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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Would you walk away from Omelas? What are the real-world equivalents to Omelas, and do most of us walk away from them?

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“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is a parable about an idyllic community where the happiness and prosperity of the town depends on the suffering of one child. The child is kept in a small dark closet, eats only a tiny bowl of cornmeal a day, and must lie in its own excrement. No one talks to the child, but some go to see it. Everyone understands that the happiness of the entire town depends on the misery of this one child. So, the question, to me, is whether I could live with myself if I knew this was happening, enjoying the happiness at the expense of a child. My first thought is no—I would walk away from Omelas.

However, what Le Guin is forcing us to think about is the idea that we do this every day. It is not one child locked in a closet, but many children who are exploited in factory work, the slaves who suffered for the economy of the South, the people who get fired so that companies can succeed. We know it’s happening, but we ignore it. Soon, we become immune to the suffering.

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