The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas written by Ursula Le Guin is a story about a utopian society. This story does not explain us how to achieve utopia, but it describes in details what utopia means. As the author puts it: “happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive” (Le Guin 7). If a person wants to be happy, his happiness and well-being must not be destructive for someone else, because happiness must not be based on discrimination. Happiness, which is established on the misery of the others, is unreal and can disappear very quickly.
As we know, utopia is a literary work which describes the picture of an ideal society with absolutely happy people who live in a perfect state system. However, the acme of perfection can be earned through various means: immorality, anger, permissiveness, indifference, etc. In the case of the story, the happiness of the inhabitants of Omelas depends upon the unhappiness of the little child. This child is locked in a small room and everybody knows about this fact.
The story is based on the controversial argument that it is good to sacrifice one life for the safety of many people. When the citizens of Omelas see the lonely child, they begin to think whether it is good or evil to keep him in the darkness, misery and loneliness. However, they understand that they are happy because of him and they do not want to change anything. “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” (Le Guin 13). This story displays the structure of our society. The same thing happens with us. Some people are rich, happy, pleased; the others are poor and live in misery.
It is very frightening to understand that people can be cruel and selfish in order to get wealth and happiness for themselves.
It is a universal truth that goodness cannot exist without evil. It may seem wrong, but Ursula Le Guin convinces us of this fact again. A poor child serves the people of Omelas as a means for the existence of their own happiness. The people will never have their own happiness without his suffering. As Ursula Le Guin admits: “To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: 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 15). The child is the symbol which contains the explanation that the happiness even in Utopia can be achieved on the unhappiness of some people.
The author asks the question to the readers. How do you evaluate the joy of all the citizens against the suffering of the one child? On the one hand, one can admit that there is a life of one child against the lives of many people on the scales. Without doubt, the superiority would be in favor of the lives of many people. On the other hand, there must be morals and human values in the society. Otherwise, it will be the truth that “happiness will be based on a just discrimination of what is necessary” (Le Guin 7). It is wrong and unacceptable. Such happiness is unreal and false; remorse will haunt and torment you. There is a shining example from the story: “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.” (Le Guin 17). “Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home” (Le Guin 17).
The story has its background. It is actually a paraphrase of Dostoevsky on that well-being of the world is not worth the tears of the child. And I fully disagree with this statement, because the life of any person has value and we have no right to sacrifice even one life for our own purposes.
It is an interesting fact that we can compare Omelas with The Garden of Eden. These places are considered the happiest places. The child from The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Adam and Eve are clean-handed people. The citizens of Omelas understand that there will be bad consequences for them if they help the child in the locked room. The same happens with Adam and Eve. They eat the apple and leave the paradise. The child is like an apple, and people do not want to remove and save him, because their paradise will disappear at once.
While I was reading the story, I reflected on our modern world. Every day we watch TV, read the newspapers and detect how cruel our society is. A lot of murders, robberies are committed every day. And most of us sigh with relief that it has happened far from him/her. Is it happiness? It is immorality and inhumanity. If we want to be happy, we must help those people who are suffering. We must not lock them and leave them alone as in the story. It is unfair that one person can be unhappy, while the others enjoy their life. I am disgusted of the citizens of Omela because of their indifference to the poor child.
People must be responsive and help each other. There is a good statement that making good deeds is contagious. People should keep this fact in mind and only then we can be really happy.
There are a lot of speaking details in the story that evokes the reader’s compassion. For example: the door which is always locked. It demonstrates the fact that it is very difficult to get away from misery without somebody’s help. The author puts the child in the room in order to increase the fact of unhappiness and immorality. It will be easy for adult to survive, but not for the lonely child. The symbol of the child causes the emotional reaction of the readers and criticizes our society.
The author shows us that indifference and insensibility destroys their own happiness. Many people leave Omelas, they go nowhere, into darkness…
If I lived in Omelas, I would not be indifferent. I would help the child, if it meant no more happiness for me. It would be my protest to the fact that you can not built your happiness on the misery of the others. People should not live, thinking that “happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive” (Le Guin 7).
Le Guin, Ursula. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. New York: Creative Education, 1992.