Critical Analysis: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

The first entry in my new essays section. The story of Omelas is a fascinating classic, and I recommend it for anyone who likes to think.

A Critical Analysis of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” a short, fictional story by Ursula Le Guin. Question-and-answer format. Text included. Essay and annotation by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-01-18 —
PDF version, with an annotated copy of the text (1.3MB).

Question One: What is a utopia? Does Omelas meet the definition?
Omelas is a utopia, though not of the lifeless type that the word inspires. Le Guin notes that the inhabitants are not “bland utopians,” not “simple folk,” nor “dulcet shepherds” (2). The residents need not live simply—there can be all sorts of luxuries, wondrous technologies, drugs, beer, and orgies in the streets, because their happiness is not based on possessions, but rather, “a just discrimination of what is necessary,” “what is destructive,” and what is neither (2). This insight is the definition of a utopia; when everyone knows it, wars, slavery, and competition is not needed (2-3). The children are happy, and the adults, “mature, intelligent, [and] passionate” (2), with no need for a hierarchal church or government (2-3). The city is beautiful, the weather and harvests are kind and abundant, and most everyone healthy (5), yet this is just the icing on the cake. It is indeed a utopia, for all except the suffering child (4-5).

Question Two: What is the narrator’s opinion of Omelas?
Our narrator sympathizes with the citizens of Omelas, even going so far as to name the child’s plight as the source of all compassion in the town. “There is no vapid, irresponsible happiness”; all the residents know that “they, like the child, are not free” from the “terrible justice of reality” (6)—that one human, just as important as any other, must be dehumanized for the democratic benefit of the majority. Knowing of the child “makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science” (6); it drives and inspires, gives compassion and robs the people of their innocence. “To throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed,” Le Guin reasons (6). The few that leave, leave without incident, in the dead of night never to return, as their quite protest, going “through the beautiful gates” and farmlands, “to a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness” (7). The narrator seems to find the dilemma at Omelas to be acceptable, as he calls those who leave “incredible” (6), saying that he “cannot describe it at all,” but “they seem to know where they are going” (7). His opinion, like the adults in Omelas, is that idealism must yield to pragmatism; it is too much to ask for everyone to give up the niceties to save one person from a life of torture and suffering.

Question Three: What is the symbolic connotation of the locked, windowless cellar in which the lone child suffers?
The forsaken child is the rotten foundation which their beautiful society rests on. In the iconic words of Honoré de Balzac, “behind every great fortune there is a crime,” and the crime here is that the utopia of Omelas is supported on strict terms: “there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child” (6), lest he be pulled, even for a second, out of his “abominable misery” (5). Children learn the terrible fact between eight and twelve, and no matter how well their parents explain and justify it in advance, the new discovery is sickening and angering (5). It may take months or years, but they will come to accept the torture of one for the benefit of the many—pragmatism will rule over whatever ideals they once held, as they know that the very hour they would save the child, “all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed” (6). Quite a price indeed. We have ethical dilemmas in the real world that are similar yet more murky, such as euthanasia for the hopelessly ill and elderly, triaging in disasters and on the battleground (not every limb, person, or finger can be saved), and wars that are supposably1 fought for the good of the world, but result in millions of deaths and injuries. The story of Omelas symbolizes them all, and as in all such systems, there are some who “walk straight out of the city” (7), never to return, unwilling to bear the guilt. Others gain peace of mind by deciding that the lost child could not possibly be human. He or she is sub-human, and is instead referred to as “it” (4-6), “too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy” (6), and thus the crime is just.

Question Four: In the story, do you find any implied criticism of our own society?
Le Guin criticizes “a bad habit” that trickles down from the “pedants and sophisticates” (2), the classy intellectuals that teach us to celebrate pain over pleasure, violence over peace, and despair over delight. We are taught that “happiness [is] something rather stupid,” while the “banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain” (2) is replaced by fascination with death, deviance, and necromancy. A utopia is a backwards kingdom filled with happy, simple-minded subjects. In the real utopia, there are no careless princesses to be rescued by valiant princes, no arch-bishops to create the newest refinements to an oppressive religion, and no misguided soldiers to fight bloody wars in the name of freedom. You can be happy and peaceful without being a naïve, passionless simpleton. When we come to believe that “only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting,” we have come to “lose hold of everything else” (2). No technological wonders can provide happiness when our thinking is collectively flawed. “Joy built upon successful slaughter” will not do; we must be joyous like the citizens of Omelas, where “the victory they celebrate is that of life” (3), and not of death and suffering.

