We've now read 4 short stories, and you'll have a quiz on them next class ("Tick-Tock Man," "Red Death," "Bartleby" and "Omelas"). This post is on "Omelas," specifically, the question of how we should interpret the Child imprisoned in the basement:
In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It 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 picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits haunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. 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. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval – sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother's voice, sometimes speaks. "I will be good," it says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, "eh-haa, eh-haa," and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually. They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but 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 harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery.
Give your interpretation of this allegory in the comments below. Who or what does the child represent, and what is "our" relationship to it? Are we the people of Omelas? What would it mean for us to "walk away" from the city based on this child's pain - and is that what we should do?
Please also come up with an idea for your compare/contrast midterm essay on two of these stories! We'll be developing and outlining those essays next class, so be ready. Good luck!
Now that we've spent some time collectively discussing the plot, themes and symbolism of Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener," it's your turn to individually interpret this cryptic story. Post a 1-3 paragraph summary of your idea using this general framework:
1. INTRODUCE an original thesis offering your "reading" of the story in the first line.
2. DEVELOP that thesis statement in a few sentences of explanation and detail
3. PROVIDE examples from the story, and perhaps comparisons with other sources
I'm going to count this as the equivalent of two quiz grades (50 points) so please give it your best effort. That means taking a creative risk if you think you've got a cool idea.
Now that we've competed V for Vendetta, we're going to look at one of its inspirations:
American Essayist Henry David Thoreau's writing on peaceful resistance of corrupt power.
Our goal is to compare and contrast Thoreau's theories of resistance with V's, and as always
to focus on the crucial role played by language in shaping and communicating that message.
Along with Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" we'll read four short stories:
-Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"
-Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street"
-Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"
Our motto for this unit is a quote from the last author, LeGuin, upon receiving a lifetime award for her science fiction: "Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art - very often in our art, the art of words." How do these writers encourage resistance, and what shape might that resistance take in our own lives?