Child Issues

Reading LeGuin’s essay on The Child and the Shadow, I was reminded of the broken child in The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. LeGuin says that “at age ten [she] had a less concious mind than she has now,” which made me think, if looking at how this relates to Omelas, that the people who stayed might have thought the child incapable of consciously understanding what they were doing to it. Further down in the essay, she also claims that a child has no “shadow,” or dark side of human conciousness. I disagree with this idea.

A child may not be able to put their thoughts into complex words; their thoughts may even seem simple to us, because they only know simple concepts. But back in elementary school, we had just as many social complexities as we do today as adults, and as such must have been capable of the complex thoughts to sort through those issues. We had to remember that Jack was the bully, that Jane was our friend, that Billy was the cute boy, and that Timmy was the weird kid who ate paste. While keeping straight who was who, we also had to remember that the teacher this year liked to do things one way, while last year’s teacher did things differently. If we said the wrong thing, we could be socially ostracized; but under that same rule no one could explain what was the wrong thing to say, so we had to work out on our own what the wrong thing was. We had to learn which games were fun and which were not, and what other kids’ perceptions of “fun” were, too. And I haven’t even mentioned homework, studying, and the social problems associated with being a “know-it-all”.

Kids are more complex than we give them credit for. Just because their problems seem shallow compared to ours, or they can’t easily explain their problems, does not mean that they are incapable of complex thought; they lack the vocabulary to express it. As for kids not having a “shadow” side to their conciousness, I remember at least five bullies in elementary school that knew what they said was bad. Every one of my friends, including myself, at least once did or said something malicious out of greed or anger or just for the hell of it. The complexities in their psyche that I explained above has their dark side as well, just as capable of malice as an adult but again lacking the knowledge to express it in a sophisticated manner.

So the child in Omelas did understand what they were doing to it, even if it couldn’t say why. It sees people (the spectators) every day that are better treated than itself, and on some level it understands that these are the people calculating its misery. Those who stayed in Omelas are those like LeGuin and Carl Jung, who believe that the child wouldn’t understand. Those who walked away are the ones who know that it does.

One Response to “Child Issues”

  1. Warren Rochelle says:

    No, Le Guin would leave.