William James

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William James
9. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
Variations on a theme by William James
To understand the text
To learn the useful words and phrases
learn about an allegory story
Teaching Contents
1. Introduction (10 min.)
2. Detailed study of the text (140 min.)
3. Structure analysis (5 min.)
4. Language appreciation (5 min.)
5. Summary of words and phrases(5 min)
6. Exercises (15 min)
1. Introduction
The author: Ursula K. Le Guin is a wellknown science fiction and fantasy writer.
Ursula Le Guin
She was born in Berkeley, California in
1929. After graduating from Radcliff
College, she took an M.A. degree at
Columbia University. Her writings force us
to re-examine many of the things that we
once took for granted, like our cities, our
political and social structures, etc.
Ursula Le Guin
She began writing during the 1950s, but
not until the ‘60s did she begin publishing.
Le Guin’s work has appealed to a wider
audience than science fiction fans.
Bringing a social scientist’s eye and a
feminist’s sensibility to science fiction, she
has employed this speculative genre to
criticize contemporary civilization.
Ursula Le Guin
Many of her stories—like “The Ones Who Walk
Away From Omelas” (1974 Hugo Award)—
envisioned with anthropological authority. Le
Guin has also written poetry and juvenile fiction,
including the Earthsea [video-2] trilogy, Wizard
of Earthsea [video-2] (1968), The Tombs of
Atuan [video-2] (1971), and The Farthest Shore
[video-2] (1972), which rank among the classics
of modern children’s literature. She lives in
Porland, Oregon.
Ursula Le Guin
In an interview with Larry McCaffery the author
explains why she likes the science fiction form.
She says: “Science fiction allows me to help
people get out of their cultural skins and into the
skins of other beings. In that sense science fiction
is just a further extension of what the novel has
traditionally been. In most fiction the author tries
to get into the skin of another person; in science
fiction you are often expected to get into the skin
of another person from another culture.
William James
William James
He was born New York City and graduated from
Harvard University in 1869 with a doctor of
Medicine degree. In 1872 he joined the Harvard
faculty as a lecturer on anatomy and physiology
(生理学), continuing to teach until 1907 (3 years
later he died), after 1880 in the department of
psychology and philosophy. In 1890 he published
his brilliant and epoch-making Principles of
Psychology, in which the seeds of his philosophy
are already discernible/ perceptive.
William James
James’s fascinating style and his broad
culture and cosmopolitan outlook made
him the most influential American thinker
of his day. His philosophy has three
principle aspects--his voluntarism, his
pragmatism, and his “radical empiricism.”
The text
This text is taken from The Norton
Anthology of Short Fiction. This writing
may be called a piece of allegorical
Allegory(讽喻) in literature,
is a symbolic story that serves as a
disguised representation for meanings other
than those indicated on the surface. The
characters in an allegory often have no
embodiments of moral qualities and other
The allegory is closely related to parable
/religious teaching story, fable, /animal
story, and metaphor, differing from them
largely in intricacy and length. Although
allegory is still used by some authors, its
popularity as a literary form has declined in
favor of a more personal form of symbolic
So "Omelas" should not be read as a realistic
story. Le Guin is playing around with the old idea
about "the greatest good for the greatest number"
and taking it to its logical extreme. What if,
magically, all the evil in the world could be
heaped on one person and everyone else could be
happy. Would it be worthwhile or would the
injustice done to that one probably retarded child
outweigh the good of all the rest.
The ones who "walk away" are buying out
of the system, refusing to accept their own
happiness if it comes at the expense of
someone else. On one level the story can
be understood about the western world
living off the suffering of the third world.
On another level it can be understood about
our society's refusal to accept the
legitimacy of the plight of the poor.
Note on “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”:
Ursula K. Le Guin once explained in one of her
story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters
The central idea of this psychomyth, the
scapegoat, turns up in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers
Karamazov and several people have asked me,
rather suspiciously, why I gave the credit to
William James [video-2] The fact is, I haven’t
been able to re-read Dostoyevsky, much as I
loved him, since I was twenty-five, and I’d
simply forgotten he used the idea. But when I met
it in James’s “The Moral Philosopher and the
Moral Life” it was with a shock of recognition….
Of course I didn’t read James and sit down and
say, Now I’ll write a story about that “lost soul.”
It seldom works that simply. I sat down and
started a story, just because I felt like it, with
nothing but the word “Omelas” in mind. It came
from a road sign: Salem (Oregon) backwards….
Salem … equals Peace. Melas. O melas. Omelas.
“Where do you get your ideas from, Ms Le Guin?”
From forgetting Dostoyevsky and reading road
signs backwards, naturally. Where else?
The general idea of the text:
In this allegorical writing, Le Guin brings
up a rather provocative theme, the nature of
happiness and on what it depends. In the
beginning, Le Guin fashions a utopian city,
Omelas. It is celebrating the Festival of
Summer. There is an air of excitement
throughout the city with its clanging bells,
flag-adorned boats, beautiful buildings and
joyful processions.
People march in procession to watch a horse race,
which will begin very soon. Then Le Guin
comments indirectly on the people of Omelas to
convince that they are not simple but happy.
