What does the significance of the child’s oppression reveal about Omelas? Or give the reader Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In her story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Ursula LeGuin takes the pragmatism of William James to its moral conclusion. In this story, the utopia of Omelas functions only as it maintains its order by having a rule-governing universe, a narrative theodicy, as Jerrie Collins explains in Studies in Fiction. 

Much like the third chapter of Genesis, in which "extravagant casualty" is given to explain life:  painful child labor and dying are the casualties of Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the miserable child is necessary to the future happiness and well-being of those in Omelas.  Of course, this theodicy is disturbing to many readers, who perceive the child as a scapegoat, rather than a necessary evil as they cannot accept the justification of evil.

In contrast to the theodicy of suffering from original sin, the theodicy of suffering in Omelas receives no explanation from LeGuin.  Therefore, contends Collins, accepting it implies stupidity or bad faith.  And, it is because of this situation that some walk away from Omelas.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The repression of the child in the city reveals how there is a sense of happiness that is predicated upon the abuse of another.  While others revel in happiness and complete sense of contentment, the abuse of the child is there and present.  The child's oppression reveals that the townspeople and social order of Omelas is based upon another's mistreatment or unhappiness.  Whether or not one can call this "civilization" is something that the reader must interpret and upon which there is deliberation.  The reader is poised between the painful abuse/ neglect of another and the other option of walking away, into a realm where there is complete uncertainty when one leaves Omelas.  The reader, and the compassionate citizens of Omelas, are left with an agonizing decision or choice regarding their own happiness coming at the cost of another.

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