The story is a resonant tale authored by Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin's Powerful Narrative

Ursula Le Guin's narrative is a powerful one. The phrases Le Guin employs to describe Omelas make readers fall in love with it from the start. Le Guin envisions a model utilitarian society in which the majority of people are free of suffering. The reader envisions a happy, prosperous, and bountiful society as a result of the author's constant pursuit of it. When Le Guin presents the source of Omelas' delight, the novel plainly reaches its conclusion.

The Ethical Quandary and Complex Themes of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

The story seriously explores the ethical quandary of the story's presented rights and wrongs. There are complex themes that one can easily identify in Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. These include the duality of human nature, scapegoatism, morality, and political ideology.

Constructing Omelas' Hideous Moral Universe

As the story begins, the narrator helps one to take part in the creation of the Omelas city. In this way, readers become partners in its development as they work hand in hand with the narrator in constructing Omelas' hideous moral universe. As one reads through, there are clues of why the child suffers. Readers can speculate who the child might be since they are not directly told who the child is or how it comes to be jailed and tortured. The suffering child proves the theme of scapegoatism. Every other citizen in the city of Omelas is aware of him, how he is living in filth and locked in a dark closet, yet they accept it as a price for their prosperity and happiness. Some choose to face this moral dilemma all their lives while others choose to silently walk away from the city. This suffering child is a scapegoat for the misery of the rest of the occupants of Omelas. The suffering is a crucial element in the comfortable and happy lives that others lead. It is awful yet understandable why nothing is done to help the child, but happiness that depends on the suffering of others is not true happiness.

The Utopian City of Omelas

The story is a description of Omelas, a utopian city, during Summer Festival. Proximity to a sparkling sea, beauty, and happiness are characteristics of Omelas. There are various processionals in the city of Omelas that the entire population of Omelas joins. Omelas seems alive with music as people sing and dance to the clanging bells. The more destructive excesses of life have been trimmed out of the people of Omelas, and they now only have what they need. The author describes the people of this city as "mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives are not wretched" (Le Guin, 2).

The Complex Lives of Omelas' Inhabitants

The description of the city might suggest that the people of Omelas live idyllic lives but this is not the case. Their lives are complex. Le Guin states that the city lacks military presence regarding government rule and law enforcement. Further, she points out that the people of Omelas are not under the governance of the king. The city does not have laws governing it and there are no slaves, but Le Guin "suspects that [there are] few" (Le Guin, 2). Moreover, oligarchical elements or priests are not present in the city. As such, the people of Omelas are free from the tyranny of religion. The imagination of the reader is left with the sexual morals of Omelas since these have not been pointed out clearly. What the author states are the notion of free love that "freely wanders the streets." (Le Guin, 3). This is an illustration of the lives that exist above the ground in Omelas.

The Sacrifice of the Suffering Child

Underneath the city of Omelas, there is a child (whose name and gender are not mentioned) that only knows squalor and darkness. The author exhibits the child as a sacrifice on which the survival of the rest of the city dwellers depends. Through this suffering child, the people in the city live in happiness, prosperity, and peace. It is locked in a filthy dark closet under one of the public rooms. Besides, it does not enjoy any social interactions or comforts. At some point in their lives, each person in the city of Omelas learns of the existence of this child and come to peer at the child through the window of the closet. The result is divided perceptions from people the moment they discover their happiness is as a result of the child's suffering. Some people overcome their guilt, put up with the child's sad condition, and continue living happily. To them, the sacrifice of the child is the justification of the richness and beauty of Omelas. On the other hand, there are those who cannot agree with the child's miserable condition, and these people choose not to help the child but walk away. Some of them do so the moment they discover the existence of the child while others leave days, months, or years later. Those who walk away from the city never return, and their fates and paths remain unknown.

