What is actually happening when the people of the community learn about the child?Ursula LeGuin "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Taking the pragmatism of William James--the concept of the greater good--to its moral conclusion, Ursula LeGuin writes of a utopian community that maintains its order by having what Jerrie Collins calls a rule-governing universe in his essay "Leaving Omelas: Questions of Faith and Understanding." That is, there is in Omelas the creation of an ordered world of experience, a world in which everything "fits" or has its place. Since evil is a necessary condition of the human experience, Omelas, in its attempt to achieve utopia, has satisfied the necessity for evil with the containment of one miserable child.  This child, this scapegoat, must exist for the "greater good" of the community, who enjoy prosperity and happiness.

Some of the community are so disturbed by the miserable creature who lives in squalor and deprivation while they exist in contentment that they walk away. Others shed tears at the "bitter injustice" of it all, however, those tears dry as they comprehend "the terrible justice of reality and ...accept it."  Nonetheless, that neither of the two groups can feel guilt draws the reader into the moral responsibility of deciding what price must be paid for happiness.

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