109 thoughts on “Critical Analysis: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

  1. How, exactly, does the child’s suffering connect to the people’s happiness?

    If, hypothetically, the child were removed, and a doll put in its place, with rudimentary functions and durability, would it affect anything? What I mean is, is there something that detects whether the child actually is a child or does it depend on the perceptions of the people?

    What exactly is the mechanism behind the supposed utopia? I can’t imagine anyway one child’s absolute torment for no reason would translate to everyone being happy for some resaon, if you dont insert magic into the equation.

    Someone please explain that to me.

    • Well, in all facts the child itself could represent injustice as a need for establishing society. it represents “Sacrifice” within a society to achieve happinessss and an utopia

  2. The people walking away from Omelas? I can’t say they’re good people in the least.

    Think for a moment: Walking away doesn’t help the child. At all. Not a damn bit. That child will suffer just as much whether you’re in Omelas or not. There is no guy looking at the census results going “Whelp, we’ve got 20 less people than we did last year, so we should probably kick the kid twenty less times this time around.” Nope, the kid just gets to be as miserable as they always were. It’ll be exactly the same as if the person never walked away… Actually, that’s wrong. It wouldn’t be exactly the same, because instead of suffering in this person’s stead, the kid now gets to suffer for no damn reason.

    Well, no reason except for the smug satisfaction of the person walking away (which is a bit of a step down from “peace, tranquility, wisdom, happiness, tolerance, etc” – you could at least do some extra good for others with those). They get to feel like they’re a Good Person, because they wouldn’t just stand by and watch a child suffer, no siree. Good People don’t do that. Instead Good People apparently see a child suffer, avert their eyes and think, “I’m such a Good Person for not watching this child suffer, unlike all these other bastards.” This way they aren’t doing the Wrong Thing, because the person who beats someone who beats up a kid for their lunch money and spends it is apparently a FAR better person than the guy who does the same but throws the money into a fire because using stolen money is bad.

    Sure is noble of them, huh?

    • Spoken like a man without honor. There are actually people who, unlike those you are familiar with, take the notion of personal obligation seriously. Not everyone is motivated by appearance and ego. The ones who walk away from Omelas aren’t doing it for the kid. They are doing it for themselves, as they do not wish to be the kind of people who profit from the misery and suffering of another.

      What YOU are doing is rationalizing the fact that you lack such responsibility and honor.

      • No. The ones who walk away may be better than the citizens that remain for they possess something of a conscience that will not allow themselves to prosper from the suffering of the child, but in being a citizen of Omelas who once did prosper, they bear the responsibility for correcting the injustice. They are like the German citizens who moved away rather than stop the slaughter of Jews in their towns. It’s the mentality of “I don’t like the suffering of animals to make cosmetics so I am not going to buy the products from Company X. But, I’m also not going to protest or try to stop them from making the product.” Those who walk away from Omelas are US. Period. Accept the guilt. You might not wear baby seal fur, but you sure as hell aren’t dong anything to stop the Canadian butchering of baby harp seals.

  3. I had a little bit of a different twist on this piece of work.

    In my mind, the child of Omelas represents those children working in sweat shops. In a sense, they live the way they live, so we can live the way we live. What I mean by that is, they work 16 hours a day in poor lighting, a poorly sanitized environment, and for not much more than pocket change, so we can enjoy wearing different designer lables to different occasions and places.

    Another example would be the homeless. A friend of mine works in a homeless shelter. He makes great money doing so. This money is used to support his life style of designer clothes and expensive restaurant meals. Without those suffering, my friend would not have a place as such that he would make the money he does.

    Does this make sense to anyone? Or is my mind somewhere else?

  4. My problem with the whole story of Omelas is that it suppose to be a Utopian city under no government. Why is it that the citizens allowed for this to happen to the children and did not do anything? Who would have stop them there is not law? My other question is who was in charge of this place? Who locked the children away? What kind of happiness would you receive if you watched and allowed a child to suffer. It sounded more like the writer wanted to see how graphical she could write a about a helpless individual going through misery. Yet did not take the time to think more as to how they should have resolved the problem that was before them.

    • The story is symbolic, not based on an actual society. We as people put the guilt or child in ourselves, but sometimes refuse to acknowledge it in order to become happy. No matter what happiness we may have there is a guilt or unjust twinge living in the back of our mind. In a way it is that guilt that persuades us to have compassion. There is something that makes us think that maybe being compassionate will make up for what we have already done. This would again agree with the theme of thinking that since there is more good being done it outweighs the unjustice that we’ve done. No matter what that little child will always be there. If you were to let the child out it would only be a constant reminder of what you have done and will no longer allow you to be happy because you’ve let the guilt escape from the depths of your mind.

