37 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1973

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Important Quotes

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"With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags." 

(Paragraph 1, Lines 1-3)

The narrator of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" truly wants her readers to "believe" in the city's happiness, in part so that they will understand the choice to imprison and abandon the child. As the narrator later admits, however, it is difficult if not impossible to depict a place of near total bliss. Nevertheless, her first description of Omelas does suggest a kind of utopia. In particular, Le Guin uses words associated with light ("sparkled"), airiness ("soaring"), and warmth ("summer") to evoke ideas of beauty and happiness. The passage also turns out to contrast strongly with the description of the room where the child lives, which is dark, dirty, and damp.

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"In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance." 

(Paragraph 1, Lines 8-10)

One way in which the narrator attempts to convey the happiness of Omelas is through the motif of music, which, because it is often wordless, can capture emotions that elude easy description.In this passage, she further emphasizes the relationship between music and joy by using words that evoke light ("shimmering") and describing the people dancing rather than walking, as if in an overflow of emotion.