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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What do the majority of the citizens decide to do in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"? What is their rationale?

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In the Edenic city of Omelas, the residents are described as blissfully happy and peaceful. However, the narrator holds a detail back from the reader until about two-thirds into the story. There is, held in a basement, a child. That child is malnourished and forbidden to leave. Despite its pleas...

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In the Edenic city of Omelas, the residents are described as blissfully happy and peaceful. However, the narrator holds a detail back from the reader until about two-thirds into the story. There is, held in a basement, a child. That child is malnourished and forbidden to leave. Despite its pleas to be released and its promises to be good, the narrator asserts that the residents know that the child must remain locked away. Although a few, once they learn of the child, leave the city, the majority of the citizens simply live with the knowledge of the child's suffering. The text states,

Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery.

Thus, the reader is to understand, even if he or she doesn't completely understand the full reasoning, that the citizens have a realization of the relationship between the child's darkness and the city's light. The narrator goes on to claim the following:

If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms.

The reader is left with a sense of discomfort in the strange rationale of the residents of Omelas who remain. They truly believe that the welfare of their city depends upon the child. According to them, without one, the other would fall into ruin. More unsettling is the fact that the reader never has the chance to discover whether this is actually the case or not.

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