According to her, their happiness is based on a
just discrimination of what is necessary, what is
neither necessary nor destructive, and what is
destructive. They do without monarchy, slavery,
or any commercial, political or military institution.
There is no guilt in Omelas. People live a happy
life which they love earnestly.
However, Le Guin discloses the truth of Omelas’
happiness shortly, which shocks the readers. In a
cellar in Omelas a child has been locked in a tiny
room and mistreated for a very long time. All the
happiness of Omelas is based on its suffering.
The people of Omelas accept this as a terrible
justice of reality and let the child’s misery go on.
By this sharp contrast between the former
happiness and the present cruelty, Le Guin
draws the attention upon her theme—the
nature and basis of happiness—should the
happiness of the many be based upon the
suffering of the few? But she provides no
solution except an open, thought-provoking
ending that some people leave Omelas after
seeing the child.
2. Detailed study of the text
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”:
In Ursula Le Guin's short story, "The ones who
walk away from Omelas", she brings up the idea
of the scapegoat who, by living a life of constant
suffering, ensures that everyone else in the city of
Omelas has the perfect, happy life. "They all
know it is there, the people of Omelas...
they all understand that their happiness, the
beauty of their city, the tenderness of their
friendships, the health of their children, the
wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers,
even the abundance of their harvests and the
kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly
upon this child's abominable misery."
Some people, of course, cannot accept the
idea that to free the child would be to let
misery into the lives of everyone in Omelas,
to let in guilt, even if they accept that the
child, ruined by its miserable life, would
not be able to understand or indeed survive
the free and joyous world outside its cell.
These people cannot stand to live
dependent on another's misery; they refuse
to benefit from the child's suffering, though
they make no apparent effort to help the
child. In effect, they opt out of the system,
and they don’t try to fix it. These are the
ones who walk away from Omelas.
Omelas is a fictional city of happiness envisaged
by the writer. She describes emotionally and
colorfully the city of Omelas and its citizens but it
is a piece of allegorical description. In reality,
however, she discourses on a rather provocative
theme–the nature of happiness and on what it
What does Ursula Le Guin want to tell us through
her story?
Through her story the author wants to shock
readers to think again about a philosophical
question: could one be happy in a world that
provided every perfection one could wish IF it
depended on one person living in absolute misery?
Variations on a theme by William James:
The text discusses on a theme by William
James. The author shows different ideas from
William James’ theme concerning happiness and
what it is based on.
the city of Omelas
What does Paragraph 1 describe?
the happy city of Omelas.
Omelas is a port city by the sea with bright
towers and houses with red roofs and painted
walls. There are tree-lined avenues, moss-grown
gardens, great parks and public buildings.
Towards the north side of the city there is a great
water-meadow called the Green Fields. Far off to
the north and west are mountains with snowy
peaks half encircling Omelas.
The people there were joyously celebrating
the Festival of Summer with music, dance
and processions. Men, women and children
except for the riders who were naked. The
highlight of the celebrations was a horse
race to be held on the great water-meadow
called the Green Fields. So the whole city
is immersed in happiness.
With a clamor of bells …the city Omelas, brighttowered by the sea:
The loud ringing of the bells, which sent the
frightened swallows flying high, marks the
beginning of the Festival of Summer in Omelas.
bright-towered by the sea: Omelas is a port city
by/near the sea. It had white towers that shone
bright in the sun.
The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with
The lines and chains on the ships were decorated
with flags which were shining in the sun.
rigging: lines and chains used aboard a ship
especially in working sail and supporting masts
and spars; the rigging [U]: all the ropes, chains,
etc. that hold up a ship’s sails.
e.g. The sailor climbed up the rigging to see if he
could sight land.
In the streets … processions moved:
The streets were lined with houses with red roofs
and painted walls. Between the houses there were
old moss-grown gardens. There were also avenues
lined with shady trees. The city had many big
parks and public buildings. There were many
processions moving through the streets and
In this long sentence, the main idea “processions
moved” is at the end of the sentence. This is a
good example of a long periodic sentence (圆周
句), preceded by a string of modifiers.
Some were decorous:
old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey,
grave master workmen, quiet, merry women
carrying their babies and chatting as they walked.
Some of these processions were marked by
propriety and good taste, because they were made
up of old people, grave master workmen and
women carrying babies. There were no children or
young people among them.
In this long sentence, the main idea is at the
beginning. This is an example of a loose sentence
(松散句). The writer uses a vast variety of sentence
decorous: adj. fml. (of appearance or behavior)
correct; showing proper respect for the manners and
customs of society.
e.g. Behavior that is decorous is polite and correct
and doesn’t offend people.
He gave his wife a decorous kiss.
Teenage lovers are strolling decorously.
mauve: adj. having a pale purple colour.
 n.
sth. that is mauve is of a pale purple color
 e.g. mauve writing paper
In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering
of gong and tambourine, and the people went
dancing, the procession was a dance:
In other streets the processions were different.
