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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

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Some inhabitants of a peaceful kingdom cannot tolerate the act of cruelty that underlies its happiness.

The story 'Omelas" was first published in 'New Dimensions 3' (1973), a hard-cover science fiction anthology edited by Robert Silverberg, in October 1973, and the following year it won the prestigious Hugo Award for best short story.

The work was subsequently printed in Le Guin's short story collection 'The Wind's Twelve Quarters' (1975).

Ursula K Le Guin (1929–2018) was an American writer who published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry & four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, and more. She was known for her treatment of gender ('The Left Hand of Darkness' (1969), 'The Matter of Seggri' (1994)), political systems ('The Telling' (2000), 'The Dispossessed' (1974)) and difference/otherness in any other form.

32 pages, Library Binding

First published October 1, 1973

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About the author

Ursula K. Le Guin

936 books24.4k followers
Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Oregon.

She was known for her treatment of gender (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Matter of Seggri), political systems (The Telling, The Dispossessed) and difference/otherness in any other form. Her interest in non-Western philosophies was reflected in works such as "Solitude" and The Telling but even more interesting are her imagined societies, often mixing traits extracted from her profound knowledge of anthropology acquired from growing up with her father, the famous anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber. The Hainish Cycle reflects the anthropologist's experience of immersing themselves in new strange cultures since most of their main characters and narrators (Le Guin favoured the first-person narration) are envoys from a humanitarian organization, the Ekumen, sent to investigate or ally themselves with the people of a different world and learn their ways.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,057 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
April 25, 2023
Is the happiness of thousands worth the suffering of a single innocent person? Of one innocent child? Think about that. And hold your loud and resounding and outraged NO! for a minute.

A background - this is what the brilliant Ursula K. Le Guin brings up in her very short 1973 story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. It just a few pages she asks us to conceive of a utopia, a place where everyone enjoys happiness, the lovely place. But for reasons unspecified, the happiness of all others depends on the suffering of a small child confined in the dark, unloved, malnourished and dirty with its own feces. And everyone knows, and comes to accept. Except for a few who, against all the reason, think of the child and decide to walk away from Omelas into the unknown; walk away from the happiness of many built on the suffering of one.
"The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."
So what the question boils down to - does the benefit of many outweigh the suffering of few? You think you have your answer ready? Is it a resounding NO! coming from the bottom of your outraged heart? I hope it is. And, at the same time, I hope it is not. Because nothing is as simple as that. Yes, what I'm trying to say is that even if we think there's only one answer to that, we are contradicting ourselves. Because we have not only made choices that contradict our outraged and heartfelt and very human 'NO!' - but we have often flaunted them so very proudly.

Think more about that - isn't the majority's benefit trumping whatever else minority may think the cornerstone of our favorite and concept of such a long time now - that precious and treasured democracy that is so often presented as the ultimate goal of human societal structure. Which, unlike what so many high school students are taught, is not the power of the people. It is the power of majority, their needs and wishes, to trump the wishes and needs of minority by the power of vote. Because we have known and accepted throughout history that we cannot make everyone happy.

In short, someone will always have to suffer. Through enlightenment and struggle for human rights we apparently have come to the conclusion that at least it's better when minority suffers rather than majority. This is the concept that people appear to strive for, have died defending, and have used to justify a whole lot of great and not-so-great things. That's really all we have come to applaud and flaunt. That's our democracy, folks. So how is it any different from a nameless suffering child in Omelas? Is it only the suffering of innocent childhood then that makes us appalled?

We choose the benefit of many over the benefit of the few ALL THE DAMN TIME, like it or leave it. I feel it daily as a member of the medical profession. I will be deliberately simplistic here, okay? Think of every screening program that we do not do because of it not being cost-effective. Think of all the antibiotics we do not give people who come in with what seems to be clearly a viral infection to prevent community antibiotic resistance - will we miss a few who would benefit from antibiotics? Surely. But to benefit them, we'd need to hurt the well-being of the community, and that is not okay, we believe. Are we right? We probably are, from the benefit to the majority standpoint. But are we right from the point of view of the one person who did not feel better? Probably not.
"Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it."
So is there the answer to the question that Ursula Le Guin asks? From the way this story is presented, I'd say the visceral response she is going for is NO! It is not worth it. And that's what the few who choose to dissociate themselves from this happy-for-the-majority place see. That is why they walk away. Because sometimes you cannot live with yourself otherwise. Because our ultimate goal as humans, as above all compassionate species (I sincerely hope we are!) is to not be content with such a situation.

But the importance of Le Guin's story is to also see the other side of this, the side we mostly choose to live on (maybe because we are not that often challenged about it in our daily lives) even if viscerally most of us, when actually presented with the harsh reality, like the inhabitants of Omelas all are, reject it.
"It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there sniveling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer."
The question is - faced with reality, knowing how the world works (or at least seems to work) which side would we choose? Or more importantly, no matter which side we end up on for one reason or another, would we continue remembering the pain of the ones that suffer and the happiness of those who do not, and would we make our choices thinking of the both sides? I hope I will. And I hope so will the others. And I also know that, sadly, even in the happiest of times to come, we will still all be living in Omelas.

Won't we?...............

If you think you're not, then you have not yet seen the poor little innocent suffering victim.
"But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

Read it here: https://learning.hccs.edu/faculty/emi...

Recommended by: Traveller
Profile Image for Adina .
892 reviews3,554 followers
April 19, 2023
revisited in 2023 with The Short Story Club

I wanted to read this short story in memory of the author who died last week. I did not enjoy The Left Hand of Darkness as much as I wanted so I decided to try one of her most famous stories instead. It managed to reach me better than her larger prose.

