What do you think about the narrator’s statement in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas that “Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive”?

This statement from The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas indicates that individual ethics form the basis for happiness. Each person must decide what “necessary” and “destructive” mean to them. Happiness does not consist of always getting one’s own way. A functional society requires that its members agree on some basic elements of those definitions and balance their understandings with other people’s differing opinions. Those who view scapegoating children as destructive but not necessary must walk away.

Expert Answers

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In Ursula LeGuin’s short story, society is held together by mutual willingness to designate a child to function as the scapegoat. People believe that their personal happiness cannot be achieved by just fulfilling their own desires. The continuous functioning of society represents a greater good for which people strive. To continue living within this society, each person must come to terms with their own ethical and moral principles. The concepts of “necessary” and “destructive” may seem to be mutually exclusive, as the majority of a person’s choices will not fall into either category. Each individual must decide what those terms mean, and then find a balance between one’s personal preferences and those of others. If they cannot, they will not be happy in that society, and must seek another path.

For some people, using children in this way is not necessary, but destructive. The statement suggests that the majority perspective is so thoroughly engrained, or hegemonic, that attempts to change society would not be not viable. For those who radically disagree with the majority view, the only real option is to leave. By doing so, they may eventually find a different kind of happiness, but the statement would nevertheless remain valid. Those who walk away must still identify their most basic needs.

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