The music was much faster and one could see the
glimmering light reflected from gongs and
tambourines. The people danced to the music as
they moved forward. The whole procession was a
shimmer: shine with a soft tremulous [slightly
shaking] light; glimmer
Children dodged in and out…over the music and the
The children ran about playfully, now in
and now out of the procession. Their highpitched shouting could be heard clearly
above the music and singing like the calls
of the swallows flying by overheard.
dodge: v. to avoid (sth.) by moving suddenly aside.
 e.g. He dodged the falling rock and escaped
She dodged past me.
 infml. to avoid (a responsibility, duty, etc.) by a
trick or in some dishonest way
 e.g. She somehow managed to dodge all the
difficult questions.
 dodger: a tax dodger, a draft dodger 逃避服兵役
 dodge: n. infml. a clever way of avoiding sth. or
of deceiving or tricking sb.
 a tax doge逃税花招
synonyms: avoid, escape, avert, evade, elude
avert: to prevent (sth. unpleasant) from
happening e.g. An accident was averted by his
quick thinking.
evade: derog. to avoid (esp. a duty or
responsibility), esp. using deception e.g. Give me
a direct answer and stop evading the issue.
elude: escape from esp. by means of a trick e.g.
The fox succeeded in eluding the hunters by
running back in the opposite direction.
their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing
flights over the music and the singing: a simile
flight: rising, settling or flying in a flock
All the processions wound towards the north
side of the city:
The streets twisted and turned so the
processions also twisted and turned as it
moved forward to the north side of the city.
wound: past participle of the verb wind to
make (one’s way) in a winding or twisting
where on the great water-meadow … exercised
their restive horses before the race:
This is an attributive clause modifying the
north side of the city. The main structure of
the clause is “where (on the great watermeadow) boys and girls exercised their
restive horses before the race.”
This shows the boys and girls were very
natural and unsophisticated. They did not
feel there was anything wrong in being
naked and barefoot.
lithe: adj. (esp. of people or animals) able to
bend and move easily and gracefully
e.g. the lithe bodies of the dancers
exercised their restive horses before the race:
put their horses through some exercises
because the horses were eager to start and
stubbornly resisting the control of the riders
restive: stubbornly resisting control; unruly;
disobedient; unwilling to keep still or be
controlled, nervous
e.g. If you’re restive, you’re impatient, bored,
or dissatisfied.
The horses are restive tonight; there must
be wolves about.
The crew were restive and rebellious.
restively: adv. restiveness n.
The horses wore no gear at all but a halter
without bit:
The horses didn’t wear harness but a rope or
leather band without bit.
gear: n. the harness for a horse
halter: a rope or leather band fastened round
a horse’s head, esp. to lead it
Bit: n. a metal bar, part of a bridle, that is put
in the mouth of a horse and used for
controlling its movements 马嘴子;马衔
Their manes were braided with streamers of
silver, gold, and green:
The manes of the horses were also
decorated with small silver, gold and green
mane : n. the long hair along the top and
sides of the neck of certain mammals, such
as the horse and the male lion
braid: v. interweave three or more strands of
(hair, straw, etc.)
streamer : a long narrow piece of colored
paper, used sep. for decorating at parties; a
long narrow flag
They flared their nostrils and pranced and
boasted to one another:
The writer uses personification here by
treating the horses as human beings. The
horses open wider their nostrils, jumped
about and seemed to be boasting to one
another. All this shows the horses excitement
before the race.
flare: to (cause to ) open outwards, esp. to
widen gradually towards to bottom
e.g. flared trousers
Her nostrils flared with anger.
flare: n. a widening towards one end
 e.g. trousers with wide flares
 prance: v. (of animal, esp. a horse) to jump
high or move quickly by raising the front legs
and springing forwards on the back legs
the horses being the only animal who has
adopted our ceremonies as his own.:
a nominative absolute construction and a
continuation of personification. The horse
was the only animal that considered the
ceremonies of human beings as also their
Far off to the north and west the mountains
stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay:
Far off to the north and west stood up the
mountains half surrounding Omelas on her
the snow still crowning…the miles of sunlit air,
under the dark blue of the sky:
a very beautiful metaphor describing the
sunlit snow peaks. The white snow peaks
glowing with golden sunlight seemed to be
on fire. The dark blue of the sky makes the
golden peaks stand out more clearly.
one could hear … and broke out into the great
joyous clanging of the bells:
The music through the streets far and near
was as pleasant as the sweet perfume of
flowers. The music was sometimes faint and
distant but sometimes gathered in strength
and finally climaxed in the joyous clanging of
farther and nearer and ever approaching:
these words, in a grammatical way, also
indicate the music movement heard from the
starting place “farther” to the comparative
degree “nearer” to the continuous tense
“approaching,” stressing the distance is
getting shorter and shorter.
a cheerful faint sweetness of the air:
a metaphor describing the beautiful music
questioning the joy of the
Omelas people
Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How
describe the citizens of Omelas?
The very short paragraph is a special feature
of this piece of writing. The writer uses two
short questions to introduce two important
subjects. In the next long paragraph she
describes the people of Omelas and
expresses her views on joy and happiness,
which is the main theme of the writer.
the writer’s view on the joy,
and the Omelas people
But we do not say the words of cheer much
any more:
But the ordinary people do not mention
words like happy and joy because being
happy is their way of life and is no longer a
we: the ordinary people
All smiles have become archaic:
Smiling to show one’s happiness is old
fashioned for there is no need of it now.
