illustration of a young boy in a cage in the center with lines connecting the boys cage to images of happy people and flowers

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Start Free Trial

Compare the citizens that stay to those who walk away in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We don't learn much about the ones who walk away from their society, so we have to use clues from the story to imagine how they compare to those who stay.

Most of the people in Omelas manage to rationalize or find excuses when they discover their pleasant lives are...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

We don't learn much about the ones who walk away from their society, so we have to use clues from the story to imagine how they compare to those who stay.

Most of the people in Omelas manage to rationalize or find excuses when they discover their pleasant lives are based on the suffering of an innocent child. Some rationalize that the child has been degraded so long that she wouldn't like or benefit from a different life. Also, having witnessed the suffering of this one child, they tell themselves that they have become gentler and more compassionate people. Finally, while unpleasant, they rationalize that it is only one life sacrificed in trade for many, many people's happiness.

The people who stay are able to make a compromise with evil. The people who walk away, in contrast, are those who simply can't stay in such a situation. It is not bearable for them.

What the two groups have in common—how they compare—is that they are both sickened and distressed by the sight and plight of the suffering child. Both groups find it disgusting. Neither group brushes it off indifferently. It is simply that one group can stand the situation and the other can't. The story strongly suggests that those who take the risks of leaving have sought out the better path.

We can imagine that those who stay continue their lives of ease, comfort, and pleasure while those that go face hardships—their lives are no longer as materially comfortable. They might suffer want. However, their consciences are clear, whereas those that stay are subconsciously always anxious and guilty about the basis of their happiness. The options seem to be possible poverty and a clear conscience or affluence and a troubled conscience.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team