The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas was first published in 1973 in New Directions 3. The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of enormous political, social, and cultural upheaval in the United States, and most likely the events of this period influenced Le Guin’s writing of the story. America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, particularly from 1964 to 1973, caused much domestic unrest. Many young people protested the war, and these demonstrations reached their peak in 1969, when 250,000 people marched in Washington D.C. A year later, on May 4,1970, four students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio by National Guardsmen during a war protest.
The late mid to late 1960s also saw the rise of the “counterculture” in America. A movement that developed largely as a reaction against the war, the counterculture was made up of young people who called themselves hippies or flower children. Believing that it was possible to build a society based on . . . Read More
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is the story of Omelas, a city where everyone seems to be happy and to live in peace and harmony. Toward the end of the story, however, the narrator reveals that the happiness of Omelas is dependent on the existence of a child who is locked in a small, windowless room and who is abused and mistreated. Although most of the citizens accept the situation, a small number of people leave Omelas forever after seeing the deplorable conditions in which the child lives.
The story is divided into two fairly distinct sections. In the first section, the narrator attempts to describe Omelas even though he/she notes more than once that the description is inadequate and does not capture the joy and happiness of Omelas. In the second section, the narrator reveals the existence of the child and matter-of-factly describes the awful conditions in which it is forced to . . . Read More
Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic short story is of a Utopian society whose survival depends on the existence of a child who is locked in a small room and mistreated. Although all of the citizens of Omelas are aware of the child’s situation, most of them accept that their happiness is dependent on the child’s “abominable misery.” Sometimes, however, a few people, after visiting the child and seeing the deplorable conditions under which it lives, leave Omelas forever.
Morals and Morality
One of the major themes in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is morality. Le Guin once wrote in a preface to the story that it is a critique of American moral life. She also explained the story’s subtitle, “Variations on a Theme by William James,” noting that she was inspired to write the story by something James, an American psychologist and philosopher, stated in his “The Moral Philosopher and . . . Read More
The child, whose existence is revealed toward the end of the story, is abused and mistreated so the other citizens of Omelas can live in prosperity and happiness. Locked in a small room or closet with no windows, the child is dirty, naked, and malnourished. It receives only half a bowl of corn meal and grease a day and often sits in its own excrement. The narrator states that the child “could be boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.” All of the citizens of Omelas know of the child’s existence, but they also “know that it has to be there. . . . [They] all understand that their happiness.. .[depends] wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” The child, therefore, is the scapegoat of the story; it is sacrificed for the good of the others in the . . . Read More
Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic short story opens as the celebration of the Festival of Summer is getting underway in the city of Omelas. There is an air of genuine excitement about the festival, with its flag-adorned boats, noisy running children, prancing horses, and “great joyous clanging of the bells.” The narrator, who never identifies him or herself, steps back from describing the scene to comment that, “Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions.. . . Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time.” However, the narrator hastens to add, the people of Omelas “were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect they were singularly few.” The people of Omelas are happy, and the narrator explains his or her belief that “we” (presumably enlightened, contemporary westerners) have a”bad habit, encouraged by pedants and . . . Read More
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce centers on Peyton Farquhar, a southern farmer about to be hanged by the Union army for attempting to destroy the railroad bridge at Owl Creek. As he stands with the noose around his neck, Farquhar imagines that the rope breaks and he escapes. At the end of the story, it is revealed that these imaginings took place in the seconds before his death.
Structure and Narration
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is divided into three sections, with each section having its own distinct structure and narrative technique. In the first section, Bierce describes the setting of the execution up to the point the plank beneath Farquhar’s feet is removed. It is told from a conventional third-person point of view, with the narrator objectively describing the scene and relating the circumstances from outside the story. The second section provides background information on . . . Read More
Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is the story of Peyton Farquhar, a Southern farmer who is about to be hanged by the Union army for trying to destroy the railroad bridge at Owl Creek. While the reader is led to believe he escapes under miraculous circumstances, it is revealed at the end of the story that Farquhar imagined his escape in the split seconds before his death.
Bierce uses a complex narrative structure to advance the theme of time in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” He distorts the reader’s sense of time by revealing at the end of the story that Farquhar imagined his escape in the few seconds before he died even though the escape takes up a great portion of the narrative. By doing so, Bierce addresses the ways time can be portrayed and manipulated in fiction, a medium in which the reader is often reliant on the author to represent or create reality. Bierce also stresses that time is . . . Read More
In this short story by Ambrose Bierce, upon a railroad bridge in Alabama, a man is waiting to be hanged. His hands are tied behind his back, and a rope encircles his neck. He stands upon a platform constructed of loose boards. Members of the Federal Army—the Union Army during the Civil War—are also on the bridge. Some are completing the preparations and some are guarding the bridge. The man about to be hanged, Peyton Farquhar, is a civilian.
On one side of the stream is a forest, on the other a fort. Halfway between the bridge and the fort stand a line of soldiers, all armed. When the soldiers finish their preparations, they move off of the bridge. A sergeant stands at the opposite end of the same board as Farquhar. At the signal from his captain, he will step off the board. The board will tilt down, and Farquhar will fall through the railway ties.
Farquhar closes his eyes to think of his family but he is distracted by a sharp, rhythmic sound. He tries to . . . Read More
The English author W. W. Jacobs did most of his writing in a fifteen-year period around the turn of the twentieth century. Many of his stories were lighthearted tales about life on the English waterfront. But “The Monkey’s Paw,” first published in 1902 in a collection called The Lady of the Barge deals with the ghastly and macabre. According to G. K. Chesterton, it rates very highly “among our modern tales of terror in the fact that [it is] dignified and noble.” Chesterton says that Jacobs’ ‘ ‘horror is wild, but it is a sane horror.” This is in contrast to Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of “insane horror.” Even though “The Monkey’s Paw” is a short story and does not contain the royal characters or political intrigues of Greek drama, it does contain some elements of Greek tragedy. It begins in happiness and hope, and it closes in grief and despair. Mr. White’s desire for easy money (greed) leads . . . Read More
The British Empire
When Jacobs wrote “The Monkey’s Paw” a popular saying was “the sun never sets on the British empire.” By the early 1900s, England had conquered and colonized countries all over the world. The saying meant that somewhere in the world it was always daylight, and there a British colony could be found. Sergeant-Major Morris returns from India, a British colony, in ‘ The Monkey’s Paw.” In colonies like India, Hong Kong, Australia, and South Africa, British military men, explorers, archaeologists, and scientists were learning about ancient cultures and traditions little known in the West. Returning from distant colonies to England, they were first hand sources of information about other peoples and countries for their countrymen curious about exotic far-off lands. The retired colonel just back from India was a staple character in British popular fiction for many . . . Read More