I do not want to say anything about the story, it is so short that you should ready it yourself. it raises some interesting questions. What would you allow to be sacrifice for your happines? Is greater good more important than the life of an individual?

And this:

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist; a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,185 followers
April 17, 2023
I read these half-dozen pages a couple of days ago, a dozen years ago, and maybe a dozen lifetimes ago. It haunts me still.

Omelas is a beautiful town, filled with beautiful joyful people. Even the weather is glorious.
With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city. Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The ringing of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags.

But there's something indefinably odd and slightly distant about the language, which creates a disconcerting contrast. The narrator addresses the reader’s doubts about the story:
I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples… Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine soufflés to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh.

Half this short story is spent scene-setting. Then there’s a revelation. Omelas is not goody-goody at all. The story turns grim and Biblical and/or Faustian.

Who is telling, and why?

We have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist

The narrator is at pains to explain Omelas carefully and in a non-judgemental way. Sometimes they seem to belong (“our ceremonies” and “we have a bad habit”), but other times not (“citizens of Omelas… they” and “I do not know the rules and laws of their society”). The obvious answer is that the narrator is one of those who walked away, but that seems too easy.

Image: Man walking away - with baggage, by Lukas Zischke (Source)

What price happiness?

• Who can and should sacrifice what for the greater good?

• Do individual actions matter, or does going with the flow absolve individual blame?

• Would you walk away from a familiar and comfortable life if you thought the price that others had to pay was too high?

• If walking away changes nothing, is it any worse than staying (and not changing things)?

• Do we routinely ignore the true cost of our own comforts? Buying “fairtrade” products maybe more of a salve to our conscience than those who toil in poor conditions, for little reward.

• Who are my scapegoats and will I atone?

It all echoes and parallels the classic Trolley Problem dilemma.

When the new Band Aid single was in the news, I recalled the horrific schadenfreude of the lyrics in the original 1984 version:
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you.


Dehumanising (“it”, not “he” or “she”) fellow humans is a dangerous tool, used to defend genocide, slavery, xenophobia, and cruelty for its own sake.

The most chilling line in this story?
One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.

See also

I see echoes of this story in many places: precursors, and those probably inspired by it, consciously or otherwise. For example:

Kafka, who I once reread alongside this. The similarities were strong enough that I've included this on my Kafka shelf. See especially, his short story, In the Penal Colony, which I reviewed HERE. A visitor may or may not intervene in a local custom.

• The Borges short story A Weary Man’s Utopia, which is in The Book of Sand, which I reviewed HERE.

• Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery, which I reviewed HERE.

• Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I reviewed HERE, has a similar ethical dilemma at its heart.

• Catherine Lacey's short novel Pew, which is prefaced with a quote from this, and which I reviewed HERE.

Short story club

I reread this as one of the stories in The Art of the Short Story, by Dana Gioia, from which I'm aiming to read one story a week with The Short Story Club, starting 2 May 2022.

You can read this story here.

You can join the group here.
Profile Image for oyshik.
219 reviews693 followers
January 29, 2021
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

Hugo Award-winning this short story gave interesting insights about life. In this story, the question for the reader author established is would you live in a place where happiness depends on the suffering of another one and obey the rules, or would you be unable to accept the rules. The writing style is interesting. A great short story for everyone to read and I'm certain that this short-story can compel anyone to think about the truth of the modern world.
Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.

Profile Image for emma.
1,872 reviews54.8k followers
December 21, 2022
ursula doing more in 30 pages than some are doing in 336...

also has anyone noticed how many books have 336 pages? 336 and 368 appear to be where it's at.

anyway, this story is powerful and reference-able and one of those things that just everyone should read in their lifetimes because it's perfect to have and know about.

bottom line: a classic for a reason!
Profile Image for Ilse (away until November).
475 reviews3,132 followers
April 24, 2023
The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.

This allegorical and troubling take on moral choices and the price society is willing to pay for happiness reminded me of the teachings of our professor of ethics. Instead of presenting the thoughts of other philosophers to us, he went on a mission to raise our consciousness on what he called the ugliness of de backside of things: what is happening at the outskirts of our towns, in the slaughterhouses; the messy extensions to houses built in the back garden without permission which one cannot guess from the well-tended, flower-filled front gardens and whitewashed facades. He pointed out how people like to turn away from the origin of the cutlets on their plate, the meat that once was a breathing creature like themselves, slaughtered out of their sight by others so they don’t have to associate it with murder and suffering anymore.

(Illustration by Sabien Clement)

In Ursula Le Guin’s city of utopian joy and happiness, no one can claim to be ignorant of the suffering their happiness relies on. Children are introduced to the ugly truth at tender age. The only available options seem to be to take it or leave it – to stay or to walk away into the darkness of the unknown. What is the freedom of us all against the suffering of the few? If only one’s choices would be enough to prove that question for what it is worth: wrong.


Profile Image for s.penkevich.
969 reviews6,872 followers
May 20, 2023
Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive

Would you accept happiness knowing fully well that it came at the cost of extreme suffering of another? What about 10 people being happy at the suffering of one other? How about an entire town? The late, great-to-which-nobody-else-can-equate Ursula K. Le Guin poses this question in her classic short story The One’s Who Walk Away from Omelas which follows an overview of a town living in what appears to be a utopia. But at what cost? And once that cost is revealed, do you now understand those who would choose to walk away? It is an essential piece of short fiction that resonates across all time and asks us what horrors we will overlook and allow in order to satisfy the masses. Would you say No to this? And this need not be a utopia for this question because Le Guin is looking at the here and now as she looks deep into our souls and asks the reader ‘would you walk away from Omelas?

