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
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In reference to "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," what would you ultimately decide to do, and upon what basis did you make your decision?

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If I lived in Omelas, I too would walk away. The reason for doing so is moral. Though happy, carefree, and idyllic on the surface, the civic life of this seeming paradise is dependent upon an unspeakable act of evil. All the good things that this small town has to offer—and there are many such things in Omelas—are only possible because a small child is held captive in perpetual filth, darkness, and abject misery. If I knew that my happiness and the happiness of those around me were based on the continued existence of such a moral atrocity, I'd start packing my bags straight away.

If I did this, I'm sure that many of my fellow townsfolk would criticize me. They would most probably accuse me of selfishness, of undermining the general happiness and stability of Omelas. Omelas is a town that operates on a crude version of a political philosophy called utilitarianism, which holds that all institutions in society should operate on the basis of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. That principle certainly seems to apply to Omelas; everyone gets to lead a truly wonderful life, all except the poor child whose misery is the ultimate condition of everyone else's happiness.

Ultimately, the question you would need to ask yourself before making the decision to leave Omelas or to stay put would be, can I truly enjoy my life in this town in the knowledge that my enjoyment and that of everyone else is dependent upon a particularly reprehensible case of child abuse? For my part, the answer would be a firm, resounding no.

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