Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” Defies Genre

Teaching Ursula Le Guin’s famous, resonant little tale, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (the final word of which I had apparently pronounced incorrectly for years) taught me something in turn: that rigid genre classification sometimes hurts more than it helps. Le Guin’s story asks as much about ethics as it does about how we—and even the author herself—may instinctually define certain works.

“People ask me to predict the Future,” Ray Bradbury wrote in an essay in 1982, “when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it.” According to Theodore Sturgeon, Bradbury had already expressed this sentiment around 1977, though others attributed it to the author of Dune, Frank Herbert. Regardless of who originated the phrase, the start of Bradbury’s essay—which presents a set of highly optimistic technological and societal goals for the world post-1984 (the year, not the novel)—reminded me of something Ursula ...