Reviewing “The ones who walk away from Omelas”

After having reviewed “Fahrenheit 451” I got to thinking about how someone can depict large ideas in a small span. In most instances trying to bring forward a philosophical idea, particularly through fiction, in a novella or a short story can come off as clunky and rushed. At that point you’re better off just writing an essay. But that is not always the case and for this review I thought I would highlight an instance in which this is executed perfectly.

You may or may not have heard of Ursula K Le Guin. She has had cult success throughout her career but somehow, in spite her her prolific writing, she has remained unknown to the general populous. If ever you have heard of her it would be for her “Eathsea Cycle” which consists of several novels but these aren’t the topic of today’s review; what I’m actually reviewing is a lesser known though critically lauded short story called “The ones who walk away from Omelas”.

I first heard of it as a reference to a music video called “Spring Day” by the popular Kpop boyband BTS who have been incorporating a lot of literary references into their videos.

I’m not going to get into the video because frankly I still don’t understand it but it peaked my interest enough to go looking for the story and man am I glad I did. In total the story amounts to about ten pages but Le Guin manages to jam pack it with so much wit and observation that its frankly astounding.

The story is classified as ‘philosophical fiction’ by which it is meant that the aim of the entire work is to present a core idea. I have over time read many texts that try to do this but somehow never quite in the way she does.

The work is entirely devoid of story. Le Guin ensures that even as she paints a vivid world, that everything in the world is merely a stand in for a concept. While in “Fahrenheit 451” I felt the story could have been improved by giving the characters more time to grow, in this instance the brevity and the lack of focus on individuals is paramount. You have to be able to focus on the pros and cons of the idea being set forth by the author and you can’t do that if you’re invested in a random villager.

So that brings us to what the idea actually is and the answer to that it simple yet unbelievably complex; its about Paradise.

Now paradise is a concept that all of us have thought about at some part of our lives. We are tired of all of the things that are wrong in our lives and we wish that we could just be happy all the time. But that’s impossible, utopia is impossible as long as humans exist because we are inherently contentious creatures. However what would happen if it was possible, what would you be willing to give up, who would you be willing to let suffer in your and the rest of your world’s stead. This is what Le Guin asks us.

I won’t tell you guys the rest of the story because it really is just a fifteen minute read and it has so much more impact if you see the arguments that the author puts forward. The writing in general is beautiful but what was most remarkable is her ability to anticipate the flaws that the reader might find. She really does manage to build a utopia and then makes you feel like a monster because somewhere deep down you have to admit that it might be worth it.

Days after I read it lines of the text kept flashing before my eyes and I shivered from the perceptiveness of them.

I can’t recommend this one enough, its as close to perfect in what it attempts to do as is possible and I can promise you that even if it doesn’t affect you the way it did me, you life will still be better for having read it and pondered its meaning.

Rating- 5 stars



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