Does "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" relate to American culture today?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely, this story relates to contemporary American culture. Many Americans have an uncanny ability to close their eyes and ears and hearts to the suffering of those around them. We find it easier to simply ignore the problem and go on with our lives than to acknowledge the problem and what the problem says about our country. In 2016, for example, 12.3% of households in America experienced food insecurity, according to the USDA. That means that the individuals in these households did not know where their next meal was coming from. Most of us like to believe that we are a country that takes care of our own, that we are strong, that we prize community, and that we have good moral values. However, our refusal to acknowledge that we have a broken system that privileges some and makes life more difficult for others, that not everyone has an "equal opportunity" to thrive, has created a system wherein more than a tenth of American households cannot count on their next meal. How are we taking care of these individuals? We aren't—we know they exist and we ignore them, or we find ways to justify our refusal to assist them, just like the people of Omelas find ways to justify the treatment of the child in the closet. The country functions, in part, because of workers who do not earn a living wage, who cannot even afford to feed their families, and yet we consistently ignore their contributions to the fabric of American life, and we refuse to prioritize their dignity and offer them a living wage. They are but one of the children in our closet.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" may relate better today to American culture than it did when it was written as so often today truth is valued only for its use to a select group or to a particular individual.

This story explores people's notions of reality, and in contemporary culture there are often individuals who adjust their concepts of reality to fit their desires. One well-publicized incident which can exemplify the selective truth of Omelas is that of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal of Jerry Sandusky. Mr. Sandusky was a married man, who often had sexual encounters with student athletes and boys in a camp situation, as well as in the basement of his house. Because some of these incidents took place in this basement, it is hard to believe that Mrs. Sandusky was not aware of her husband's aberrant behavior. Perhaps, then, Mrs. Sandusky ignored the "degraded child[ren]," choosing the "vapid, irresponsible happiness" of which LeGuin's narrator speaks.

One insight on "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" is the following:

A person cannot accept happiness that results from the immoral and cruel victimization and suffering of others.

Certainly, this astute insight on LeGuin's story applies to the situation of Mrs. Sandusky's choice of ignoring the truth--or, at least, her choice of rationalization of the truth. 

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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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