Is there any implied criticism of our own society in the story in Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, there is an implied criticism of those who do not accept moral responsiblity in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula Le Guin. This criticism points to the pragmatism of those who justify the suffering of one for the good of all others.

In the idyllic community where the condition for happiness are "strict and absolute," the happiness attained is artificial at best: "All smiles have become archaic," Le Guin's narrator states.  In fact, this narrator has trouble describing the people of Omelas, who "were not naive and happy children--though the children were, in fact, happy."  Only the children under fourteen are truly happy since only they are innocent.

Comfort and contentment are purchased at the expense of a scapegoat.  However, whether this contentment is true happiness is questionable.  This is why "smiles are archaic" in Le Guin's idyllic community although Le Guin's narrator states, "One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt."

Le Guin's criticism of society seems to be that true humanity demands true reality.  The narrator piques the conscience of the readers:

They know that they, like the child, are not free.  They know compassion.  It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of ther science.

There is always a price for lack of moral responsibiltiy, and it is the sacrifice of true human freedom in Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas."  In modern societies there are those who have, indeed, sacrificed some freedoms--or, at least, the freedoms of others--so that they can feel "safe" or live comfortable lives.

Read the study guide:
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question