      • I’ve always thought the story was a reductio meditation on utilitarianism. It might be a reductio ad absurdum, but I’m not a fan of utilitarianism as an organizing principle so I don’t mind. :wink2:

  5. Did it occur to anyone that if the child cannot be spoken kindly to or being fed properly nor brought to any kind of comfort, that this city is being under constant surveillance so consequently the inhabitants aren’t free themselves?
    Being watched at all times how can they have the courage to change anything, knowing that their attempts will just end the existence of Omelas. They lack freedom as much as the child.

    • This is addressed by the narrator: “they, like the child, are not free”

      I think the point of the story is happiness is the greatest goal of life. Happiness can only be caused by inequality. (Think about it – if there wasn’t the child, all the great living standards wouldn’t be so great anymore, because great is a relative term.) Freedom is irrelevant if it isn’t necessary for joy.

  6. I took the group/individual struggle out of this story (among other things). The people who stay, have the fellowship/support/groupthink of the group that insulates them from their own consciences. They can rationalize together, and reassure each other that what they are doing is justified. When they leave, they leave alone. That is risky. And, they go to an unknown place. Again risky. They take their chances with the courage of their own consciences. There is something about the absolutist/utilitarian tension here. Does one have the courage of his/her own convictions? All of the people see the child when they are young, and they are forced to choose between enjoying the security of the support of others while rationalizing their choice and growing up and exercising their independence. They are presented with the terms and the choice is theirs to make. It also makes me think about how we treat animals so that we can enjoy ribs, pulled pork, veal cutlets etc, but that is a separate rant.

  7. I have one question that I need help with.. Do you think the story implies criticism of contemporary American Society? If so, in what way?

  8. actually I need your help guys …. i need 4 questions without answers about the plot or the characters …but with specific quotations

  9. This story definitely raises difficult moral issues posing the benefit of the many against the one. Yet I say that nothing could justify what is being done to that child. Someone else compared it to the crucifixion, but there is one vital difference in that Jesus chose himself to go through with it. No one ever gave this child a choice.
    This discussion has some emotional weight for me because I’ve read about real children who suffered through something like this. When I was 11, I first read about feral children and was both fascinated and repelled. I’m surprised no one else has mentioned the “feral children” cases where kids were locked in small rooms and never spoken to. The most famous was that of Kaspar Hauser, who walked into the German town of Nuremburg (famous for the Nazi trials) in the 1700s or 1800s. (I can’t remember which.) He could barely talk but wrote out the name “Kaspar Hauser” when given a pen. After he was taught to speak, he revealed that he had been kept in a “hole” (likely a small room in a basement, similiar to the child’s confinement) for years. He was about sixteen, and was thought to have been confined from the age of three. A contemporary intellectual concluded that he was the victim of “a crime against the soul of a man.” Some people doubted the validity of Hauser’s case (though I think there is little doubt now) but no one doubts the story of Genie, a girl imprisoned in a room in her home in California when she was a toddler, freed at age 13 in 1970. Plenty about her can be read online.
    The rationalizations of the people of Omelas come up short. They claim the child would miss the walls of his/her prison. Hauser did at first, according to his own words, but later expressed anger against his captors for depriving him of his life. Apparently the child is an “imbecile,” though it isn’t known whether s/he was born like this or made this way through confinement. What difference does that make? Either way, s/he is human and has basic rights. I know this is a Western and twenty-first century assumption, but I am sticking to it. The fate this child has been condemned to is truly horrifying.
    But there is the question of all the other children. I don’t think the treatment of the confined child is in any way excuseable. There comes a point when povery/past abuse/mental illness, etc. is no excuse for crimes done, and this crosses that line. The question I would like to ask the author is what exactly would happen to the city of Omelas if the child were rescued. Would it just fall from prosperity, like an economic recession, or would it plunge into war and chaos? Pragmatically, the costs ought to be weighed.
    I’m reading Gone With the Wind with my mother right now. (It is both good for its intriguing characterizations and sickening for its paternalistic and animalizing racism and classism.) I think its accounts of Reconstruction are much like what might happen to Omelas. Good people suffer poverty and hunger. Yet their past fortunes were built on the suffering of others–the slaves. Granted, the slaves weren’t all innocents. They were just as human and fallible as the slave owners. (This is writing from a realistic standpoint, not the demeaning descriptions in the books.) Yet they started out as innocents, the children borne into an institution that counted them as three-fifths a human being. Should the happiness and freedom of the white children have been bought at the expense of the servitude of the black children? Almost anyone nowadays will say no, of course not.
    It’s not an easy decision, and there is no perfect answer. I think, though, that in the context of this allegory, the ones who walk away have the right idea. Better yet would be to try to convince the people of Omelas to give up their false utopia and live with the hardship that comes. And if that failed, then I hope someone would be reckless enough to say one kind word to the child, and deal with the consequences. Does it matter if it is to assuage their conscience or not? Good can come of a selfish deed, and we all have to start somewhere.