Given a description such as this one tends to
make certain assumptions:
Assuming that the smiles are described in
this way, people are inclined to explain why
they are like this as they themselves imagine.
After reading the above description the
reader is likely to assume certain things.
such as this: this refers to the above
sentence: All smiles have become archaic.
Given a description…by great-muscled slaves.
After reading the above description the
reader may assume that Omelas is a feudal
kingdom where one can see the king riding a
beautiful horse surrounded by noble knights
or a golden litter carried by strong well-built
litter : a covered and curtained couch
provided with shafts and used for carrying a
single passenger
I do not know the rules and laws of their society,
but I suspect that they were singularly few:
I do not know what the rules and laws of their
society are but I guess they were
exceptionally few.
singularly: exceptionally, unusually
As they did without monarchy …and the bomb.
They managed without monarchy and
slavery. In the same way, they also managed
advertisement, the secret police, and the
as…so…: in the same way as…, so…
e.g. As water is the most important of liquids,
so air is the most important of gases.
As bees love sweetness, so flies love
As the wind blew harder, so the sea grew
the bomb: it refers to the Bomb, atomic bomb,
nuclear weapons
do without: manage without; dispense with
What things do the citizens of Omelas do not have?
They do without monarchy and slavery and also
without the stock exchange, the advertisement,
the secret police, the bomb, the clergy and
soldiers. They do not have cars nor helicopters.
And one thing there is none of is guilt.
these were not simple folk, not dulcet
shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians:
The citizens of Omelas were not a group of
naïve people. They were not shepherds who
had a melodious voice and were good at
singing, nor primitive people who lived in a
virtuous, innocent state uncorrupted by
civilization, nor agreeable and courteous
people who believed in a utopia, a perfect
dulcet: lit. or humor (esp. of sounds) sweet and
e.g. Dulcet sounds are gentle and pleasant
to listen to; often used humorously.
She spoke in dulcet tones.
I wake up to the dulcet tones of the Radio
Four news.
bland adj.
(of people or their behavior) showing no
strong feelings or opinions or other
noticeable qualities, esp. so as to avoid
causing trouble or giving offence.
Someone who is bland is calm,
unexcited and polite.
The radio station’s bland coverage of the
election campaign温和报道
Manfred smiled his bland smile.
(of food) without much taste
This soup is too bland for me.
allusion, suggesting one of the historical
symbols of pastoralism: a shepherd and his
sheep. Pastoralism celebrated the innocent
life of shepherds usually from an idealized
Golden Age of rustic innocence and idleness.
noble savages: allusion, referring to romantic
literary figures in the 18th century, uncivilized,
brave and kind
utopians :
allusion, referring to people believe in Utopia
Sir Thomas More described in his novel—
Sir Thomas More
In 1516 the English statesman Sir Thomas
More published a book that compared the
condition of his England to that of a perfect
and imaginary country, Utopia. Everything
that was wrong in England was perfect in
Utopia. More was trying to show how people
could live together in peace and happiness if
they only did what he thought was right.
But the name he gave his imaginary country
showed that he did not really believe
perfection could ever be reached. Utopia
means, literally, "no place," since it was
formed from the Greek ou, meaning "no,
not," and topos, "place."
Since More's time, utopia has come to mean
"a place of ideal perfection." Over the years
many books similar to Utopia have been
written, and many plans for perfect societies
proposed, most of them impractical. Utopia
has also come to mean any such scheme or
The trouble is that…considering happiness as
something rather stupid:
The writer begins to criticize the views of
pedants and sophisticates. Ordinary people
have got into the bad habit of considering
happiness to be something stupid. This view
was encouraged by people who consider
themselves learned and worldly-wise.
n. derog. a person who pays too much
attention to small details and unimportant
rules; scholar; theorist; academician
pedantic adj.
sophisticate: man of the world; cosmopolitan
Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting:
These pedants and sophisticates declare
that only pain stimulates the intellect and
only evil arouses the interests of people.
adj. intellect; rational; logical; reasoning;
thoughtful; thinking; meditative
n. a person who has a good reasoning ability
and can use it in their work
intellect: n. a person who has a good
reasoning ability
This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to
admit the banality of evil and the terrible
boredom of pain:
An artist betrays his trust when he does not
admit that evil is nothing fresh nor novel and
pain is very dull and uninteresting.
n. [U] betrayal of trust or faith; treachery;
great disloyalty and deceit; unfaithfulness;
betrayal of one’s country
e.g. to commit treason
banality: n. quality of being commonplace;
Why do people hold that “Only pain is intellectual,
only evil interesting”? Why is this “the treason of the
People hold this kind of opinion because the artist betrays
their trust. They trusted the artist to find happiness for
them. When the artist realizes the difficulty of this task, he
gives it up. To an artist, evil is common and pain is
uninteresting. But he is not willing to accept that evil is
commonplace and that pain is terribly boring. Instead, he
uses them as valuable subjects for his artistic creation,
which mislead people into thinking only pain is
intellectual, only evil interesting.
Here the author refutes this view by pointing out evil is
banal and pain is terrible boring.
