the position of control over others. This is what I do not like about the scapegoating aspect of Omelas and why it should never be "decided" that anyone should be sacrificed by a group of people unless they decide it themselves.


I agree with this theory whole-heartedly. A willing sacrifice is one thing, but to simply choose a child - who remembers light and its mother's voice - to be the bearer of all evil in a town seems wrong.

Even in "The Lottery", each person knows that once a year someone from their village will get stoned to death. However, they all come willingly to this event and somewhat willingly participate in order to keep the crops growing.

In "Omelas", this one unlucky child bears all of the weight of the town's journey which I, rashly and impulsively, singularly and shockingly, disapprove of.

Eugene V. Debs wrote:
Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.


Thus, I would walk away from Omelas. There may be happiness there, but it is soiled. I might not be able to save the child, but I could at least save myself.


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Sun Aug 23, 2009 2:04 am
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Post 
What a great story and how interesting to read it right after The Lottery.

A couple of interesting things I noticed. The story doesn't really have a plot or, at least, not a conventional plot. It starts out simply as description of a town called Omelas and the people in it. However, as this description unfolds, the narrator/storyteller adds details that add tension to the story. Initially, Omelas seems a utopia and there is some kind of festival or celebration about to take place and all the townspeople are getting ready for it. But with one revelation we understand that there is quite a steep price to the townspeople's happiness.

The story doesn't really have any characters either except for the townspeople who are treated as a single character. And the child, of course, who is nearly ten and "could be a boy or girl."

It seems to me that the narrator/storyteller calls attention to the fact that this is a work of fiction which makes it metafiction:

Wiki: "Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually, irony and self-reflection.

Vonnegut does this metafiction thing in many of his stories. In Slaughterhouse 5, for example, which is semi-autobiographical, he interjects right in the middle of a paragraph: "That's me!" Also, I think Neil Gaiman has a metafictional story in Smoke and Mirrors which I read a couple of years ago. And Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love actually has a character in the story named "Charles Baxter."

In a way this isn't a story at all, but a kind of moral dilemma or thought experiment. I think LeGuin is holding up a mirror to society which does exactly what the townspeople do. Many of us are educated and live in nice houses and we are more or less happy. At the same time we know there are many in society who are not nearly so well off, people who can barely fend for themselves and don't have enough to eat or who have to live in their cars, etc. The difference between this story and real life is we can't just walk away. We can't resolve the inequity that exists in our world. We have to live with it and how we deal with that is we just don't think about it very much.

Again, interesting story.


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Sun Aug 23, 2009 8:51 pm
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Post Omelas
Thank you Geo, I enjoyed your comments.

You are right, we can't just walk away from a society full of injustices. This makes me think of the homeless people I see driving through Phila. on my way to my nice safe home in the suburbs. It's interesting that the author chose a child. I'm trying to think of a substitute for the child, an elderly person maybe, but the feeling would be the same.

Metafiction, interesting, I've never heard of it.



Mon Aug 24, 2009 8:20 am
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