The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial.

Fun fact, the word Omelas comes from Le Guin’s habit of reading signs backwards to try and come up with fun words and came from seeing a sign for Salem (Oregon). Which is a good indication that the Omelas of the story is not as far removed from our daily reality as it may seem in the story. Le Guin excels at a unique style of storytelling that is more narrative by way of anthropological study of a place and people, and she employs that to maximum effect here as the narrator slowly guides the reader through the summer festival in the town of Omelas, pausing over the smiling faces and festivities to impress upon you how happy and content they are. The are surprisingly few laws, no King, no clergy or soldiers. Yet suddenly, the story takes a dark turn and you peer into the evil deeds keeping the town alive. There is little explanation of how it all works, just that the happiness is contingent on the horrific abuse of a singular innocent. ‘They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations,’ Le Guin says of the people, ‘they would like to do something for the child. But…’ Alas, many even when faced with the knowledge continue on exactly as before. Would you say Yes to this life?

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist; a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.

Le Guin says ‘In talking about the “meaning” of a story, we need to be careful not to diminish it, impoverish it. A story can say different things to different people. It may have no definitive reading.’ In a 2016 afterword she wrote that she received more letters about Omelas than any other of her works, many people angry with her assertions or asking questions and clarifications. To many of their questions she says there is no answer, as they assume the ‘story itself is the answer to a question...but it isn’t an answer. It’s a question.’ And the question is one we must ask ourselves. And we already do in our daily lives, and as much as we think we’d say No, look at how often we do in fact say Yes. Look at the world around us always filled with war, genocides, environmental destruction, inequality, institutional racism, and more. We say Yes to so many evils and tell ourselves it isn’t our fault, we are too removed from it, it’s how life works, we can’t do anything about it and we’d suffer if we did anything to stop it. We find ways to justify not saying No and to not feel complicit exactly like the people of Omelas do. Because Omelas is right now. You can plug in endless combinations of modern life such as Omelas are the corporate CEOs and the low-wage employees are the child tortured in the basement, etc. And this is the genius of Le Guin, to make us take a step back and see ourselves through the lens of scifi.

We all live there and people go about their business with full knowledge of the child in the closet.

As Le Guin explains, the inspiration for the story came from a question posed by William James. She admits that Fyodor Dostoevsky had posed a similar thought experiment a few years earlier in The Brothers Karamazov, but when writing she had forgotten Dostoevsky completely. ‘Where do you get your ideas from, Ms Le Guin?,’ she jokes at herself in the afterword, ‘from forgetting Dostoyevsky and reading road signs backwards, naturally. Where else?’ The two different queries are interesting. First is James, the quote Le Guin drifted back to while writing the story:
if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which...millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torment, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?

And here is the scene from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:
“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last. Imagine that you are doing this but that it is essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature...in order to found that edifice on its unavenged tears. Would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me. Tell the truth.
“No I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly.

With Dostoevsky, the conversation continues to ask if Alyosha would accept their happiness at the cost of bloodshed, to which he also replies no. What I enjoy with Omelas is that the question feels much more personal and furthers the question into asking what you will do once you refuse. The people who walk away from Omelas must walk somewhere, and that unknown hangs heavy at the end of the story. If you say no, what next?

For further reading, I highly recommend the response story from N.K. Jemisin, The Ones Who Stay and Fight (read it here). It is a bit of a reversal but with the same aims against injustice, yet Jemisin’s becomes more an answer than a posing of a question. Le Guin was a gem of an author and this quick story is extraordinary.


They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Read the full story here
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,031 reviews17.7k followers
May 28, 2023
It takes nerves of steel to walk away from Omelas. Not only that, but the Armies of Darkness will pursue you bitterly to the end. But once you finally cross over that border to safety, you’ll find a Peace that Passes All Understanding. You’ll be home...

When I was growing up in the Sixties, my grandmother bought a weighty George Brazillier book (remember them?) entitled Alienation.

It was a compilation of excerpts from books which exhibited the full-blown characteristics of that ghastly phenomenon that was challenging Middle America on the streets of the ghettoes and on police lines outside of recruiting centres for the Vietnam War effort.

I’ll never forget one of these writers who called himself “the Kafka-Reading spoilsport at America’s two hundred-year picnic!”

Hmmm. Maybe that picnic needs a lot more serious Kafka readers.

And maybe we just plain NEED MORE READERS, too!

Have you ever wondered, in spite of the violence - as you turn on your TV sitcoms or YouTube, why so many people seem to be so insanely HAPPY?

Why can’t we always share in their mindless glee?

More to the point, NONE of these dumb people speak nary a word about the glaring fact of MARGINALIZATION that this whole teetering edifice of MINDLESS FUN is tacitly built upon!

This incontrovertible marginalization led poor Franzl Kafka to write in desperation, “Give it up! Give it up!” Like it can’t be done?

EXACTLY the decision the Enemy forces upon us inveterate readers who want to GET AWAY FROM MAD OMELAS...

But it CAN be done.

Ursula Le Guin knew that as a fact, and so decided to address it in her novels, novellas and short stories. Omelas is right HERE.

The City of Omelas is right here, now. You can choose to be an active participant...

Or you can walk away.

For those who leave, sobered, straitened, there are no guarantees. Though a Greater Force will guide you.

But a powerful wag once said something which we can twist anew, under a different guise - THE PRICE OF LEAVING IS ETERNAL VIGILANCE.

For, like it or not, it’s now the Season of the Witch - and “you’ve got to pick up every stitch.” For if we forget, and “give it up”, there’ll be all heck to pay!

