In "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," what is the relationship between happiness and necessity?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the narrator of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," "Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive."

What that means is that we find happiness not by being naive--not by going "tra la la, everything is wonderful, let me play my pipe and join the parade"-- but by making a wise judgment about what we truly need, what we simply enjoy that isn't totally necessary, and what is bad and not at all needed.

The implication seems to be that if we can make these judgments and live our lives according to them, then we are happy. Necessity and an understanding of it, then, is both a necessary and a sufficient element of happiness.

For example, if all you have is a roof over your head and something to eat each day, then you've got all that is necessary and should be happy. And further, if you have a musical instrument to play, or a parade to join, or beautiful weather, or nice clothes, then you have even more than that: you have something "neither necessary nor destructive." And, most importantly, if you're willingly engaging in any immoral activities (such as allowing the neglect and abuse of a child) then you've either made a judgment that it's a necessary evil (in which case, you're happy, and you stay in Omelas) or you've made the opposite judgment that it's too evil to be necessary (in which case, you walk away from Omelas).

It's a good question to ask, because the narrator calls Omelas the city of happiness; she describes the festival and the music and the love and joy there as well as the city's darker side. But she asserts that the citizens aren't simply "naive and happy children – though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched." What the narrator means by that is that the citizens of Omelas are realistic about their happiness; they've come to understand that they have more than what they simply need to survive.

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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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