If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em:
If you cannot beat evil then become evil
yourself. This idea is put forward as an
aphorism, maxim. It explains why the artist
betrays. As they can’t defeat evil, they accept
it and express it in their work.
If it hurts, repeat it:
If something hurts, then repeat it and you will
not feel the pain as strongly as you did at
first. Another aphoristic statement.
But to praise despair is…to lose hold of
everything else:
a parallel sentence. The writer declares if
you praise despair (can’t lick ‘em), then you
condemn delight and if you accept violence
(repeat it ) then you, in reality, give up
everything else. But once we praise despair,
we oppose happiness too. Once we accept
violence, we lose control of everything else
They were not naïve and happy children—
though their children were, in fact, happy:
The people of Omelas were not like happy,
simple and innocent children, though their
children were happy.
They were mature, intelligent, passionate
adults whose lives were not wretched:
They were fully developed and intelligent
grown-up people full of intense feelings and
they were not miserable people.
They are not simple though happy. They are not
barbarians, shepherds or utopians. They are not
less complex than ordinary people. They are not
naïve and happy children. They are mature,
intelligent, passionate adults. These people have a
feeling of boundless and generous contentment and
a sense of magnanimous triumph, a triumph over life.
They have compassion for the suffering but they are
also pragmatic and accept reality.
a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away,
once upon a time:
Fairy tales generally begin in this way: “Once
upon a time, long ago in a country far
Perhaps it would be best…assuming it will rise
to the occasion:
Perhaps it would be best if the reader
pictures Omelas to himself as his
imagination tells him, assuming his
imagination will be equal to the task.
fancy: n. imagination
bid: v. try, attempt
for certainly I cannot suit you all:
For certainly I cannot describe Omelas in
such a way as to satisfy all of you.
Happiness is … what is necessary, what is
neither necessary nor destructive:
This is the writer’s basic view on happiness.
To achieve happiness one must be able to
distinguish properly what things are
necessary, what things are neither necessary
nor destructive, and what is destructive.
What things are considered unnecessary but
undestructive by the writer?
In the middle category—that of the unnecessary but
understructive –the writer lists the following: central
heating, subway trains, washing machines, beer and
even a not habit forming drug like drooz, and all
kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented, floating
light sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common
In the middle category…well have central
heating, subway trains, washing machines:
In the middle group things that are neither
necessary nor destructive, things that bring
comfort, luxury, abundance, etc, —they could
have such things as central heating, subway
trains, washing machines, etc.
quality of being vigorous, luxuriant and
abundant; enthusiasm; abundance;
 e.g. The exuberance of the jungle amazed
the travelers.
She is always greeted him with the same
adj. Someone who is exuberant is full of
energy, excitement, and cheerfulness.
e.g. the exuberant director of the Theatre
(Of plants) growing strongly and plentifully
exuberantly: adv. e.g. Children danced
exuberantly around the tree.
Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t
It doesn’t matter whether they have these
things or not. They can be just as happy
without them.
As you like it:
Picture Omelas to be as you like it to be or
as your fancy bids.
One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is
The clause “there is none of” is an attributive
clause. I know one thing that there is none of
in Omelas is guilt. I know that one thing
Omelas does not have is guilt.
I thought at first there were no drugs, but that
is puritanical:
At first I though there would be no drugs but
that is being too severe and rigid.
puritanical: too rigid and severe morally;
derog. like a puritan
e.g. a puritanical father who wouldn’t let his
children watch television.
the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may
perfume the ways of the city:
the faint but compelling sweet scent of the
drug drooz may fill the streets of the city
drooz: a fictional name for a pleasant but not
habit-forming drug
which first brings a great lightness and
brilliance to the mind and limbs:
the drug first makes your hands and feet
seem light and your mind more keen and
then after some hours a dreamy languor…
inmost secrets of the Universe:
after some hours you fall into a lazy
dream and have wonderful visions
revealing the most mysterious and
deepest secrets of the universe
[U] lit. pleasant tiredness of mind or body;
lack of strength or will; pleasant or heavy
stillness e.g. the languor of a hot summer’s
pl. a feeling or state of mind of tender
sadness and desire
the languors of a lovesick poet一个害相思病
adj. without strength or any show of effort;
slow esp. in a graceful way
e.g. She stretched out a languid arm to
brush the cigar ash off the couch.
languish v. (in) to experience long suffering;
to be or become weaker
e.g. The plants are languishing because of
lack of water.
n. plural of arcanum, secret or
mysterious knowledge known only to
the initiate
arcane: adj. lit. mysterious and secret;
as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond
all belief:
It also increases the pleasure of sex
What is the writer’s view on drugs?
She thinks to ban drugs completely would be
puritanical. She permits the use of drooz, a drug
that brings great lightness and brilliance to the
mind and limbs and vastly increases all the
pleasures of the senses but it must not be habitforming. However, she thinks many of them
would not need to take drooz because they are
already so happy and content.
For more modest tastes I think there ought to
be beer.
For those people who consider drugs to be
too strong there will be beer.
The joy built upon successful slaughter is not
the right kind of joy:
The joy that is based on successfully killing a
lot of people is not the right kind of joy.
