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Feb 8th; Space, Place and the Child

February 7th, 2011 by Patricia Nichtern

Yi-Fu Tuan describes how children first use senses to explore and learn about the world around them.  It is only through years of exploration with the use of their senses, coupled with cultural and social experiences, that children form the complex mature view of their world.  In Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, Tuan’s view of this subject corresponds to the way the children of Omelas view their world around them.

The children view Omelas as a fairytale land filled with happiness and good.  Le Guin describes the children during the Festival of Summer as “naked in the bright air” (243).  This symbolizes their innocence and lack of knowledge of the foundation that their happy existence is based upon.  The author describes the adults’ smiles as “archaic”.  They are like statues given smiles that they must uphold.  The adults living in Omelas know of the horrific truth that their society is based upon.  The child is unknowing of this reality and is only capable of seeing and hearing what is presented to them; “smiles, bells, parades, horses” (244).

It is not until between the ages of eight and twelve when the children are mentally capable of processing cause and effect and being able to apply a hypothetical situation to the future.  Before this time, they are unable to emotionally consider the feelings for another.  It is all about themselves and how things affect them.  This is when the children of Omelas are brought to see the child, locked in a basement lacking all of the positive experiences that they have been so fortunate to have been surrounded by throughout their lives.

After this, the children now have the capacity, mentally, and the knowledge that the adults have.  It is juxtaposed to everything they had ever experienced and seen throughout their lives.  Le Guin describes how most of the children “over weeks or years” (246) eventually begin to accept and take the mentality that the adults living in Omelas have.  That this is necessary to their happy existence and there is nothing that they can do about it, without sacrificing their own happiness and the happiness of all of the other citizens of Omelas.  It is then that the children come to realize the reality of Omelas and look beyond what was put in front of them.  At this age, they are able to dissect their world.

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