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The Ones Who Slipped: Society And It’s Impact On Slippage

Marina's picture

After reading Anne Dalke’s, “Slipping into Something More (Un)comfortable,” I have spent a lot of time mulling over the possibilities of what it really means to “slip.” I rationalized that “slipping,” in a broader sense of the word, means unconsciously allowing actions to negatively impact others. In a more refined, and possibly closer definition to the one Dalke intended, to slip is to unintentionally revert to a mentally constraining belief or set of beliefs ingrained by societal norms. 

In the examples provided in “Slipping into Something More (Un)comfortable,” racism and cultural differences are used to show circumstances of slippage. Although these topics can make occurrences of slippage exceptionally distinct, more subtle examples of slippage occur commonly as well.

“The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas,” by Ursula LeGuin, describes a utopia created through the suffering of a single child. This child is isolated and neglected under the surveillance of the residents of Omelas. The people of Omelas are not bad, “they [are] mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives [are] not wretched.” Yet they abuse a child who has become “too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy,” but “can remember sunlight and its mother's voice.” LeGuin leaves the reasoning behind the child’s treatment up to the reader’s imagination. She emphasizes the fact that all the people of Omelas know the child is the sacrifice that must be made in order to maintain their happiness, and that “it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives.” And so, the people of Omelas are not bad people— they are good people who do bad things out of what could be seen as necessity. 

Where does slippage fit in to this melancholic fantasy? Every single inhabitant of Omelas slips when they learn of the child. The child’s existence “is usually explained to [the children of Omelas] when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding. […] No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened.” Slippage occurs when the children of Omelas learn that their peace of mind relies on the suffering of another. Until they are introduced to the forsaken child, they live in blissful ignorance of the pain they are inflicting; after seeing the child, most submit to the society’s pressure and acknowledge the child’s existence as a necessary evil. The few who slip and refuse to stand back up are the ones who reject the child as a part of society, “the ones who walk away from Omelas.” 

The slippage of Omelas is subtle, but important nonetheless. Unlike the events of slippage examined in Dalke’s work, slippage in Omelas occurs, not between two individuals, but between a community and an individual. Community is an oppressive force. The decisions of the masses have a weight to them that many people are unable to withstand. This greatly influences the rationales of those within a community. When the citizens of Omelas decide that the child is crucial to stability of Omelas, a form of indoctrination takes place as the reasons for their self-justification take precedence over the child’s well being. LeGuin incorporates the people's train of thought into her story to emphasize their methods of persuasion, “they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom,” “indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in.” I find the word “probably,” used in the second quote, particularly striking as it introduces a sense of uncertainty and establishes the citizens’ underlying guilt. Their guilt seems to be a redeeming quality, however despite the portions of the people’s minds that remain unconvinced, the pressure society implements to accept the child makes it much easier for citizens to succumb to the cruel decision of acknowledging the child, than to reject the child as a part of society. The strength society has to sway the perception of its members is critical to the concept of slippage. Without the perceptions and beliefs planted by the negative aspects of society, there would be no need to create the figurative filters that restrict our actions (to those which do not negatively impact others).

Omelas is significant because it exercises the impact society has on slippage. Analyzing “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” through the idea of slippage introduces the concept that not only is slippage produced through the influence of society, in the case of Omelas it is directly caused by society.

Works Cited:

Dalke, Anne. "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable: Untangling Identity, Unsettling Community." DRAFT chapter for Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound, book manuscript by Anne Dalke and Jody Cohen, forthcoming with punctum press, Summer 2016.

LeGuin,Ursula. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Ormelas." The Wind's Twelve Quarters. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.