A boundless…this is what swells…life:
What fills the hearts of the people of Omelas
with joy and pride is a feeling of great and
unlimited contentment. They also feel a
courageous triumph not over some outer
enemy but in sharing with all that is fine and
fair in the souls of all men and in the
grandeur of the world’s summer. The triumph
they celebrate is the victory of life.
magnanimous: having, showing, generosity
communion: fml. lit. the sharing or exchange
of deep thoughts, ideas, and feelings, esp. of
a religious kind
e.g. communion with nature, a mystical
communion between man and God through
the long hours of the night he held
communion with the condemned man.
the processions
at the Green Fields
provisioners :
providers, suppliers
The faces of small children are amiably sticky;
in the benign grey beard of a man a couple
of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled: The
faces of the likeable children are sticky from
eating sweet things and there are also
crumbs of rich pastry in the grey beard of a
kind and gentle old man. Notice the use of
amiable and benign as transferred epithet.
adj. kind and gentle e.g. a benign
nature / smile和蔼的性情/微笑
(of a disease) not dangerous to life e.g.
a benign tumour
benignly: adv. e.g. to smile benignly
for he never ceases playing and never sees
them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet,
thin magic of the tune:
for he never stops playing the flute and
doesn’t pay attention to the people who stop
to listen to his playing for his eyes are fully
concentrated in the sweet and lightly
enchanting tune he is playing.
adj. giving one’s whole mind; engrossed
e.g. We listened to her amazing story with rapt
cease doing: stop doing
e.g. He was going to cease worrying about
She ceased talking and went on stitching.
The factory has ceased making bicycles.
The officer ordered him to cease his
whistling immediately.
cease to do: (no longer)
e.g. They ceased to trouble themselves
about him.
The matter has ceased to be a mystery to
Cease: + n.
e.g. At last they have ceased work(ing).
The general ordered his troops to cease fire.
The factory will cease operations next week.
the stop of playing the flute as the
Paragraph 6.
of the Festival of Summer
As if that little private silence were the signal:
When the child stopped playing the flute
there ensured a short silence and it seemed
to be a signal for the horse race to start.
All at once ...line: imperious,melancholy,
Suddenly from a pavilion near the starting
line of the horse race, a commanding, sad
and shrill note of a trumpet sounds.
imperious: arrogant;
imperious manner
some of them neigh in answer:
some of the horses seem to neigh in answer
to the call of the trumpet
some of them neigh in answer:
some of the horses seem to neigh in answer
to the call of the trumpet
Sober-faced, the young riders…“Quiet, quiet,
there my beauty, my hope….”:
Serious looking young riders pass their
hands gently over the horses’ necks and
calm them, and call them tenderly, “Quiet,
quiet, my beautiful horse, my hope for
winning the race….”
sober-faced: serious looking face
stroke: v. to pass the hand over gently, esp.
for pleasure
e.g. The cat likes being stroked.
He stroked his beard reflectively.
The crowds along the racecourse are like a
field of grass and flowers in the wind:
a simile. The crowds moving about along the
racecourse were swaying back and forth like
grass and flowers in the wind.
Para. 7
the author leading readers into disbelief
Do you believe? Do you accept the festival,
the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one
more thing:
Another short paragraph to introduce the
next important subject: the suffering and
misery of a child upon which is based the joy
and happiness of the citizens of Omelas.
Why don’t people understand the happiness of
People don’t understand the happiness
of Omelas because people are
persuaded to work hard and obtain
achievements and forget to pursue
happiness at all. They consider that
happiness is a stupid thing.
the suffering of the child
In what kind of a room is the child imprisoned?
It looks like a broom closet or a disused tool
room in the basement or cellar of a beautiful
public building or a spacious private home. It
has a locked door and no window. A little
light seeps in between cracks in the boards.
In one corner a couple of mops, with stiff,
clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a
rusty bucket. The floor is dirt and damp.
A little light seeps… across the cellar:
A little light that appears in the dusty room
does not come directly from a window for the
room has no windows but from a cobwebbed
window across the cellar. This light seeps
into the room through the cracks in the
boards of the room.
v. (of a liquid or gas) to make its way
gradually through small openings in a
e.g. Water had seeped into the house
through cracks in the roof.
Blood seeped through the bandage.
a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foulsmelling heads:
the heads of the mops have become
stiff thick lumps and evil smelling
(because they have not been rinsed
clean after constant use).
head: the highest or uppermost part of
a thing.
clot: v. form into clot, mass, lump
The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch:
The floor of the cellar was compacted earth
and felt damp when you touched it.
earth or garden soil; compacted earth
to the touch: when felt
e.g. A cat’s fur is soft to the touch.
It’s cold to the touch.
The stone felt cold to the touch.
to the eye: These problems are to the eye
rather complex.
to the ear: That music is very pleasing to the
a mere broom closet or disused tool room:
it was nothing more or other than a small
room for keeping brooms or a tool room no
longer in use.
mere: nothing more or other than; only
very stupid
It could be a boy or a girl:
The author thinks it is not important whether
it is a boy or a girl. She uses “it” for the child
from now on, and regards it not as a person
at all.