The Moral Question of Happiness

The suffering child makes lives in Omelas possible, thereby serving a vital role in society. When writing the story, Le Guin admits she remembered William James and his work The Morality of Creation (Knapp, 75). Le Guin admits that as a starting point, William James' "certain lost soul," was particularly useful. The moral question of happiness underlying the story is directly related to The Morality of Creation. The moral dilemma is whether one could live in happiness when they knew very well that their happiness solely depended upon the suffering of a child. The people of the city do not care about the suffering of a child and decide that their happiness is more important than the child's. However, those who cannot fight with their guilt walk away never to return while those who conquer their guilt continue to live in happiness. In the story, there are two opposing viewpoints of "happiness". The nature of happiness itself is the key element that the story examines. One of the viewpoints is that it depends on someone else's suffering is not true happiness. Those who overcome their guilt and continue living in Omelas are the ones sharing this viewpoint. The other point of view is that the misery of an individual is sometimes outweighed by the happiness of an entire community. In Omelas, there exists a tug of war between an individual and the community. From the title, the story sides with those who do not overcome their guilt and as such walk away from Omelas. Le Guin explores the reasons behind people avoiding or renouncing moral responsibility. The narrator, however, does not lead readers to any conclusion yet. At times the narrator uses the words "I think, I think it ought to be" instead of telling the reader what it really is. It is apparent that anyone does not notice those who decide to walk away from Omelas, and their moves are hardly understood, not even by the narrator.

An Allegorical Reflection of Society

One can broadly consider this story allegorical. The relationship between the rest of Omelas and the suffering child is an allegory. It is a reflection of the strained relations among different sectors of society. In capitalist societies, the sharp contrast between the rich and the poor can be represented by the juxtaposition of the suffering child to the rest of the Omelas community. In her critical survey, Carmean observes that Le Guin does not judge the people of Omelas (6). However, the author's presentation shows that there are those in Omelas who cannot cope with the fact that their happy life is dependent on the innocent child's pain. In addition, what the author does is leave it up to anyone to form their opinions on the lives of the people of Omelas. In this way, one gets to engage with the story in whatever way they deem necessary. Also, Le Guin provides a vivid description of the amenities in the city, allowing readers to fill in the gaps on their own. The former portion of the story centers on the positive aspects of the city, with such words as decorous, joy, sweetness, and bright. On the contrary, the latter part of the story is full of dark imagery as seen by the use of such words as defective, clotted, and horrible. Dostoyevsky further challenges that "Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end...,would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? (Carmean, 291). Readers have to remember that this child is innocent and, why should the happiness and prosperity of a whole city depend on the suffering of a child?

A Narrative Theodicy and Uncertain Ending

The story of Omelas is an example of narrative theodicy. The suffering of the child is the determinant of the happy life that the rest of the population leads. The ending of the story is very uncertain. Those who walk away from Omelas leave for a place that is not imaginable - a place that is even worse than Omelas. All in all, those that walk away represent their inability to put up with the guilt of their happiness. Nobody thanks those people that walk away from Omelas. In fact, their absence is not even noticed. Readers are drawn to and implicated in the highly questionable morality of the utopia. The story is too threatening to the worldview of readers. For this reason, Collins feels the extent to which it has affected the readers is not sufficient for them to change their society (Collins, 531). The irony in this point is that the message in the story is too powerful to be heard by people. Beyond the city is a place that can hardly be figured out or even described, not even by the narrator. It seems to be where happiness is a lesser value than morality. The reason the place is difficult to figure out is that where people renounce happiness and unburdened by guilt is close to impossible. Perhaps, this is the place where those that walked away from Omelas went and never returned.

The Rotten Foundation and Allegory of the Scapegoat

The rotten foundation of the beautiful Omelas is held by the forsaken, suffering child. Le Guin reasons that "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" (6). According to Le Guin, the story is a fictive allegory of the scapegoat as the "dilemma of the American conscience (358)." However, in the story, she never states the dilemma but instead leaves it open to the discussion of readers. Logan Hill points out that this is the primary responsibility that Le Guin cannot allow to be overwhelmed by her instructional intentions (Hill, 2).

