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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin
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In "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," what is meant in the following lines?

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.

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In Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," happiness and misery are juxtaposed in an extreme setting. In the city of Omelas, every person is happy: there is a festival atmosphere, everyone shares resources and has clothes and food, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. However, the narrator admits that there is one child that is forced into eternal misery in order to ensure the happiness of the community as a whole. In this particular quote, the narrator attempts to emphasize the poetic nature of happiness. Throughout the story, the narrator is trying to convince the reader that Omelas is the perfect place, even by mentioning its one and only "bad part." The narrator says that evil and pain are boring, because it really is only one child, and the rest of the community is a beautiful, utopian place. The ones who walk away from Omelas after discovering the truth must be the ones who do not, in fact, find the suffering of one child "banal" or boring. Instead, it is the catalyst for them to leave the only place they have ever known, the supposed happiest place in the world.

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The quote you have identified above is where the author compares our own society and culture to the society of Omelas, where happiness rules. The narrator argues that in our society happiness is something that is not greatly to be prized and that happiness to us is regarded as something that is "stupid." We regard only pain and evil as worthy of note and states that are to be desired. The big failing of artists, the speaker argues, is that they refuse to acknowledge that actually pain and evil are rather boring.

What the speaker is trying to do is to emphasise the happiness of the people of Omelas by trying to anticipate our reactions to it and argue that our own prediliction in our society for pain and suffering should not help us to underestimate the happiness of the people of Omelas or think that they are somehow less sophisticated or different from us. This passage helps to pre-empt some of the arguments that the speaker feels we will have when we hear about Omelas and also compares our world to that of Omelas.

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