Analyze "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" in terms of its importance.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The philosopher William James once wrote that "some people could not accept even universal prosperity and happiness if it depended on the deliberate subjugation of an idiot child to abuse it could barely understand.”  This idea becomes the fundamental premise of Le Guin's story.  Its importance is that it probes the limits to which human beings would accept the idea of "universal prosperity and happiness."  The story examine the conditions of happiness and how socially constructed notions of "happiness" are weighed against human suffering.  Le Guin was conscious of the social and economic context that enveloped her story.  In the face of massive wealth inequalities around the world, Le Guin's story is important because it questions the limits to which societies are content with happiness at the cost of suffering. The people of Omelas are content with the suffering of the child in the name of their social happiness.  The story probes the depths to which society is content with the suffering of the others in the face of happiness.  

Another reason the story is important is because of its effect on the reader. Le Guin establishes three different kinds of people at the story's conclusion. People are either the ones who suffer, the ones who benefit, or the ones who walk away from Omelas.  The reader must make a conscious choice as to who they are and with what they are willing to live.  There are no easy answers and no "noble lies" in this setting.  It is in this regard that the story acquires importance.  Within the reader, the story forces individual choice of one's identity, contributing to its importance.

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