    • I disagree with you, but I would like to answer your question: (what would happen if the child was removed from unhappiness)

      Happiness is the purpose of life. It is the ultimate and absolute goal. Now, the people of Omelas are happy because of their living standards, their music, their city, their drooz, their orgies, etc. But were it not for the child, all these living standards would become the norm, and therefore wouldn’t be a cause for happiness anymore. The point is, inequality is necessary for joy. Or, to put it a different way, without unhappiness there can be no happiness. “Great” is a relative term, and so were there nothing to compare it with, it would become meaningless.

  10. Your ideas are all very creative. Though, I believe some are straying from the main point. To answer the ‘breaking the flute’ comment… Why would you do that? It intrigues me how you came up with the idea. I am not criticizing your thoughts, simply pondering. I believe the flute player is a mere example of the joy within Omelas. None of that is to be truly focused on: the drugs, orgies, or parties. Those are all just to set up the idea of a ‘Utopian society’. The author writes this simply to make you think of your own perfect place.
    Then the author asks you if you believe in this place. How could a Utopia possibly exist? She mentions the child. Then, dear readers, you realize there is no Utopia. There will always be the poor or the rich, the happy or the sad, the leaders and the low-classed people. It is the yin-yang concept. This is no Utopia. This place, Omelas, is the opposite.
    Now also while reading comments I notice that people want to upset this balance, or change it. The balance is obviously all the suffering on the boy and all the joy to the people. But you cannot change this. It’s be like trying to paint white on the yin-yang black side. It would not be equal, so consequently everyone must suffer.
    Finally I’d like to question comments on what you think the author’s purpose was. The author wrote this to make you think. This story applies to many truths in life. Sometimes they are terribly sad, sometimes they are beautiful and happy. The author does not take a side, though. The author is writing open-ended and is asking you what you would do. In our society, we view this child as something to pity. But the author doesn’t say she exactly pities it. ‘Knowledge is within everyone. They simply need to find it’.
    Finally, I’d like to state my opinion. I would walk away. This child has a destiny, and I shall not bother it. I am neither cold-hearted nor evil, I just know it wouldn’t make a difference. If I opened the door and held the child in my arms, would it know what I am doing? If it’s been locked in a windowless broom closet for it’s whole life, then it doesn’t know what a human looks like exactly. We would be things. Things that insult the child, things that are dangerous. It wouldn’t be able to comprehend love, for it never experienced it.
    If you loved this deep-thought story, then I recommend The Giver by Lois Lowry, or The Allegory of the Cave by Plato.
    Before I wrap up, I’d like to finish by saying I am merely an 8th grade girl. I am 14 and to you all, I may have just screwed up my entire speech. Yes, now you shall view my writing as child-like and worthless. But if you think deeply and feel truly from the heart, you will come up with your own ideas. No black or white, right or wrong, but morals you have established. Then I ask that I am not compared to any other child. I am myself, age not a matter. Same as the child in the broom closet. I am just a voice speaking out.

    • On the contrary, your thoughts, sentences and viewpoint was very thought out, very concise and more grammatically correct than some adults!

    • The author never said whether or not the child is a boy or girl. You automatically assumed it was a boy. Why?

      Also, you used the word “finally” to start a conclusion twice, and after that began a third conclusion. Organize.

      One more thing: Why did you feel the need to state your gender and age? Do you so desperately need confirmation from strangers on the internet to legitimize yourself? You obviously feel inferior, “child-like and worthless,” by assuming that people will automatically disregard your whole post after reading your gender and age, which was conveniently left at the tail end of your post.

    • please do not take in consideration others negative criticism about what you wrote because I believe your analysis to be sharp, and I’m even more impressed knowing that it comes from a 14 year old. You just did a great job, keep on.

    • This…was deep. LOL. Thanks for your viewpoint, it helped me get a better understanding of the text.

    • Keep it up – I enjoyed and learned from your comment, and I thank you. And I don’t view your post as worthless.

      That said, I would be wary of getting TOO big of a head – it is easy to tell, from your post, that you believe your post was incredibly deep and profound. I do believe it was interesting, but don’t make the mistake that many intelligent youths make: don’t get too cocky. Remember that while you may be smarter than most or all of the others in your class, there are millions of kids your age who are as smart and smarter than you, from around the world.