Perhaps it was born defective,… imbecile
through fear, malnutrition, and neglect:
Perhaps the child was mentally
retarded because it was born so or
perhaps it has become very foolish and
nourishment and neglect.
adj. having a
imperfect; faulty
imbecile: adj. showing feeble intellect;
foolish or stupid
It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles
vaguely with its toes or genitals:
The subnormal child uses its fingers to
remove things from its nose and sometimes
without any specific intention plays with its
toes or sex organs as it does not know what
to do.
genitals: the reproductive organs
It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It
shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still
standing there;
and the door is locked; and nobody will come.
A series of short sentences is used here to
indicate that the child is not at ease, and he
is always in fear.
the child has no understanding of time or
The child doesn’t understand what time
means and has no idea of how much
time has passed from one incident to
frightened, disgusted eyes:
transferred epithet
It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its
belly protrudes:
The child’s legs are very thin with no
calves but its stomach is swollen. This
is due to undernourishment and
Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered
sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually:
The buttocks and thighs of the child are
covered with sores that are filled with pus
because of the unsanitary conditions as it
sits continually on its own excrement.
fester: v. infect, inflame, or corrupt, decay
sore: n. a painful usu. infected place on
the body
pus: n. a thick yellowish liquid produced
in an infected wound
excrement: waste discharged from the
What is the imprisoned child like?
It may be a boy or girl who looks about six,
but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded.
Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it
has become imbecile through fear,
malnutrition and neglect. It is so thin there
are no calves to its legs. Its belly protrudes. It
is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass
of festered sores.
all the happiness based on this
child’s abominable misery
They all know it is there… others are content
merely to know it is there….
Everyone in Omelas knows about the child.
And they all understand that their happiness
is based on this child’s abominable misery.
the young people’s attitude
toward the child: anger, outrage,
They feel disgust, which they had thought
themselves superior to:
They experienced a strong feeling of dislike
but before they saw the child they had
thought they would not be affected by this
kind of feeling, i.e. they would not be
sickened at the sight.
If the child…it were cleaned and fed and
comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed;
but if it were done, in that day and hour
all the prosperity and beauty and
delight of Omelas would wither and be
destroyed. There’s a contrast in the
vile: odious, foul, nasty
Those are the terms:
All the prosperity and beauty and delight of
Omelas depend on one condition –they must
do nothing to lighten the terrible misery of the
terms: conditions of a contract, agreement,
sale, etc. –that limit or define its scope or the
action involved
That would be to let guilt within the walls
To throw away the happiness of thousands
for the chance of the happiness of one would
be a criminal thing to do. This would bring
guilt into Omelas where there was none of it
the walls: the walls of Omelas
strict and absolute terms
the paradox: terrible justice of
Often the young people…faced this terrible
Often the young people, when they have
seen the child, go home crying for they feel
pity and compassion and want to do
something to help it but they cannot or they
feel great anger and outrage because they
feel helpless bound by strict and absolute
terms –they may not even say a kind word to
the child, if they do they will lose everything.
This is the paradox, the contradictory
They may brood over it for weeks or years:
They may think about it sadly for weeks
or years.
brood over/ about:
a. to spend time thinking anxiously or sadly
about something, worry or ponder
e.g. Don’t just sit there brooding (over your
problems)—do something!
He brooded over what she had said for
several days.
 b. to hang closely
e.g. Dark clouds were brooding over the city.
Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to
humane treatment:
The habits of the child are so crude and
uncultured it will show no sign of
improvement even if it is treated kindly
and tenderly.
Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they
begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality:
They shed tears when they see how terribly
unjust they have been to the child but these
tears dry up when they realize how just and
fair though terrible reality was.
Yet it is … the splendor of their lives:
However, it is their tears, which are shed
when their generosity is put to the test, and
their anger, when they realize their
helplessness, that truly makes their lives
splendid and grand.
try: to put to the proof; test
splendor: splendid and grand豪华, 美好景象
e.g. The king lived in great splendor in his
 We were dazzled by the splendor of the royal
 I love the splendor of a royal procession.
 The splendor of the jewels made my eyes
 The splendor of the Grand Canyon is
There is no vapid… Their happiness is not dull
and uninteresting and it carries responsibilities
with it.
It implies that to get it, they must perform
their duties of shedding tears and feeling
angry, the trying of their generosity and the
acceptance of their helplessness.
adj. tasteless; flavorless; flat; dull;
It is... that... the profundity of their science:
emphatic sentence.
The existence of the child and their
knowledge of its existence is the reason that
makes their buildings grand and impressive,
their music moving and their science have
great intellectual depth.
poignancy :
state or quality of being distressing to the
e.g. The poignancy of this song brought a tear
to every eye.
poignant: adj. emotionally touching or moving
e.g. poignant memories of my old life in
another country
poignant sorrow/ regret
profundity: intellectual depth
v. to act or speak in a weak complaining
crying way
e.g. a snivelling coward
I’ve warned you. If you fail, don’t come
snivelling back to me.
