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The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

Ursula Le Guin's “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas“ was first published in 1973 in New Dimensions 3 and has been published in many anthologies since. When it appeared for the second time in 1975 as part of her short story collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters, Le Guin added a two-page preface in which she addresses her subtitle, "Variations on a theme by William James,” and its connection to the story's theme. Le Guin writes in this preface: “The central idea of this psychomyth, the scapegoat, turns up in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and several people have asked me, rather suspiciously, why I gave the credit to William James.” She goes on to say that not having re-read Dostoevsky since she was twenty-five, she had “simply forgotten he used the idea (Bone, 2005).

But when [she] met it in James's 'The Moral Philospher and the Moral Life,' it was with a shock of recognition.” Le Guin's preface is friendly and informative in nature: for example, she tells the reader that the name “Omelas” came from her reading the road sign for Salem, Oregon backwards, something she commonly did, reading the word “stop,” for example, as “pots.” The reference to James and Dostoevsky seems, too, to be merely a helpful, explanatory note from the author, but here the nature of Le Guin's comments cannot to be taken for granted. Critic Shoshana Knapp reminds us of D. H. Lawrence's suggestion to “trust the tale instead of the teller”: Simply because the author says something does not mean the reader needs to believe it, and perhaps the people who asked Le Guin about Dostoevsky “suspiciously” were right to be suspicious, regardless of her casual dismissal. It matters whether or not one trusts Le Guin's comments about her inspiration for this story.

If We Must Die" By Claude Mckay

In the sixty-five years since the publication of Home to Harlem, readers have missed Claude McKay's skillful use of irony in the novel's conclusion. Critics--among them Robert Bone, Arthur Davis, Nathan Huggins, Wayne Cooper and Tyrone Tillery --have noted the episodic, almost picaresque plot, in which Jacob Brown searches for his happiness in the person of Felice, the woman he meets when he returns to Harlem after deserting the A. E. F. in France. But they do not consider the ironic significance of the reunion of Jake and Felice in ...
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