“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin is a tale that depicts a part of our reality. It is a story about a Utopian society called Omelas wherein happiness of the entire society is made possible by the sacrifice of one child for the sake of the group. It is about sacrificing one’s life to obtain happiness for the society. It portrays how people tend to become selfish and egocentric. But the story is also enlightenment that nobody has the right to curtail one’s life and liberty, after all we are all creations of our Great Creator.
The story is quiet simple. The author started the story by describing how happy and festive the society of Omelas is, “bright-towered by the sea” as the author sees it. The story also depicts how the people of Omelas are fortunate and full of bliss by enjoying a Utopian existence, with so many pleasures around them such as sex and drugs; music–if not rock-and-roll, magnificent public buildings, ideal weather and above all, an existence without “monarchy and slavery.
The happiness and festivity of Omelas has its hidden flaw. Like every fairy tale, the Omelas has its hidden flaw too. A child was being locked up by the people of Omelas to hide her deformity and imperfection. The society curtailed the child’s freedom and life in exchange of their happiness. The child is imprisoned in a dirty, dark cellar room furnished with a bucket and two mops, kept from human contact and sunlight. Everyone in the almost –perfect city of Omelas knows about the child, in fact they are complicit in its inhumane treatment. “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.”
It is carefully explained to every citizen of the city that freeing the child will destroy all “the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas.” So, while they may come to view the child, no one intervenes. Nobody attempted to make a stand for the child’s freedom. Like the author says, “Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.”
However, it was clearly illustrated in the story that there are few, the youngsters in particular who cares about the situation of the child. But unfortunately, they could not do anything because if the child will be freed, the happiness and prosperity of Omelas will be destroyed. As the story puts it, “This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed.” This reflects our society. Most of the youth knows what is right and what is wrong, but no matter how intense their feelings to make a stand and fight for change, they cannot do something, because what they have is only “the voice of a child.” This shows how pure-hearted children are.
In addition, the story used various symbolisms to depict life and to give life to its own tale. The main theme of the story was depicted by its main sentence that goes “But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else.” This line from the story suggests that happiness is worthy of sacrifice, just like in real life. By using sentences like this, the author was able to influence her readers to accept the principle that happiness is sacred – which then encourages the audience to consider how much they would be willing to give up to be truly happy. It would be safe to assume that upon accepting the happiness theme of the story, every reader is forced to scrutinize and weigh their own personal morality.
On the other hand, it quite relieving that there are few who still thinks that the happiness of Omelas should not be traded with the life and freedom of the child, they are the ones who walk away from Omelas. As the narrator puts it “this is quite incredible.” At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl man or woman.” And what does this implies? It simply implies that at least there are few, if not most, who thinks that it is wrong to curtail the child’s freedom, that’s why they just chose to go away from Omelas and forget about its glamour, bliss and almost-perfection.
Pojman, Louis P. The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature. Oxford University Press. 2004
Le Guin, Ursula. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Harelbarzilai Org. <http://harelbarzilai.org/words/omelas.txt>
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas Summary and Study Guide. Literature. Endnotes.Com < http://www.enotes.com/ones-who>
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