Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is a complicated piece that straddles genres and forces readers to dig deep to find any distinct message. When describing the people of Omelas who choose to leave the city, the narrator says, “The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness” (pg.284). With this sentence and a multitude of other tricks, Le Guin is arguing that humanity struggles to see the world in a manner other than a distinct binary.
Throughout the story, the narrator interrupts the flow of the description of Omelas to question the reader to reinforce the imagination of a clear city to contrast the rest of the world. The city is the being described thoroughly and yet the narrator stops to ask, “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy?” (pg. 280). It is interesting that the narrator acts that this city is hard to imagine on physical level, only to then describe that all of this “too-good-to-be-true” place is held up by the suffering of a child. Despite the literal implausibility of this scenario, the reader has just been given a distinct image of a beautiful city with happy people and the miserable child. The reader can put themselves in the city of Omelas and its people, yet when they reach the narrator’s telling of the Ones Who Walk Away, that is the farthest the reader’s imagination of the city takes them. The Ones Who Walk Away go towards “a place that is even less imaginable” and there is no physical imagery outside of the city (pg. 284). While it is hard to picture a Utopia society, Omelas can be seen because of its distinctness. There is no doubt, no uncertainty as the world is essentially black and white as a city built on the back of another’s suffering. The Ones walk into a grey area where the world is much more complicated. They can’t accept the “evil” of Omelas to live in its “good,” so they choose to abandon the binary morality and understanding of life. The Ones perform no good deeds as they do nothing to rescue the child and they do no wrong by benefiting from its suffering.
This complicated image is Le Guin’s questioning of a binary morality and distinctions of the world. The reader cannot picture what is beyond the city, beyond this distinctly imaginable yet simultaneously impossible city.