Writing Assignment
Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
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There is a Study Guide to this story.  You should work your way through it before attempting this writing assignment.

You may also wish to review the general instructions on writing assignments.

Write on one of the following:

Option One.  The narrator goes on, in the final paragraph, to declare that "[t]he place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness.  I cannot describe it at all.  But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

This is clearly a challenge, from the author to the reader, to discover whether you are among what the narrator describes as "most of us" or whether you are among what the narrator concedes as a bare possibility, some presumed "rare few among us," who can imagine what the "place" they are headed to might be like.

Take up this challenge, anc compose an alternative ending of the story in which you take a stab at helping the reader to imagine what this "place" might be like.

Option Two.  The suspicion may have dawned on you that this story is put forward in the spirit in which Nathan puts forward his story of the rich man to King David.  That is, despite the elaborate pretense that Omelas is radically different from our own world, it eventually occurs to us that, if the author is bringing this thought experiment to us, she must have some point in doing so.  This realization works as a nudging functional equivalent of Nathan's move in his declaration "Thou art the man":  Is this, we may hear LeGuin asking us, really so strange to you after all?

How might this be so?  That is, how might the initial apparent glaring discrepancy between our world and the "case" we are being asked to construct for contemplation end up dissolving into a carefully drawn analogy for exposing assumptions that we are actually acting upon every day?  In fact, might it even be the case, as it was in King David's, that our own situation is even worse than that of the outrageous folk we/he were supposedly asked to contemplate, as a detour to facing up to ourselves?

How, first by comparison and then by contrast, might this be a parable (metaphor, symbol) for something which we have so accustomed ourselves to, that we scarcely even see as a fact of our life and which, if we do ever bring it into focus, we are automatically prone to regard as an inescapable fact of nature (as distinct from a social choice, about which something could in principle be done, if we were willing to pay the price)? 

We regard the terms of happiness, as they operate in Omelas, as arbitrary and senseless -- a postulate that we are simply to accept that the people of Omelas (most of them) simply accept (though often only through a process of struggle, as they emerge from a childhood based on sentimental illusions).  Yet is there some equivalent to "the terms" at the foundation of happiness in Omelas that we have been inducted into accepting "strict and absolute" (paragraph 11)?  Do we learn to live comfortably with them?  Do we have better -- i.e., non-arbitrary, rationally convincing -- grounds for doing so than do the Omelans?

Option Three.  Look carefully at the final sentence of paragraph #10 and sentences 2-5 of paragraph #12.  Are these to be understood (by us) as rationalizations or as the voice of Reason? 

  Consult the Study Guide to this story before attempting this writing assignment.

  You may also wish to review the general instructions on writing assignments.

  Suggestions are welcome.  Please send your comments to lyman@ksu.edu .

   Contents copyright 1999 by Lyman A. Baker

Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.

  This page last updated 15 February 2000.