Hello again! This week, I’ve decided to talk about Ursula K. Le Guin’s story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”
So strap in, friends, because this is about to get heavy. Even heavier than last week’s post.
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” opens with an unnamed narrator (who I presume to be Le Guin herself) describing a city called Omelas getting ready for a summer festival. Everything seems pretty idyllic: the weather’s gorgeous, birds are singing, there’s a kid playing a flute. Just absolutely perfect.
In fact, everything about Omelas seems to be perfect. They have no monarchy, slavery, want, war, or really any of the other ills that plague our existence. So, again, basically a utopia.
Except for one tiny little detail.
See, all this good stuff is dependent upon the suffering of one child, locked away in a basement under one of the government buildings. And I do mean suffering: the kid is essentially in solitary confinement, and the only interactions they have involve being beaten, and they’re horrendously malnourished.
And the kicker? The citizens of Omelas are 100% aware of the child’s horrible existence. They tell their kids about it when they’re preteens, and some even go to visit them. But most people, while outraged at first, recognize this as the source of their prosperity, and choose to ignore it. Sometimes, however, people just can’t take this anymore, so they turn around and leave.
Hence the title “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”
Now, the main point of the story is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face: the system, as it currently is, is based on the suffering of certain groups, and that is not OK. That system, of course is capitalism.
Le Guin was very much not a fan of capitalism, in one speech comparing it to the divine right of kings. She wasn’t really fond of any kind of system putting one group of people above others, and that’s actually what a lot of her stories are about.
One thing I found interesting about this story, however, is the fact that people choose to leave the system rather than try to remake it, or get rid of it altogether. I think that the people leaving is basically another way of burying their heads in the sand.
And there’s at least one story that serves as a rebuttal to that point, which I plan on talking about next week. Until then, stay safe and eat the rich.