Remember Neil Young way back in his solo beginnings in the seventies...?

I was lyin’ in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes
I was looking for a replacement
When the sun burst through the skies...
I was thinkin’ bout what a friend had said -
I was hoping it was a lie.

No, no lie.

So just walk - don’t run - away... and take a Good Book!

When the light burst into the dusty basement of my Shell of Confusion I, too, was blinded. But I reckoned that after a long rest in the cool net of ineluctable circumstance, I would be OK.

And I was right.

Anyone can be OK - once you safely walk out of Omelas, unnoticed - like St. John of the Cross.

Le Guin cites two literary precedents for her inspiration in writing this story. I think she neglected to add a third, to avoid raised eyebrows... to wit, THE BOOK OF ROMANS.

Think about that one, after you’ve read this - and it won’t take long...

And if you own a Kindle, download is cheap, so if you're curious, READ THIS.

Better yet, read Romans right after.

Their combined impact will keep you thinking for a LONG TIME.

The Victim will be the Victor in the End...

For the Meek will Inherit the prize - a New Heaven and a New Earth.
Profile Image for Anne.
4,065 reviews69.5k followers
January 20, 2023
There are no easy answers.
Read free here.


Just a few pages long but it makes you think. I would guess we all have the same knee-jerk reaction to the big reveal, but Guin did such a fantastic job showing you why no one did anything to disturb their utopia that it packs an even bigger punch.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,102 reviews7,214 followers
January 11, 2021
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Ones Who Stay and Fight by N. K. Jemisin

I don’t usually read science fiction but I read two related short stories for a Zoom book club. Both stories are available on-line. (Links below). They are shorts so I’ll be careful not to give away too much plot.


The story by Le Guin is set in an almost-utopian village. It essentially asks the question “If we want the greatest good for the greatest number of people, what are you willing to put up with?” Some people walk away from the village. Are they the ‘good guys?’


The other is a companion piece that is a reaction or a response, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” by N. K. Jemisin. It too is set in an almost-utopia striving toward a society where everyone is considered of equal value. What are we willing to put up with to maintain that society?


Two good stories that get you thinking which are also good stories for group discussion.

Here are links to the two stories on-line:



Top photo of the Bekonscot 'idyllic model village' in Beconsfield, England from tripadvisor.com
Middle photo of Le Guin from vox.com
Bottom photo of Jemisin from lithub.com

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
January 7, 2021
As ever, in strikingly basic prose, Ursula K. Le Guin profoundly questions the meaning of human existence and the costs that come with it.

At its core, this short story is a powerful moral allegory about modern life and the foundations from which it has been built. It is a story that extends drastically beyond the limitations of it’s basic setting to create an image that is potent and haunting. And all the way through the narrator is entirely aware of the restrictions of writing, but that does not matter because it is a device that has been used to capture something exceedingly thought provoking. It's very clever indeed.

I can think of no other short story that carries with it such power and authority: the ability to make the reader think and question the truth behind society’s luxury and wealth. Everything comes at a cost, at the happiness, time, and suffering of another. And here it evokes an important moral question we are all facing in this very moment: is my happiness worth the suffering of another?

I want to keep this review relatively short, and not go on massive tangents about what this story means to me because this story and its meaning can be applied to many situations, but I urge you to read it and I urge you to ask yourself the important question: “would you walk away from Omelas?”

Would you chose to walk away from a society that is comfortable, affluent and wonderful because it only exists through the perpetual suffering of another?

It's an exceedingly potent question and this is a story that will remain with me for a very long time.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Nika.
153 reviews162 followers
April 30, 2023
"Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time."

Indeed, Omelas gives the impression of being a happy place in which everyone would want to live. Why not? Joy and festivities are common in this city. Its climate is mild, the people of Omelas are "mature, intelligent, passionate." Children in Omelas seem to be happy. Many good things can be told of this city and its citizens, but the reader senses that there is something false about this utopian picture.
This happiness in which the majority apparently revel has its price, a terrible price. It is built upon the pain and sacrifice of the innocent. The misery of a few stands at the center of the happiness of the citizens of Omelas and the beauty of their city. But this is not the most disturbing part. The worst is that this blatant inequity is not a secret. Everyone in the city knows about what is happening near them. By doing nothing to change the situation, they choose to agree that a scapegoat is needed to buy their prosperity. Most of them seem to be content with their lives in Omelas. They manage to see and not see at the same time. They are likely to rationalize evil. Various defense mechanisms may help them find excuses for that evil.
Are they afraid to speak up? We cannot say.

However, Omelas, like any society, is not homogenous. Some cannot condone the torture inflicted on the innocent.
The people of Omelas are left with two options - either to put up with the injustice and thus become complicit of the crime or to walk away from Omelas.

The story brings up another question. Should the reader sympathize with those who decide to leave the city?
Injustices in Omelas do not stop unless some dare to fight against them.
It is, however, said that the place where the ones who walk away from Omelas are heading is "even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness." They must be audacious to leave Omelas for such a place.

I reckon this short story can in a certain sense correlate with the idea of totalitarianism.
In the foreground, we have (often false) prosperity and equality.
In the background, hidden skeletons (repressions, mass crimes, etc.) of which the taciturn majority is aware. They only pretend to look in another direction.
It is much easier to put up with victims presenting them as a sort of 'collateral damage' when you are not one of those victims. You can tolerate the suffering of others and find a ‘rational’ explanation for that until the oppressive mechanism touches you directly. You can say something in the vein of modern-day Stalin sympathizers, “Victims are not that innocent,” “The State cannot make mistakes,” or “You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."
Profile Image for Gaurav.
170 reviews1,220 followers
May 10, 2023


What is happiness? What do we mean when we mumble we are happy? Does it change anything physiologically in us or is it just a state of emotion? The state of happiness could be specific to a moment or in a broad sense to the life itself. Nonetheless, as with everything thing in life, there is cost associated with the state of being happy too. And the cost of being happy may not be always personal, as we often think so out of our habitual fallacy to overlook things. And what would happen if the cost associated with happiness is revealed to you? What will be your course of action then? These questions are raised by the author through The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle!

