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Ursula K. Le Guin gave her story "The Ones Who Walk Away fro Omelas" a parenthetical subtitle, "Variations on a Theme by william James," a reference to the philosopher and psychologist who 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 that it could barely understand.
Le Guin chose to write her story to explore the reasons why people avoid moral responsibility. This theme of a scapegoat for the benefit of others has been historically enacted in societies in which the poor, underprivileged are overlooked by the propsperous. In fact, Nazi Germany exemplifies this scapegoat concept with its imprisonment and annihilation of the jews.
Le Guin's intrusive narrator invites the reader to participate in this theme of moral responsibiltiy as well. She sends this message: Is the welfare of many worth the unjust misery of the individual?
This story is quite unconventional in terms of its narrative structure. The setting is established and the action of the plot begins, but the plot is never developed. Instead, the author focuses on the nature of Omelas and its culture, revealing the shocking truth upon which the unlimited happiness of its citizens is based. An innocent child is locked away somewhere below the surface of the town, tormented and abused and isolated from human compassion or aide. To comfort or save this single child would destroy happiness for all the others in Omelas.
In the exposition, Le Guin then reveals an amazing fact. Sometimes when the young in Omelas first view the child and sometimes, years later, there are those in Omelas who simply walk away from the town where they can live in complete happiness. They simply leave, even though they do not know where they will go or what they will encounter in the outside world. They are the ones who leave Omelas, and in their action, the theme of the story is realized.
It can be stated in many ways, but the heart of the writer's truth lies in this idea. To be truly human, a person cannot accept happiness that results from the immoral and cruel victimization and suffering of others; in order to preserve one's humanity, a moral choice must be made when confronted with such an evil in his society, regardless of the personal consequences.
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