      All this you probably know. I just ask you to keep it at the fore, rather than the back, of your head.

      Good luck!

  11. How do the people react when they learn about the child?

    • Doctor Who, “The Beast Below” Season 5 Episode 2 is a variation on this story.

  12. I think that I would break the flute. It seems to me that the flute player, the same age as the prisoner, is the other half of the magic, adn hte fluteis the intrumetn that converts the suffering of one to the happiness of all. If that didn’t work, I would asy the kind word to the child.

    Morality is not based upon a weighing in scales of the benfits and costs of the choice. There is no goodness worth the deliberate, unexplained suffering of an innocent child.

    Some moral questions are absolutes. This presents one. Torture is another.

    • But if you rescue the child, you don’t just destroy Omelas, you destroy it for all. Everyone would then suffer, just as the child suffers. Could you live with that?

  13. I have really enjoyed reading what everyone has to say. Thank you to Mr. Thripp for writing this captivating critism. I first read this story when I was fairly young, and one of the more simplistic things I took away from the story is that if the townspeople never knew or saw real suffering they could never possibly achieve true happiness.
    But then thinking more you realize how could anyone possibly remain happy knowing that this injustice was occurring… There are so many ways to look at this short story. It is a true work of art to be cherished. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  14. When I read this story in philosophy, I felt outraged, and then even more when over half of the class chose to stay in Omelas (utilitarian view). A handful chose to walk away and only two of us chose to save the child; a mother and I. It was then that my professor told us about a student that freaked him out when he stood up and opted to BE the child, as in to take it’s place. My reply to his bizarre memory was, “If you feel it to be unacceptable or even absurd to have a life like that for yourself, than how can you justify it to be for another? If you remain utilitarian, then you must face that possibility or come to terms that it is wrong.” then I read this thread and was filled with joy that not only 2 of us in this world are humane. I also wanted to point out, though many of you feel this is related to present times… You could match this up to countless times in history that this relates to and will also relate to in the future.

    • But saving the child would not be humane, because, by doing that, you would be causing EVERYONE in Omelas (including the babies and other children) to suffer, much as the tortured child suffers.

  15. This child is showing the truth that Utopia cannot exist. Everything exist on the expense of another. Le Guin’s story is based on the Scapegoat theory. She calls this a “psycho-myth”. She also based this on the quote of William James, ” One could not accept a happiness shared with millions if the condition of that happiness were the suffering of one lonely soul”. The theory is that a person or group (or town in this case) shifted the blame to another, for them to suffer in their place. This child holds all the consequence of these careless peoples lives. It bears all their guilt. Omelas is a town scapegoating on this one child. The base of their city lies on top if this child. All the towns pain flows to the undermost parts of the city, into the child’s heart, and it feels all their guilt, pain, sorrow, but the ones who walk away. They take a part of this child’s pain with them, they own up to their own sins. The ones walking away are the ones acknowledging their own wrong-doings. Acceptance. Its like an alcoholic. Some realize what they are doing is running from something inside them, some trauma. Some face up to their pain. They do something about it. Omelas my be the place that a person escapes to after a traumatic experience. They may convince themselves that what they are doing is perfectly fine, and that they will not suffer the consequences. In dissociation, the person leaves their body in a traumatic situation. They see this traumatic event happening to someone else, not themselves. This child this is happening to is their ‘little self’, though most of them do not come to terms with that right away. The people who have came to terms, are the ones walking away, with the knowing, that all their guilt and blame cannot be put on their ‘little self’. That they are to be held accountable for their actions as well. They are the ones that know, that are ready to face everything, they are walking away to their future. The ones still there have yet to face their inner wars. They live as they please, and they shift all their pain and guilt to their ‘little self’. They don’t have to live with what they do because the other self is taking it all, it lives with all the consequence, because they have always shifted ‘bad’ to it, and ‘happiness’ and ‘pleasure’ have been theirs. They live for immediate gratification. Beer, drugs, sex. They are all things that people running from something on the inside use as a get-away. This is just my take on this, still using the fact that Le Guin said that this short story was based on the spacegoat theory. I have been through traumatic events that have also caused me to disassociate, this is what helped me come to this conclusion. And I am one walking away from Omelas…
    Alex Age:Fifteen

    • I love the way that you interpreted this! “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is a very interesting story. To me, it very much resembles todays day in time. It may not be a whole city’s happiness, but no matter where you go, there is always someone who is suffering. And someone else is getting joy and happiness out of that one person’s pain. For example…The poor kids who get bullied in school, or the homelss man on the street corner that is being bothered and harrassed. Someone is getting happiness and pleasure at someone elses expense. Its very sad that this is what the world has come to today!