The city of Omelas represents the heaven on earth, bright-towered by the sea, beaming with festive joys of omnipresent gaiety and pleasure wherein the fangs of pain, disappointment, outrageousness and sadness could stand a chance. The people here lives in perfect harmony with each other and in unison with nature as if they are part of nature itself, as we know we all are part of this grand cosmos, this universe, we are one with the universe, we are the universe. The dogmas, which our world is stricken with, do not exist in the world of Omelas, for the people there are mature enough to understand the unnecessity of the dogmas and beliefs to define themselves.

We have a representative of our world in the universe of the author in from of the narrator of the story, the narrator who expresses our anguish and pain on coming across such a world so different from our world and yet so similar as if it depicts the remote possibilities of our own world. The hallmark of our world is violence which we embrace at the cost of losing hold of everything since the violence doesn’t allow anybody or anything to express itself. Over the years, our consciousness has become so discontented and tired of elation that we fail to describe a happy and gay man, we have forgotten how to celebrate joy, for all our celebrations are shallow and essentially comprise of jealously, hatred and contempt.

The universe of Omelas is nowhere like us, there people may have all sort of earthly pleasures as there is no obligations to not to have but the people of Omelas do not feel any need at all. For the joy which is being felt by Omelians is so pure and ecstatic that there is no need of anything superficial to swim in the divine river of sheer bliss. Is it possible for such a world to exist at all or is it some mystical dream we are so accustomed to fantasize about but so afraid to practice? Or is it some sort of myth as we have numerous in our world, as we believe our myths to be epitomes of perfections, which can not be put in practice, of course.

A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world's summer: This is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I don't think many of them need to take drooz.

A horror-struck nervousness often strikes us deep in our consciousness to raise palpitations of our anxious hearts when we see any sort of logical attack on our myths, for our entire world collapsed to dust-stricken ruins. It may rob us off the comfort we drive out of these myths and our existence may take plunge deep and crashed into hell of nothingness. These probing questions frighten us because deep down our heart, we are aware of the imperfections of our myths. So could it be possible that the city of Omelas may have flaws in its grandiose world, well, the possibility of defects in the universe of Omelas pulls it down from the realm of divinity to the dungeons of humanity. And it reminds me of various issues of our society, a typical corporate or bureaucratic set up might represent it. The casteism prevalent in Indian society also comes to mind as it is based upon a set up in which those who are at the top of the strata have flourished gloriously on the cost of tremendous suffering of those lying at the bottom, of course, some are there who could not find place even in the lowermost level of the set-up, and all in the pretext of creating a (seemingly) social order; the oblivious and apologetic attitude of modern Indian society does no good to it either.

Now we know that world of Omelas is not perfect as the happiness comes here at the cost of misery of someone so it quashes any sort of delight we might have felt till now as we found eventually that it’s like our own world. But the realization raises the compelling and potent questions of morality, the questions which we often try to evade since these questions may put us in front of our own shame and may fill us with immense remorse and guilt.


We have multitude of options here on the realization of secret of Omelas, we may turn our eyes to dodge the suffering of the unfortunate (as we know define unfortune to appease those who suffer) one and accept the de facto situation, and perhaps it is the harmless thing to do. Or we may look deep into our conscience and bravely face and accept our fallacies, and thereby fuel our consciousness with empathy to stand up against the wrongdoings (no matter how magnificent and beautiful they may appear superficially) of the society, raise our voice with the innate knowledge that entire humanity depends upon us but, of course, there are dangerous consequences associated with the choice. We have a third option too, and perhaps that’s the best available too, we may simply walk away from Omelas thereby stay clear of these useless probing questions and look for some other paradise and get our hands clean of the grave injustice, obliviously, being mindful of what is at stake here at Omelas. However, it pulls in the reader, eventually into world of Omelas, who has been watching the heaven (or hell) of Omelas form a distance without any moral responsibility; the reader faces this moral dilemma (as human beings we always do) to choose, to take side, but, of course, the reader may well exercise his options being the free man he is or is he really free, is the free will really free.

To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.

It's my first stint with the author and I thoroughly enjoyed the story, for the questions it raises certainly make you look into your shame and doubt your morality and free will, the premises on which they are based upon. It mirrors the totalitarian regimes we have seen our the years, and challenges our notions of forged affluence and egalitarianism our society carries, and forces us to think that perhaps it’s time to replace our passive emotions with modern and active emotions such as empathy for sympathy, equity for equality and so on.

Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
February 10, 2017
They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there.

This 1973 Hugo Award-winning fantasy short story is extremely short, and online, and this review will contain some spoilers, so if you haven't read this already, I strongly recommend that you take 5 or 10 minutes right now and do so here. I will wait.


**Random trivia while we're waiting: Le Guin said that the name Omelas came from seeing a road sign for Salem, Oregon, in a car mirror.**

Ready? The story begins with an idyllic description of the lovely, joyous city of Omelas, "bright-towered by the sea." The air is clear, young people play and race horses, there's lots of food, non-habit-forming drugs if you want them, guilt-free sex if you want it. Whatever is wonderful, it must be part of Omelas. Everyone is SO HAPPY.

