Nicole Esposito 1
March 1, 2011
In the short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, we read about a joyous town with much chaos and cheerfulness. The first half of the story describes in great detail a parade that is taking place in the center of the town. There is many people enjoying the “shimmering of gong and tambourine” (Le Guin 242), watching horses that had “manes braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green” (242), and listening to the “music winding through the city streets” (242).
The second half of the story, surprisingly, is a darker and more mysterious side of Omelas. Le Guin describes to her readers the dreadful room “in a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas” (Le Guin 245) where a young boy lives. Unfortunately, this boy is kept in a tiny room, where “the floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch… about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room” (245). The boy is about 10 years old although it seems that he is only about six. The boy has been neglected, under fed, and left in terrible conditions. The child sometimes begs for someone to let him out of this tiny room, yet those who pass by ignore his wishes. They simply open the door a crack just to see this strange creature in such an unheard of environment and then walk away.
Throughout Le Guin’s writing, she refers to the boy as “it” This portrays a sense of negligence and desertion towards the boy. It is as if the boy means nothing to the people of Omelas, which could be because they are too busy with the upbeat life that takes place upstairs
from this room, in the heart of the city. The townspeople are so caught up in their own lives that there is no time to worry about this boy whom has been abandoned in this dungeon of a room. They may come down and visit him and feel sorry for a few moments, but their guilt is freed once they look away from him and walk back into their day to day lives.
This sheltered child has no mother to grow with and has absolutely no sense of stability. As Yi-Fu Tuan states in the book Space and Place, movement beyond the mother or the immediate vicinity entails risks in which the baby is not ready to cope” (Tuan 23). This boy did not even have the chance to create the relationship with his mother that is necessary for a child to have so he can grow and mature eventually. It is because someone, whether it is a person from Omelas, or even his own mother, locked him up in the dungeon, that he does not get to experience the world and develop like a normal human being. It is because of the place that he is currently in and lived in for years that he has the mind of a baby. He is scared of things like the mops, for example, because there is no one to teach him that the mops are harmless. He is more or less comprised of animalistic behaviors. Even if he wanted to, he would not be able to escape the dungeon because he has been so sheltered all of his life that he would not even know where to begin.
Another interesting point that Tuan has made about children growing is the relationship they make with objects. He states “… and he is not slow to defend what he considers to belong to him. Much of the child’s combative possessiveness, however, is not evidence of genuine attachment. It arises out of a need for assurance of his own worth and for a sense of status among peers” (Tuan 32). This poor child does not even have any personal possessions to form
bonds with and be attached to. To not understand what it is like to call something your own and to not be able to defend something of your own becomes a problem in a developing child. The
people from Omelas did not put any toys in the room for him to play with and learn from, but then again, there are no peers taking anything of his away so that he can fight for custody of his belongings. Therefore, he has yet to defend himself. He must struggle a great deal seeing all these unfamiliar people walking by (assuming he knows what people are) and not being able to form any sort of relationship with them at all.
Besides not having relationships with the people that walk by him and stare, he does not have a mother to nurture him. This can cause an impressive amount of problems, for not having a mother can be very detrimental to a growing child. Tuan also believes that a child must have a mother to support him. He states, “A child is adrift – placeless – without the supportive parent” (Tuan 29). According to Tuan, this child lives in a “space” in the world. He does not feel at home in this dungeon, and he never can because he does not have the emotional, physical and psychological support of his mother. There is no familiar place in which he can call his safe haven in this 3 x 2 dungeon he resides in. Even if he did break free from this room in the basement, he would not know where to go or what to do with himself, because he has no spatial ability. All he has known for his whole life is this dark and dirty room that is filled with mops and dirt. If he were to break out he would suffer from unbelievable culture shock.
Spatial ability is what you are born with that makes you inept to the world. For example, if one would drive to a street that they have never been to before on the other side of the world, that person would still recognize the “space” as a street because of the familiar elements of it: the tar, the sidewalk, the houses on either side, the cars parked along the edges, etc. In a young
child, there is a mind capacity to understand that all of these components make up a street and soon the child will not have to name everything to figure out what the street is.
Unfortunately, the boy in this story never had that chance to learn about everyday things like normal children have. If he were to walk outside after all of these years in the dungeon, he’d be completely lost. That would be a very scary and possibly life threatening situation to put the boy in, especially if he were to do it alone, without a mother.
Tuan’s thoughts on spatial ability are that “spatial ability is essential to livelihood…” (74). He believes that without having these experiences, the boy has not learned what is essential in life. He has not learned how to interact with people, “spaces” and “places”. He is only linked to his small area in which he stands in everyday and knows nothing more. He has not exercised his thoughts any further then to think of that room with dark corners and dusty, dirty floors. He may recognize a mop, but that is all. His brain would have a hard time recognizing the rest of the world. It would be extra hard for him at this age to get thrown into the craziness of the world by himself, or even with someone guiding him, for that matter. Living in this “space” could have possibly ruined him permanently.
Throughout the story we have learned that the boy living in the dungeon has missed out on some very important milestones in his life that make people who they grow up to be; having a mother, recognizing different “spaces” and “places” as a young child, and having possessions to call his own. All of these situations that he did not experience have caused setbacks in his life and are all due to the “space” in which he inhabits. If it weren’t for the dungeon which he has been living in for the longest time, he could have led a normal life doing things that children need to do to initiate a healthy start to life.
Work Cited Esposito 5
Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Tuan, Yi-Fu.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977. Print.
Le Guin, Ursula K., “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. An Introduction to Fiction. eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Print.