Every person, as a member of society, faces daily choices either confirmed by the culture or against it. The history of humankind is built upon social systems where each person’s individual decisions affect those around them. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” unravels the paradoxical social interaction, personal and mutual happiness, which finally leads the reader to determine a personal standpoint in the narrative.
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One of the narrative’s main focuses is the paradox of social interactions that gets more and more visible as the story progresses. At the first glimpse, the author presents “perfectly constructed society and surrounding” where the citizens live in harmony (Güranç 36). The narrator admits that there are very few rules that the citizens of Omelas have, but regardless of the absence of laws, the society seemed to function in harmony (Le Guin 3). Yet, there is one major element that holds the community together–the suffering child who’s abuse and abandonment pays for everyone’s wellbeing. Le Guin emphasizes that people understand that their happiness, health, and quality of life wholly depends on the misery of the abandoned child. Such disturbing dissonance of satisfactory life and abuse show the social paradox of Omelas and push the reader to evaluate their society.
The topic of happiness is continuously brought up by the author from various angles. The introductory part of the narrative describes the city of Omelas as a happy place. But as the story progresses, the reader starts to understand that the joy of Omelas is not the one that somebody would want to experience. Behind the beautiful facade of “happiness for all” kind of life lays the celebration of courage without soldiers, living with no guilt, and, ultimately, the comfort of many paid by the undeserved sufferings of one (Latham 223). The reader is faced with the reality of the citizens, who make a daily choice towards their comfort, dooming the guiltless child for an awful existence. Though some wish to ease the pain of the young sufferer and feel heartbroken about the present reality, the city’s happy life will forever be prioritized, which is a paradox of its own.
Finally, the narrator helps the readers understand the significance of personal choice in a broken society. Le Guin reassured the audience that the citizens of Omelas are “not less complex than us,” which means that the reader can find themselves in the story (3). The ending of the novel represents three groups of people: those who justify the child’s sufferings, those who wish to help the child but never will, and “the once that walk away from Omeals” (Le Guin 18). By leaving the “happy life,” the third group faces the dark reality of the unknown future with no security, but they are walking departing with confidence. In this case, walking away is an ethical choice towards and a protest against the system of the city (Crowther 22). Now, the reader is invited to choose their standpoint in the narrative, and, ultimately, in real life.
The short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” unravels the city’s life that is holding onto its happiness. As the narrative progresses, the social interactions become more and more paradoxical. The reader is presented with the source of everyone’s satisfaction, the suffering child. The author shows protection the mutual good can be harmful, and the audience must make an uncorrupted choice about their standpoint in a broken society.
Crowther, David. “Walking Away from Omelas.” Responsibility and Governance, edited by David Crowther, Shahla Seifi and Tracey Wond, Springer, 2019, pp. 17-25.
Güranç, Merve. “An Analysis of the Utopia Question in Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Journal of English Language and Literature Club, vol. 1, no. 2, 2019, pp. 36-39.
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Latham, Rob. Science Fiction Criticism: An Anthology of Essential Writings. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.
Le Guin, Ursula, K. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Harper Perennial, 2017.