    • Very insightful Alex. and very apt comparison to the alcoholic. The inventory steps of the Twelve Step recovery program allows for that sort of self-assessment of one’s complicity in the suffering, and makes it possible to accept responsibility for one’s life, to walk away from Omelas.

  16. I don’t think the child ages, or at least the same way as the rest of the people; The children when they are of age, come to look at the child and it may trouble them a few years. It is neither male or female. It can not grow or produce. It looks 6. Just as many Nations are years apart, or growing more apart is the story of Omelas. The rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.

    • Reread. It was never said the child was not human. It said it could be a girl or a boy. It looks 6 but is actually 10. This is because of its malnutrition.

  17. The story bears a striking resemblance to Hitler’s Nazism. When they came to power they did all they could to create this image of a utopia (propaganda, rallies, sparing no expense on the Berlin Olympics). The Nazi regime captivated the minds of the youth with programs designed to brainwash them into compliance. They were completely confident that all was well and life was good and just, until they grew old enough to understand the true horrors of the regime. Their “undesirable” peers would be swept away to suffer in darkness. Some would rationalize this by believing that they were subhuman. Others would suffer intense shame and their world would turn to darkness.

    • That’s a very good analogy… people didn’t even believe the Holocaust when seeing it happen before their eyes. A lot of people today don’t see how ridiculous American imperialism is, or the recent seaquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan.

  18. :help: Can anyone tell me of some literary devices used in this story. I know symbolism is a big one, at least i think…. any others?

  19. Going back to the replacing the child part, I was thinking that they would not need to replace the child because it says he goes through perpetual (never-ending) darkness and isolation.

    In science there is a theory that if one experiences discomfort or a change in the way life is regularly lived for a long enough time, they will become immortal. I think this is called quantum immortality. It’s a really interesting theory. In this case, this child has lost track of time, experiences daily discomfort and isolation, which is unheard of in a town of Omelas. So, scientifically speaking, this story corresponds to quantum immortality and adheres to the requirements for it to possibly work. The author being atheist could also be more proof.

    • It doesn’t happen because the body decays over time. Human circulatory systems are only designed to last 110 years. To extend life beyond that, you would need a body transplant or a new approach.

      • but what could be an interpretation of where they might be going? any thoughts, guesses, speculations??

          • It DOES refer to Salem, Oregon… Check out the wikipedia on this short story, it includes a bite of an interview with Le Guin about the story.

        • As i read this story I connected the idea and situation of Omelas to our world and if you follow this connection then the people are departing from our world. Dying

          • Not dying. Leaving a dead City. Dead because it’s not able to solve the problem of their success being at the expense of an innocent.

            Make that morally dead. They are leaving to go into life.

        • They are going anywhere but there. They refuse to accept the cost of the child in order for them to be happy. They would rather not be happy than be part of the child’s miserable existence. Certainly the remaining people perpetuate the suffering by staying and not speaking to the child. So what have the people who leave really accomplished?

    • What first came into my mind is that they kinda way committed suicide.

      “The place they go towards is a place even less
      imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe
      it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to
      know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

      It would make sense. It’s impossible to imagine what afterlife is. You cannot describe it and it’s even possible that it does not exist at all. But people who commit suicide seem to have a feeling that they somehow know what afterlife is.

      • Maybe they were leaving this utilitarian morality in hopes of finding a better morality, a better way
        to” justify” life and how they live it

      • Yes, I came to the same conclusions independently. A few cannot deal with the price that must be paid, and they commit suicide. They realize they can’t fight the system. And there’s really nowhere to go, but they know they can’t be part of this, so all they can do is go to a place even more unimaginable than Omelas. They kill themselves.

      • Excellent post Robert. It is entirely possible they committed suicide because they could not deal with the existence of the darkness, misery and knowledge of the poor child.

      • I agree with your interpretation; it made me think of people being “released” in Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

    • They are leaving to find THEMSELVES! The child in her story represents our hidden problems, weaknesses and even possibly other horrible things that we do not like to think about or acknowledge about ourselves. It is called the shadow in jungian philosophy. Are they right for walking away from omelas?? yes they are, something in them has completely and forever been changed.Therefore those that leave will deal with their problems and not ignore it and pretend it isnt there. theres alot more that can be explained about this story beneath the surface but you will have to have knowledge about the jungian philosophy and the archetypes in order to have a deeper meaning of what Le Guin was aiming for the reader to understand.

      • Did LeGuine study Jungian philosophy?

        Why does everyone think there is some meaning other than what she said.

        A city was prosperous at the expense of another. Do you accept that or refuse it?

