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

Start Free Trial

Why do some people stay in Omelas?

Some people choose to stay in Omelas because they are able to justify their choice to trade one child's misery and suffering for their own happiness. Thousands of people in Omelas experience contentment and beauty because this one child endures, and the people who stay become comfortable with this trade.

Expert Answers

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

The people who decide to stay in Omelas are able, eventually, to accept the "terrible justice of reality": that their own happiness and the happiness of thousands of others depends upon the abject misery of this one child. The ones who stay dry their tears and begin to justify the choice to themselves, believing that "even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom." They convince themselves that the child has lived in fear for too long to actually enjoy freedom and that it has lived for too long in darkness to enjoy sunshine. They also believe that it is too "imbecile" to respond to kindness, and that it would be too "wretched" without the walls to which it has become accustomed.

The people who stay in Omelas find a way to accept that the price of their joy is the child's degradation, and they, perhaps, also believe that their knowledge of the child's misery actually makes them more "compassion[ate]" and "gentle." They feel that the "nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science," are absolutely dependent on that one child's pain, and so they can find a way to go on knowing that it is there. They think that the lovely young boy who plays the flute so beautifully could not do so unless that other child also existed. In the end, the ones who stay must decide that the price of one child's life and happiness and freedom is worth the happiness and freedom of everyone else.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team