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Taoism In Ursula Le Guin's Essay

2811 words - 11 pages

Taoism in Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

The utopian society fabricated by Ursula LeGuin in her short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” appears, before the reader is introduced to its one inherent imperfection, to be ideal to a point of disbelief. Even the narrator doubts that her account of this utopia, despite considering the allowances given to the reader to add or remove certain aspects of the society in an attempt to render a utopia fashioned to individual desire, is a believable one. Interestingly, it is not until one final detail of Omelas is revealed, that of the boy who is kept in isolation in wretched conditions so that the people of Omelas may recognize happiness, that the existence of the city is understood and accepted. The Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which will be explored further in its relation to LeGuin’s story, accepts that anything whether it is a tangible thing or a concept is only comprehended by its negation. That said, it is apparent that lightness implies darkness, non-being is required to understand being, and, in the case of the people living in ‘Omelas, bright towered by the sea,’ happiness can only be appreciated and known through dejection and suffering, the manifestation of which is the child who quite possibly “has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect” (LeGuin 275). The greater philosophical implication of this short piece is one that supports a way of life based upon Taoist principles, while consciously rejecting a society which ‘thrives’ upon the imbalance of polarizations, knows supposed happiness at the expense of a suffering individual and is ignorant of happiness in simplicity. LeGuin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” presents a Taoist vision of the way in which a society should function in accordance with natural laws, firstly by depicting an intrinsically flawed ‘utopian’ society, then presenting enlightened individuals who rightly abandon it in search of truth.

LeGuin’s description of Omelas engages all of one’s senses through her usage of rich visual, auditory and tactile imagery to ‘prove’ to the reader that Omelas is undeniably a utopia. The city of Omelas can be described as a place in which the inhabitants’ senses are constantly overwhelmed by sensations which are pleasing to their eyes, beautiful to their ears and sweet to their tongues. The unchanging state of this society which is surrounded constantly by sensory delight can be found in these descriptions; for instance, the “child of nine or ten [who] sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute […] he never ceases playing” (LeGuin 275). In addition to the wooden flute, LeGuin describes, “a shimmering of gong and tambourine” (LeGuin 273). Following the narrator’s stunning description of everything which makes Omelas a utopia, her statement that the reader may, if he pleases, “add an orgy” in order to make the Omelas less...

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