Here’s how this week’s arts and culture column begins:

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is a dystopian short story by California native and celebrated “speculative fiction” author, Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018).

“Omelas” came to Le Guin when, on a road trip, she saw the words “Salem, Oregon” backward in her rearview mirror.

Published in 1973, the story begins as the people of the city of Omelas in a fictional country are celebrating the Festival of Summer. The sun is shining. There are sparkling flags, clamoring bells, and prancing horses whose manes are braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. The procession is a dance, led by a “shimmering of gong and tambourine.”



  1. Thanks Heather! Another excellent piece!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Glad you liked it, Phillip–the story is well worth reading–and short!

  2. TR Searls says: Reply

    I was struck when I saw this post. The mop image from this story has haunted me from my childhood when I first read it and longed to rescue the child. Your alternative perspective is thought provoking and oddly relieving as it offers the first real possibility that I could actually return the child to her mother and the sunlit sky by being both the child and the rescuer.
    Thank you

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Tess–right. The knowledge that there is always someone suffering would otherwise haunt us with such guilt, sorrow and shame that we couldn’t really function. We do at least have some power over our own lives, thoughts, habits, choices. And we know that a choice toward love in the fullest sense of the word for ourselves is a choice toward love for the world…at the same time it is humbling to know that our happiness in a sense does depend on the suffering of others. It’s true for everybody except the poorest of the poorest of the poor. With shome Christ is in solidarity and of whom he said, The poor you will always have with you. So I think he is saying Share what you have, walk away from/detach from the power system (which is often a system of thought and old ideas) that undergirds that suffering. But we don’t have to spend our whole lives refusing “happiness” (whatever that might mean to each of us) because other people are suffering or for any other reason. In fact, reflecting on the Omelas led me to entitle my next (upcoming) column, “Bring Back Mirth.” Dante puts those fueld by self-rightouse anger and who insist upon melancholy in the I believe Fifth Circle of Hell:

      From Robert Pinsky’s translation of The Inferno:

      “Descends the grayish slopes until its torrent
      discharges into the marsh whose name is Styx.
      Gazing intently, I saw there were people warrened

      within that bog, all naked and muddy – with looks
      of fury, striking each other: with a hand
      but also with their heads, chests, feet, and backs,

      teeth tearing piecemeal. My kindly master explained:
      “These are the souls whom anger overcame.
      My son, know also, that under the water are found

      others, whose sighing makes these bubbles come
      that pock the surface everywhere you look.
      Lodged in the slime they say: ‘Once we were grim

      and sullen in the sweet air above, that took
      a further gladness from the play of sun;
      inside us, we bore acedia’s dismal smoke.

      We have this black mire now to be sullen in.’”

      So to believe that we can “return the child to her mother and the sunlit sky” as you so beautifully put it…yes! That is a hope to hold onto.