We're so happy you're so happy!

But there's something just a little bit artificial, perhaps overanxious, even a smidge desperate, about our narrator's description of Omelas. And then the narrator, supposedly in an effort to make the listener believe in this utopian place, finally tells of the one thing that is ugly and despicable about Omelas.

Consider this question:
Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a [utopian] world ... and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
--William James, The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life (credited by Le Guin as an inspiration for this story)

And then you wonder: Would I also rationalize that the happiness of a whole city is worth the terrible misery of one innocent child? Would I try to comfort myself with the thought that trying to fix it wouldn't really work anyway? Or would I walk away? And is walking away good enough?

And in what ways do we already do this in our own lives, going along with the crowd despite our qualms or hesitations, or thinking that the end justifies the means in some questionable case? When the choice is as stark as it is in this story, it might be easy to think, I would never--but would we? And in what more obscure ways do we?
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
July 1, 2018
In this timeless moral fable, Ursula Le Guin tells the story of OMELAS ("Oh My Electronic Liberal Association of Socialists"), a group of internet activists who consider themselves the conscience of the United States. Posing as "the Resistance", they fight for apparently worthy causes like stopping refugee babies from being taken from their mothers, combating gun violence in schools, defending the Earth's fragile ecosystem from heartless multinationals, and preventing the US from becoming a Russian satellite state. But they are exposed as the hypocrites they are when it is revealed that some of them experienced a vague feeling of satisfaction on hearing that Sarah Huckabee Sanders had been refused service at a small Virginia restaurant.

[Is this correct? - Ed]
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,258 reviews1,134 followers
June 1, 2023
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is an unforgettable short story.

This does not necessarily mean it is enjoyable, or even good, (although it is!) In this case it is a story which stays with the reader because it poses an ethical quandary - even a conundrum. It is the sort of moral problem to which you have a gut feeling, “Of course this is wrong; it is totally unacceptable in any civilised culture”. And then the doubts creep in. The Utilitarian doubts, where we consider our aim should be the greatest happiness or good for the greatest number. But how can we allow - even deliberately choose - to inflict suffering to enable this? How does any individual or group have the right to determine this?

This is a philosophical short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, originally published in a general anthology, where it won a major award, and is now contained in her collection “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters” from 1975. But alongside the philosophical considerations, there are also psychological ones.

If something exists which is anathema to you, how do you deal with it? Do you ignore it; pretend it is not there? If it is present elsewhere in the world, perhaps the temptation is to put it aside. You can do nothing about it, you rationalise it to yourself. Do you turn your back on it? Or do you fight it however you can?

Is it different if it is on your doorstep? Is it different if simply by living the life you now have, you are directly and knowingly causing suffering to another? And even more disturbingly: does your happiness have to have a counter-balance, something to contrast with it: black against white, yin and yang? We know we appreciate the good in our lives when we have experienced the bad. Does “the bad” have to be our own? Can we sit back and watch others suffering, and feel relief that it is not us; feel happier as a result? Surely not. But is that part of the human condition?

This is also a sociological story. It explores the responsibilities of society, and the individual, within the context of an allegorical story. Perhaps these problems are easier to consider within the context of a story. It is abstract. There can be no comparisons with our own society. Or are there?

It is without a doubt, an uncomfortable read. It would be impossible to tell much of the story without spoilers, and some blurbs unfortunately do reveal too much. Fortunately, I read it without prior knowledge, viewing it as a description, with a timeless, folktale feel, of a happy pre-industrial society, with intelligent, sophisticated, and cultured inhabitants. The joyful atmosphere is like a festival. Surely nothing can be amiss in such a place of bounty and delight?

“With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city. Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. 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. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance.”

Quaint, idyllic, a Utopia. It seems innocent. And yet:

“They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

They cannot bear it. But is this right? By walking away, doesn’t this merely abnegate responsibility? You take no part in maintaining the status quo, but willingly allow it to exist elsewhere. I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s contention:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I shall say no more, but wonder:

Would you be one who walked away from Omelas? Would I?

There is a link to the short story HERE
January 16, 2022
At different times in our lives, we are met with choices, important ones. Some idealistic or moralistic, others of practical nature. Still, the question du jour is: Will you walk away from Omelas when it's time to make that decision? Or are you going to have your orgies while the world goes to hell in a handbasket?
Generally, I am not a fan of Ursula Le Guin but for this story I make an exception. There is some ephemeral quality about it, leading us to ponder whether mass exultation at the price of a single child's misery is worth changing the world.
They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. (c)
I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. (c)
I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate.(c)
One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt (c)
What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. (c)
They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery. (c)
It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. (c)
But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas. (c)
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,256 followers
February 1, 2021
“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”

In case you need reminding that Le Guin is one of the very best of writers, a person of compassion and anger and intellectual rigor and elegant grace, a person of vision... read this story. It is barely 8 pages! 8 pages that tell you about a perfect city, no war and much happiness, freedom and the love of life, all that is good and true. 8 pages that tell you why some prices are too high for happiness.

and you can read it for free, right here:


 photo good-gif_zps1b5cf334.gif

are you still a good person if you let something evil flourish - something evil that you can stop? is happiness worth ignoring cruelty, pain, evil? what price the scapegoat? is it better to be in a constant state of striving towards happiness, for yourself and for your family and for your world - to always know that that striving never ends, that everlasting happiness and perfection are impossible while there is cruelty, pain, and evil in the world?
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 3 books46.9k followers
January 6, 2020
A wonderful but terrifying exploration of uptopia. A friend (Jade!) told me about this short story and, upon hearing the premise, I decided to read it myself.

