What is Omelas's connection to real life in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One way to think about the story is to understand it as a comment on modern society and the imagination. In this way of thinking, the narrator assumes that the reader will have a hard time believing that Omelas is a real place because it is a kind of utopia; it only becomes "real" when we understand that its perfection is made possible by the misery and subjugation of a single child. This can be read as a comment on the developed world, the comfort and wealth of which is based on the exploitation of the poor.

In another sense, Omelas is a commentary on the liberal impulse to imagine a more perfect society; in this case, the story is about the hollowness of such fantasies and impossibility of imagining happiness without some form of misery for comparison. This is why the destination of the ones who leave Omelas is unknown: presumably, unable to live in a place made possible by the exploitation of others, they leave to go to an indescribable place where such compromises are not necessary. In this sense, the story is connected to real life not only by critiquing modern society, but by suggesting that the only way to eliminate subjugation is to "leave" Omelas, or to invent a truly radical, completely different way of life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursala Le Guin explores the theme of scapegoats. Within the text, the suffering child acts as a literal scapegoat for the rest of the town's happiness; since the child permanently suffers, the rest of the town can live in utopia. While this supernatural balance does not translate to the real world, the greater ideas of scapegoating do.

Historically, scapegoats have existed for centuries with anything from ritualistic sacrifices to genocide "cleansings"  to blaming leaders/politicians for the pitfalls of whole-societal issues. For more examples, see this Huffington Post article, "The Blame Game: 11 Scapegoats In History." 

Le Guin brings up this issue to invite the reader to think about his or her own choices and ways of thinking. For instance, is scapegoating moral? If you go along with scapegoating, are you a "bad" person? Is the idea of the "greater good" moral? Is your happiness worth the cost of someone else's? Is your life and happiness more valuable than someone else's?

The beauty of the way Le Guin portrays this debate lies in the way she leaves the answers to the above questions in the hands of the reader. She does not condemn either the townspeople or the walkers for their choices, and therefore does not guilt the reader into one mindset or another.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial