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

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Why do the people who leave in "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" leave alone?

The people who leave Omelas do so alone because each individual must decide for him or herself whether they are willing to accept responsibility for the absolute misery of the child in exchange for their own happiness. This is not a decision that one person can make for another, and so the people who leave do not attempt to influence others in their decision. They each simply decide for themselves and then act on that choice.

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We know that most of the people who live in Omelas find a way to justify the choice to allow the miserable child in the broom closet to remain there. Though, at first, they cry about the "terrible paradox"that their happiness and joy can only exist at the expense of this child's awful and permanent miserythey begin to reason that "[the child] would not get much good of its freedom," if it were to be released. They school themselves to accept the "terrible justice of reality," and it seems to render them more "compassion[ate]" as a result; they are "so gentle with children" because of the child. In short, the people who stay are happy.

Therefore, perhaps the people who leave do so alone because they do not feel it is their right to make decisions for other people. They are unwilling to accept joy at the price of another person's misery, but if they were to bring the child up out of the darkness, then it would destroy the happiness of all, without the consent of all. Imagine how bitter the others would be if one person made such a choice. Further, if the ones who leave were to try to convince others of the injustice they, apparently, perceive, then those people would not really be making the right choice for the right reason. Each individual has to make this determination for him or herself: am I willing to accept the abject suffering of another in exchange for my joy?

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