“They knew their voices broke a silence of a thousand million years, the silence of wind and leaves and wind, blowing and ceasing and blowing again.”
This quotation focuses on the idea of man disturbing nature. When the crew of the Gum arrives on World 4470, their presence breaks millennia of silence on the planet’s surface. Their voices are the first non-natural sound to ever reverberate on World 4470. This quotation emphasizes Le Guin’s celebration of nature, preferring to keep it untouched and pure.
“We watched life going on around us – work, love, childbearing, childrearing, getting and spending, making and shaping, governing and adventuring – the women’s world, the bright, full, real world – and there was no room in it for us. All we had ever learned to do was play games and destroy one another.”
In this quotation, Dez expresses his frustrations about living life as a second-class citizen. His words convey a feeling of entrapment. He sees life going on all around him but feels separate from it all, unable to participate in any of it.
“What would it be like, then, to have someone as close to you as that? Always to be answered when you spoke; never to be in pain alone. Love your neighbor as you love yourself… That hard old problem was solved. The neighbor was the self: the love was perfect.”
The relationship between the clones seems less like that of brothers and sisters and more like a relationship between the different personalities of one individual. Though they live in different bodies, the clones share much more than genetic material. They even support each other emotionally and physically. In many ways, the clones are each other. Their love is considered "perfect" because it is the love that a person has for his or herself.
“It is hard to meet a stranger. Even the greatest extravert meeting even the meekest stranger knows a certain dread, though he may not know he knows it. Will he make a fool of me? Wreck my image of myself? Invade me? Destroy me? Change me? Will he be different from me? Yes, that he will. There’s the terrible thing: the strangeness of a stranger.”
The anxiety that comes with meeting a stranger arises from the sheer difference of a stranger from oneself: an unknown individual. Pugh and Martin look at the clones and wonder what it must be like to encounter other people who are not different than oneself, but simply oneself in another body. This is part of the intrigue of the clones. Martin and Pugh even wonder at one point if the clones are in fact, one hive mind in ten bodies.
“This is the reason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
Le Guin criticizes the idea that to make characters seem complex, writers must make them suffer. She does this to introduce the idea that the people of Omelas are not simpletons but rather fully formed individuals, despite their pleasant lives. She wants to ensure that the reader understands the people of Omelas are not one dimensional, but rather multifaceted people who happen to lead very happy lives.
“To praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else.”
Le Guin addresses the idea of diametrical opposites. She says that if one embraces despair or evil, one condemns delight or joy. This is, however, not the case in Omelas. In Omelas, the people accept despair and suffering (as long as someone else is suffering) to ensure that they can have delight - in their case, in the form of peaceful, luxurious lives.
“All the common work of farm and mill is performed by the women, of whom there is a vast superabundance. They are ordinary drudges, living in towns which belong to the lords of the castle. They live amongst the cattle and brute animals of all kinds, who are permitted into the houses, some of which are of fair size.”
This quotation, taken from a visitor’s account of life on Seggri, illustrates how an observer’s biases can influence anthropological observations. The author of the account, a space captain, arrives on Seggri and because he sees the women working in the fields and the men inside the castle he assumes that the men occupy a position of power in Seggrian society. The text suggests that his take on Seggrian society is colored by his own experiences with gender, coming from a society in which women are subordinate to men. The inaccurate nature of this initial report is emphasized by the excess of detail in subsequent reports on Seggrian culture, reports which present a radically different view of Seggrian social structure.
“My school on Hain could learn from this college. It’s a wonderful place, full of free minds, but only minds of one gender. A hedged freedom.”
When Yude arrives at her university, she finds that some women are daring to defy gender boundaries by teaching men in secret. In this quotation, she praises one of these "secret colleges" that exist to teach men about literature, art, science, and various other subjects, which are typically denied to men. Although she finds their efforts worthwhile, she laments the fact that whatever progress these schools can achieve is limited by the fact that they can only learn from the work produced by one gender.
“No instruments are used, only the voice. The singers practice many days for the ceremonies. Some students of Asonu music believe that their particular spiritual wisdom or insight finds its expression in these great wordless chorales.”
Being foreign to Asonu culture, the observers often attempt to assign meaning to the behaviors of the Asonu people. Their silence is sometimes viewed as a way of concealing their wisdom or evidence of some sort of deep mysticism. Examples of this are evident when the researcher focused on the village elder spends years trying to decipher the elder’s infrequent utterances, eventually coming up with a baseless explanation. This desire to analyze and explain foreign cultures can be a worthwhile pursuit, but in the case of the Asonu, it can also lead to dire consequences.
“His knowledge of the Asonu language was limited, and she saw no one else but a small group of sectarians who came to gaze worshipfully at her and listen to her talk. Her vocabulary and syntax gained no enlargement, and began to atrophy. She became increasingly silent.”
This quotation is an excerpt from a longer passage about the kidnapping of the Asonu child. The story of her capture and imprisonment illustrates the negative impact that outsiders can have on indigenous people. The observers allow their fascination with the Asonu to grow to the point where curiosity grows into obsession and fanaticism. In turn, this fanaticism leads to abuse and the end to the open visits with the Asonu.
Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.