The Binary Views of Omelas' Happiness

On the contrary opinion, the city of Omelas is special in another way since its picture is not the whole story. The city has struck a bargain and has a guarantee of happiness. There are two options for those living in the city. One of the options is choosing to live a life that is free of guilt. Despite the abject suffering of the child, this group of people continues living in happiness, assuming everything is normal. Everyone, including the people and the king, knows that the child is in the closet, but they choose to be comfortable with his suffering. The other group of people is that which cannot withstand the child's abject suffering, and for this reason, they choose to walk away from the city. Although they do not free the child, they cannot live happily having in mind that the cheerfulness and comfort in their lives are from the child's suffering. It is a reflection of the whole society. The reason the whole city lends a deaf ear to this vice is that their lives depend on the vices (Dauer). The major contradicting theme in this story is happiness. People of Omelas are not really happy although they think they are. In this regard, the ones who are truly happy are those that are ignorant of the suffering of the child. The child is a scapegoat since he suffers at the expense of others. Those that remain in Omelas find it easier to live with the misery upon which their happiness depends. The story asks the society to examine if it is using scapegoats.

The Awful Yet Understandable Nature of Omelas

In conclusion, it is awful yet understandable why nothing can be done to help the suffering child. The reason they cannot do anything is that the suffering child is the source of their happiness and prosperity. However, this happiness that depends on the suffering of others is not true happiness. For the city of Omelas' happiness, the suffering child acts as a scapegoat. The city lives in utopia while the child suffers permanently. Nobody's joy is worth the cost of another's suffering. Every other life is valuable, and nobody's joy is more precious than another's. There is no way both happiness and grief can coexist. One person's happiness that emanates from another person's grief is not true. Every member of the society is endowed with the art of freedom and can facilitate their own independence. There are those that choose to conform to the society and embrace its aspirations, customs, and beliefs. On the other hand, there are those that choose dissent like those that walked away from Omelas. Their aim is to find their own chapter of happiness elsewhere. It is awful how a whole city's happiness and prosperity can be contingent on a small child's sacrifice. The story, and the suffering child alike, is haunting. It represents a purely utilitarian society where the good of many people comes from the less fortunate few. The story is an illustration of how dire results can emanate from the promotion of the entire community at the expense of a single member. Misery should result in misery, and happiness should be as a result of happiness. The conditions of the child's living are not bearable. Besides, it is wrong to use a child as a mere means of survival. Everyone in Omelas is fully aware that if they saved the suffering child, the happiness of the city would be compromised. If this happened, the happiness of the people would be forfeited (Le Guin, 216). The cruelty of the situation in the city of Omelas is suffocating to those who cannot put up with the situation. They plainly understand that happiness that is as a result of other people's suffering is not true happiness. They choose to find true happiness by walking away from Omelas as they can do nothing to save the wretched child. It is awful yet understandable why these people do not help the suffering child.

Works Cited

Carmean, Karen and Williams, Donna G. and Rich, Mark. "Ursula K. Le Guin." Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition. Ed. Carl Rollyson. Hackensack: Salem, 2010. Accessed Web. 23 Oct. 2017.

Collins, Jerre. "Leaving Omelas: Questions of Faith and Understanding." Short Story Criticism, edited by Joseph Palmisano, vol. 69, Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center, Originally published in Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 27, no. 4, Fall 1990, pp. 525-535.

Dauer, Susan J. "A Summary and Analysis of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition. 1-2, Jan. 2004. Literary Reference Center Plus. Accessed 20 Oct. 2017.

Hill, Logan. "An Overview of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Short Stories for Students, Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Accessed 20 Oct. 2017.

Knapp, Shoshana. "The Morality of Creation: Dostoevsky and William James in Le Guin's 'Omelas'." Short Story Criticism, edited by David L. Siegel, vol. 12, Gale, 1993. Literature Resource Center. Originally published in The Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 15, no. 1, Winter 1985, pp. 75-81. Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

Le, Guin U. K. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: A Story. , 2017. Print.

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