Omelas is a beautiful city where everyone is happy and everything is perfect. The narrator takes care to remind us that this is a modern city, not Arcadian: the point is not how they are happy, and thus how we can be happy like the people of Omelas, but rather that they are happy despite living in a city which is remarkably like ours. The narrator's descriptions are wonderful, something straight out of a children's classic, but there is also suspicion. This suspicion is qualmed when the narrator tells us of a small boy suffering in a basement under the city -- a boy that every civilian knows exists and whose suffering means that everyone else can be happy.

This short story raises so many important questions about utopia, bystanders, social responsibility and, most interestingly, the human capacity for goodness. Isn't it funny that we only believe this city could exist when we are told that there is something awful within it? We find it much easier to believe things which are overly bad than overly good.

I do think it also raises a version of the Trolly Problem (utilitarianism) -- would you make one suffer to ensure the *happiness* of an entire city?
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,984 reviews1,991 followers
July 12, 2022
Re-reading this story for, good goddesses I don't even know how many times it's been, as a *cough*ty-year-old about to add a "1" onto my new decade is a revelation. The "terrible boredom of pain" line leapt out at me this reading. It certainly would given my circumstances. Pain steals so much from us...happiness, pleasure, relationships unformed or misshapen...and gives fuck-all in return. Thank you, UKL, for leaving that gem for me, among the many others in the read.

I know I once focused on the uberquotable "happiness...stupid" line that rightly gets so much attention among reviewers. A trenchant comment, an inarguable point, an acute observation indeed. But I myownself think, at this point in my life, that "...to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy" is the beating heart of UKL's message.

She saw the need to celebrate joy, did the author. She felt her story would perpetuate a conversation we seem (to my eyes, at least, with the Savonarola-esque excesses of Cancel Culture marking the extremity of the past abuses being canceled) unable to begin or, if begun, to further instead of curtail. This is a deep disservice to the entirety of the polis. No one should, or should be allowed, to deny the magnitude (still less the existence) of the abuses our end-stage capitalist society engendered, perpetuated, even arguably required. I do not argue for silence, for the aggrieved to stay shtumm. I argue for all y'all, wherever you stand politically, culturally, religiously, to read this short, 1973 Hugo-winning story of a Paradise, a Utopia, and fully process what the author actually says.

Anarchism isn't my jam, if you're wondering. I lack the faith in my fellow humans (63 million of whom voted for a stupid, traitorous failure of a reality-show host to occupy what was until then the highest office in the US) to believe anarchism would lead to anything except what we have now: kakistocracy. But the seductive dream, the beautiful if-only of it! All the adults happy, contented; all the children secure, joyous; all the world bright-towered and sea-breezed. And the arched-brow wry throwaway about spicing up Utopia with sex:
Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas – at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine soufflés to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh.

I've never read UKL's thoughts on pornography, but I feel sure they're worth learning.

Read this story. Think about it. Don't skimp on understanding your own maturity and perspective...challenge them. Accept what you find the way you find it.

Or change.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
June 29, 2010
6.0 stars. On my list of "All Time Favorite" short stories and is in the running to be number one. Not so much a story as a narrative description of a fictional town in which everyone lives in complete and total happiness at the expense of one child's abject misery and suffering. As powerful and as emotional a piece of writing as I have ever read in any genre. Find it and read it and I am sure you will agree. This one is amazing. Highest Possible Recommendation.
Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
174 reviews352 followers
March 15, 2022
5 ⭐

How can such a short piece have so much to say?! I listened to this half a dozen times and then read it before even considering trying to write a review. It has the eerie quality of staying with you long after you’ve closed the final page, of which there are only several. What I mean is that when you think you’re done with it, you’re not. Its piercing questions and moral implications reverberate through your unconscious mind, waiting for a quiet moment to slip into your consciousness and beckon you to return, lest there was something you missed, something you hadn’t considered, something you misinterpreted. There is a certain degree of ambiguity about the work lending it an incredible interpretive range and depth. The malleability and timelessness of its central theme, as well as the predictability and inalterability of our own innate human nature, give it the benefit of endless reworkability and relevance.

“we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else.”

The Scape Goat, Utilitarianism, Deontology, Cognitive Dissonance, Collective Repression of Guilt.
None of these ideas are anything new. They weren’t anything new in 1973 when Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ was first published. Le Guin actually credits American Philosopher, William James and his work ‘The moral philosopher and the Moral Life’ with the inspiration for the story; her work is a variation on a theme as it were. The same idea can be found in Dovstoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. “The greatest good for the greatest number” - Is the prosperity of the utopian city of Omelas and the blissful happiness of its inhabitants acceptable if it depends on the perpetual misery of one single child? You’ll have to decide for yourself, but come equipped with a good pair of runners ‘cos Ursula’s gonna drag you right on down from your high-horse.

“…as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial.”

I read this in Le Guin’s larger collection of short stories called 'The Wind's Twelve Quarters' but also listened, quite a number of times, to an audio version by Jon Fredette at ‘The Oddcast’ podcast which is really great. It’s a reading of the text with immersive background sound design and music which really does the material justice, giving it an even greater feeling of profundity. Highly recommend if you prefer audio or just want to supplement the text.
Profile Image for Traveller.
228 reviews719 followers
August 30, 2016
To me, this short story offers one of those "open question" scenarios. Apparently it was written in response to Le Guin's reading of the following passage from The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life by William James:

Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?

Le Guin wrote the piece as a musing piece of speculation, building her imagined utopia as a : "Perhaps this or perhaps that, but definitely this and this."