        That is the question we all face. Now in Egypt the government is under attack. Egypt is important to America. Do we support a dictator because it’s to our benefit? Do we support the government of Sudan because it’s an ally against Al Qaeda? Do we even though that government is responsible for slavery in the South and attacks against black inhabitants by Arabs Sudanese?

        Do we put our advantage ahead of what is right?

        That is the whole question. What do you do, not what did she mean.

      • they left because in the afterlife there are no farts. I

    • it is subjective but could be read as a walk to find the meaning of life, which is both unimaginable and possibly non existant.
      This allegory could be following the philosphical concept of extistentialism, which infers that people are entirely free and resposible for what happens to them.

      • “it is subjective but could be read as a walk to find the meaning of life, which is both unimaginable and possibly non existant.”

        Which is a possibility, though silly. It’s a walk to get away from great evil.

        “This allegory could be following the philosphical concept of extistentialism, which infers that people are entirely free and resposible for what happens to them.”

        Allegory? It’s a simple challenge. Do you accept success at the expense of others, or do you refuse to harm the innocent for your benefit? It’s not what they do, it’s what you do.

        And existentialism is absurd.

    • They are leaving to become whole human beings. We are dependent on others, but we deal with our own misery and accept the weight of the world.
      In a way I find the short story of Omelas to be a foreboding of one of the themes in ‘The other wind’, the last book in the Earthsea series (if you haven’t read it already you should. As in now). Here the land of the dead is a terrible place because humans tried to conquer death by sorcery. Without death there can be no true life, Ursula K LeGuin seems to say. To be free and complete you need to accept death, darkness, and misery as well as life, light and happiness. Which in case of Omelas would be that we have to carry the weight of our own deeds and sorrows to be fully human. We can try to cheat – as the Earthsea wizards did or as the people of Omelas have done. But we are missing something when we do.
      So where do they go? Anywhere. The important fact is that they are leaving and determined about it, making a moral judgement and refusing to gain happiness at the expense of another person.

  20. You are so wrong. The narrator does not find the paradox in Omelas to be acceptable at all. When she describes how the happiness of 1000 must be at the cost of the happiness of one, she is merely describing how each citizen of Omelas justifies it to themselves. How they rationalize to make themselves feel better. The only acceptable method is to leave. She describes those people as inspiring.

      • Almost right. The moral judgment is implied. It’s your judgment that is being challenged.

    • He has a point though. Utopia doesn’t exist. Therefore, one should embrace both sides and try to make the best of it. Without the burden, the guilt and the pain we can’t learn, evolve to eventually reach a certain degree of happiness. Those who left Omelas are quitters and idealists. (This can be a possible interpretation of the short story)

    • yea. ursula leguin in a girl i think there a few videos of her reading on youtube

  21. “One thing i know there is none of in Omelas is guilt”.(3) That seems to be the kicker.

    • That is because the ones that feel the guilt are the ones that leave. You cannot help the child because the residents will just put another child there and then even more will have suffered. The only decent thing to do is to leave so you are not a part of this town that thinks their lives are more valuable than that of one child. It says they leave by themselves, but I would have to do what I could to educate the people left and let them know it’s ok to not participate in this horrific tradition. I understand they will loose their utopia, but I don’t live in a utopia and I am perfectlly happy!

        • The ones who accept the tradition really have no other choice but to replace the child. He/she will grow up or (more likely) die. If they want their continued “utopia” they have to replace. I don’t have the text in front of me, but I think the narrator says something about wondering if the chosen child is “slow” to begin with or because he/she is left alone and forgets how to talk, etc. That also could’ve been something I came up with while analysing the story. :big-grin:

          • I left out “slow” after “or” and before “because”. Sorry if it makes it hard to read. PS nice pictures on your site.

        • The replace the child when it dies. Any kindness to the child destroys the city, and the child cannot then be replaced. One act of kindness and the evil ends forever.

      • No, they will not put another child there. One act of kindness and the city’s prosperity ends. There is no second chance.

        The right thing to do is not to leave, but to speak a kind word to the child.

        To bring the city down.

        • I really like your interpretation. There is just one thing that bothers me. The child is eventually going to grow up or (more likely) die. What will they do then with no “second chance?” Two scenarios come to mind. People with such confused/warped morals and enough greed will try putting different children on its place, even unsuccessfully, potentially for centuries reaching for their failed utopia. No one has been helped in this scenario and we’ve even endangered more. Another scenario could be that it was always meant to end when the child was gone. I just have a hard time believing anyone would put a child through that for a TEMPORARY utopia. One that, at best, lasts 18 years.