Do you agree with the author’s idea described
in Paragraph 12 that it is the existence of the
child, and their knowledge of its existence, that
makes possible the nobility of their architecture,
the poignancy of their music, the profundity of
No, the idea is a fallacy.
introducing one more incredible thing
and this is quite incredible:
and this is quite unbelievable. This reveals
the author’s opinion on walking away.
incredible: unbelievable
infml. Wonderful; unbelievably good
different attitude: walking away from Omelas
Each one goes alone:
It implies they are the few people.
The place they go towards is a place even
less imaginable to most of us than the city of
The place they go to is even harder for us to imagine
than the city of happiness, Omelas.
I cannot describe it at all:
I am unable to solve the problem and don’t ask
for the solution from me.
The last paragraph, however, stands out sharply
from among all the others.
It is the most interesting and thought-provoking
paragraph. The writer puts forward the problem
but does not supply the answers, thus allowing
the readers to give free rein to their imagination.
Who are these people?
Question for you to think:
What kind of people are these who walk away from
Omelas? Are they idealists, nihilists, revolutionaries or
perverts? Why are they leaving Omelas? Are they
disgusted, frightened, saddened or just dissatisfied with
Omelas? Where are they going? What are they going to
do? Are they going to lead a life of seclusion in a
monastery or hermitage far from this maddening world or
are they going to found a new utopian city not based on
any misery or suffering or what?
Question for you to think:
The text is an allegory story. Do you find in the
story any implied criticism of our human
Question for you to think:
What does the locked, dark cellar in which the
child sits suggest?
3. Structure analysis
1. Paras 1- 6: the happiness of the Omelas people
A. the celebration of the Festival of Summer
B. the author’s comment on the Omelas people and their happiness
C. the joy of the Festival of Summer
2. Paras 7-9: the misery child in the cellar
A. the misery and suffering of the child
B. the relation between the child and the people
3. Paras 10-14: the people’s attitudes towards the child
A. anger, outrage, impotence
B. accepting the terrible justice of reality after their tears and anger
C. walking away
4. Language appreciation
This text is an allegorical story narrated
in an unusual way.
First, the author uses short four short
paragraphs (2,7,11, and 13) to
introduce new topics or ideas. These
short paragraphs are more effective
and forceful than ordinary topic
Next, the author states her views while telling
the story. For example, in paragraph 3, she
exclaims, “O miracle! But I wish I could
describe it better.” This informs readers that
she is constructing this city in her mind. Two
lines below that, she suggests to readers
that they imagine the city on their own so
that it can be at its best. In this way, she
invites them to join her creation.
Moreover, the writer uses a lot of specific
words describing sound and color to paint a
verbal picture of the city of Omelas and to
describe the joyous celebrations that were
being held. Here are a few examples: brighttowered, sparkled with flags, red roofs,
painted walls, robes of mauve and grey,
Green Fields, streamers of silver, gold and
green, burned with white-gold fire, sunlit air,
dark blue sky, a shimmering of gong and
tambourine, a cheerful faint sweetness of the
air, joyous clanging of bells, etc.
Similarly she successfully paints a very vivid
and poignant picture of the misery and
suffering of the child. There is also a variety
of sentence structures to be found: long
periodic or loose sentences with a string of
participial phrase modifiers, varied with short
sentences, rhetorical questions, absolute
constructions, etc. Besides these, there are
also many figures of speech to be found,
such as, similes, metaphors, personification
and rhetorical questions .
5. Summary of words and
Words of general use
lose hold of
fancy bids
dreamy languor
to the touch
brood over
Words related to a festival
a shimmering of gong and tambourine
streamers of silver, gold, and green
snap and flutter
clanging of the bells
magnanimous triumph
rapt in
Words related to horses
6. Exercises: Paraphrase:
1) The loud ringing of the bells, which sent
the frightened swallows flying high, marks
the beginning of the Festival of Summer in
2) Their high-pitched shouting could be
heard clearly above the music and
singing like the calls of the swallows
flying by overheard.
3) put their horses through some exercises
because the horses were eager to start and
stubbornly resisting the control of the riders
4) Assuming that the smiles are described in
this way, people are inclined to explain why
they are like this as they themselves imagine.
After reading the above description the
reader is likely to assume certain things.
5) The citizens of Omelas were not a group
of naïve people. They were not shepherds
who had a melodious voice and were good
at singing, nor primitive people who lived in a
virtuous, innocent state uncorrupted by
civilization, nor agreeable and courteous
people who believed in a utopia, a perfect
6) An artist betrays his trust when he does
not admit that evil is nothing fresh nor novel
and pain is very dull and uninteresting.
7) They were fully developed and intelligent
grown-up people full of intense feelings and
they were not miserable people.
8) Perhaps it would be best if the reader
pictures Omelas to himself as his
imagination tells him, assuming his
imagination will be equal to the task.
9) the faint but compelling sweet scent of the
drug drooz may fill the streets of the city
10) Perhaps the child was mentally retarded
because it was born so or perhaps it has
become very foolish and stupid because of
fear, poor nourishment and neglect.
11) The habits of the child are so crude and
uncultured it will show no sign of
improvement even if it is treated kindly and
12) They shed tears when they see how
terribly unjust they have been to the child but
these tears dry up when they realize how just
and fair though terrible reality was, and they
accept the fact.
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