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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How do the fantasy elements in "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" reflect real-world conditions?

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The first main fantasy element in the story is that there is a perfect society. The story opens with a description of the Festival of Summer in Omelas:

The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved.

Omelas is an idyllic place, a fantasy land of perfection where everyone is happy. We know, of course, that no place is, in reality, perfect.

The second fantasy element is that this perfection all depends on the degradation and abuse of one innocent child. In reality, it defies logic and rationality to think that such a situation could possibly take place.

However, the idea that the pleasure of the many is built on the suffering of the few does reflect conditions of real life. We know, for example, that we in the United States live the comfortable lives we do, surrounded with cell phones and consumer goods, plus good food, because people in the other parts of the world toil for long hours at low wages—or come into our country as migrant workers to do the heavy labor of picking our crops.

Le Guin wants to call into question and critique the philosophy of utilitarianism that states that happiness should be understood as the greatest good for the greatest number. Instead, she asserts that even one person's suffering spoils the pleasure of the rest and should not be tolerated: everyone deserves a share of the good life.

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