          • I really don’t know, but it seems like a good sequel to this story would be the story of the failed utopia where people keep putting a child in the previous child’s place but it isn’t working… but they keep doing it anyway because they want their utopia back.

          • The city falls if the child is shown kindness. When the child dies, the child is replaced. It is kindness to the child that brings down the city, not death of the child.

            That is the greatest reason to bring down the city. If it’s not brought down, an endless string of children will suffer that fate.

            Though one child is enough reason to bring down the city.

          • No. Turn it around. What if it cost one child to bring happiness to two. Ok, one child to bring happiness to four. How many have to experience happiness to justify unending suffering to even one? Until you can come up with a number you can’t even argue the point meaningfully.

            If half the city walk away does that still justify the suffering of one child?

          • I guess it would be the limit as x approaches 1 from the right, of x. But I wouldn’t even find it justifiable if x was 1000 people, unless the degree of the suffering relieved was very great (i.e. torture) or the degree of the suffering of the child was below torture, or both.

          • Uh… I am not sure what you are saying.

            The suffering of the child is torture. It is the most horrible imaginable, esp since the only end to it is death.

          • Well, speaking from a utilitarian perspective, if the suffering of 1 person eliminates the suffering of 1.0000001 people, it’s worth it.

            As for torture, there are different degrees of torture based on the degree of mental and physical anguish being inflicted.

          • A: As described it was horrible.

            B: Why parse it out to degrees?

            As to the ‘utilitarian’ viewpoint, no. First because the suffering of that one today could be yours tomorrow.

            Secondly, the city was not relieved of suffering, it was raised to prosperity.

            Third, the city dwellers gave up much of their humanity by not dealing with their own suffering, but pushing it off on another.

            The utilitarian thinking justifies slavery. I is not acceptable.

          • I would consider it, or will, rather. However, I have posted most of that I feel is important about it.

            Now I am looking at the Middle East uprisings, and seeing the Omelas challenge in the US response to the Egyptian uprising.

            Expanding on that, was the Vietnam war justified as a means of stopping the spread of communism?

            Was it justified if it brought down the Soviet Union, freeing hundreds of millions, at the expense of the few millions in Vietnam and Cambodia?

            Ok, I’m doing it again. Dang!

          • anmccorquodale at 2010-11-20T16:48:47.
            thats actually a great point. while reading, i thought that maybe that it is a temporary utopia. It is a way to not face your problems. the whole idea of out of site, out of mind comes to play. and maybe the people who are actually leaving are the people who start realizing their problems. Maybe LeGuin meant this a warning.

        • Would that really be the right thing to do?
          By destroying the utopia are you not inflicting an inverse sort of reaction upon the people of Omelas?
          To destroy the utopia would be to set the entire city in turmoil & chaos, yet the purpose of such an action would be to liberate yourself from the guilt. So this would inevitably make the perpetrator of kindness to the child worse than the Omelas for inflicting pain upon multiple people for the good of the one individual.

          The question is, are the ones who walk away from Omelas to be commended or or pitied?

          • “yet the purpose of such an action would be to liberate yourself from the guilt.”

            You must be very wise and insightful to judge the motives of others so deeply. Yet I do not see it. Somehow I thought the idea was to end the suffering of a child.

            “So this would inevitably make the perpetrator of kindness to the child worse than the Omelas for inflicting pain upon multiple people for the good of the one individual.”

            One then another than another then another.

            And how do you justify inflicting unending suffering on one for the benefit of the multitude? Let the people of Omelas earn their own success, not take it from an innocent.

          • The idea, in my opinion, is to form an allegory, or microcosm, for today’s present world. Where western cultures are educated about the plight of others in third-world nations, yet choose to disregard such conditions & remain inactive in aiding.

            if this idea seems reasonable, then would it not be safe to say, that we have not earned success, but snatched it from children in situations similar to that of the abject child mentioned in the short story.

  22. Is the individual voiceless, the horserider speaks, as well as the child. Can the society not change its voice

  23. I feel this story has something to do with our society. I also had a feeling that it was like when my lord Jesus gave his life for our happiness and our future.

    • Hmm, it is like Jesus’ crucifixion! The only difference is the child doesn’t know why he’s suffering nor is he serving any purpose besides balancing good with evil. I guess it’s like how we bomb Afghanistan and Iraq while living in peace in the United States, except our wars benefit no one except war contractors.

    • LeGuin states that the story is a criticism of the American morality. Also, since she’s an atheist, I don’t believe it’s meant to be about religion at all, unless perhaps to say to the reader – don’t follow your religion blindly – ask who made these terms, are they moral and just, and should I follow them.

  24. what is the setting (time and place) of the story?
    and how does the author establish it?? :help:

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