To me her "utopia" had the flavor of a 60's or 70's hippie's idea of what an utopia might be, I can see Ms Le Guin with bare feet and flowers in her hair.. :)

She did a very good job of posing a moral dilemma; one that doesn't seem to have a pat answer, and which one rolls around in your head considering options against one another.

I agree with the opinion that walking away might not be the best option...-personally, I would save the child and tough cookies for the rest, but I realize a lot of people would not agree with that way out, and I actually respect each person's 'choice' regarding the tough moral decision posed in the story.

I think this is a piece that is very hard to figure out if you try to tie it to a very specific situation, and serves it's best value if you keep it as a sort of more abstract question. I think Le Guin didn't intend for it to be specifically tied to only one situation, but rather as a general question of ethics;- one which mainly challenges the idea of utilitarianism.

Of course, the very open-endedness of the scenario allows for it to be applied to as many specific situations as people can find it fit to do.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,118 reviews3,040 followers
October 4, 2022
Even if we cannot physically walk away from injustice and exploitation – now that we have all seen that it exists –, we at least have to turn away from it ideologically; no longer accepting that it's "necessary" to keep things running comfortably (for us) as they are. Our ideology of our current way of life has to change. And it has to start with us.

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is one of the most thought-provoking short stories I've ever read. (Recommended to me on YouTube after I'd expressed my love for Jackson's The Lottery—and yes, I see the similarities.) I will let it sit for a while and then come back with my thoughts!

And btw, I've also read Jemisin's rebuttal/coda/response "The Ones Who Stay and Fight" – and I'm not sure if Jemisin understood what Le Guin was trying to express with her short story. But here as well, I will let Jemisin's story sit for a bit and then come back to compare the two.


"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a 1973 work of short philosophical fiction by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin. With deliberately both vague and vivid descriptions, the narrator depicts a summer festival in the utopian city of Omelas, whose prosperity depends on the perpetual misery of a single child.

The only chronological element of the work is that it begins by describing the first day of summer in Omelas, a shimmering city of unbelievable happiness and delight. In Omelas, the summer solstice is celebrated with a glorious festival and a race featuring young people on horseback. The vibrant festival atmosphere, however, seems to be an everyday characteristic of the blissful community, whose citizens, though limited in their advanced technology and communal (rather than private) resources, are still intelligent, sophisticated, and cultured. Omelas has no kings, soldiers, priests, or slaves.

Everything about Omelas is so abundantly pleasing that the narrator decides the reader is not yet truly convinced of its existence and so elaborates upon the final element of the city: its one atrocity. The city's constant state of serenity and splendor requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness, and misery.

Once citizens are old enough to know the truth, most, though initially shocked and disgusted, ultimately acquiesce to this one injustice that secures the happiness of the rest of the city. However, some citizens, young and old, walk away from the city after seeing the child. Each is alone, and no one knows where they go, but none come back. The story ends with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

"The central idea of this psychomyth, the scapegoat", writes Le Guin, "turns up in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and several people have asked me, rather suspiciously, why I gave the credit to William James. The fact is, I haven't been able to re-read Dostoyevsky, much as I loved him, since I was twenty-five, and I'd simply forgotten he used the idea. But when I met it in James' 'The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,' it was with a shock of recognition."

The quote from William James is: "Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a sceptical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?"

The reason why I find this short story so interesting is that, I think, there's a little bit (or a lotta bit) of utilitarianism in all of us. Even though it would never be fair, a lot of us would be tempted by the offer of having 1 person suffer in order for 7 billion to live in total bliss and happiness. Of course, none of us would've liked to be that one poor bloke that gets to suffer (wherein the dilemma lies) and none of us would probably 100% feel guilt-free, knowing that our own happiness and comfort is rooted in the misery of another human's but still, it'd be hella tempting.

What makes "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is that when you zoom out of the context of this story and start applying its base concept to our world, it becomes clear that much of the comfort that we in the West enjoy is rooted in the exploitation of people in the Global South. It's something we all know, something we (more or less) easily accept... because there's nothing we can do about it? Or also because it's just so fucking convenient for us? Of course, the Western World is no real Omelas, there's too much shit happening here and too many people are exploited and discriminated against within our societies (which isn't the case in Omelas), but with a few concessions, it's still an interesting thought experiment.

We, as individual human beings as well as a society, favor our own joy and comfort over the well-being of other people (whom we have identified as "other"). I guess that many readers of "Omelas" are disgusted by its citizens, that many readers tell themselves that they would help the helpless child in the basement. But I don't think that's true. We know about the horrendous working conditions of seamstresses in Bangladesh, yet we keep buying fast fashion. We know about the horrendous effect of factory farming on the climate and animal health, yet we keep eating meat. We know about the child labor in China, yet we can't live without our phones. The sad truth about us is that most of us wouldn't be the ones walking away from Omelas, most of us would stay, are staying.
Profile Image for Marcos GM.
295 reviews133 followers
May 9, 2023

La primera vez que tuve constancia de este relato fue a raíz de Doctor Who, tras un episodio se comentaba que la base de la historia que se trataba era similar a este Quienes se marchan de Omelas. Pero el libro de relatos que lo incluye no estaba a mi alcance, hasta que de forma aleatoria esta edición me ha caído en las manos.

La autora nos presenta en esta breve historia un festival lleno de colores, en el que la gente que vive en Omelas se encuentra con todo aquello que puede hacerles felices. En Omelas no hay sufrimiento, ni necesidades, todo lo que se quiere se puede tener. Pero no sin coste, ya que para que todo esto sea posible, un niño o niña debe sufrir por todos los demás.

Este relato tiene detrás un mensaje nada fácil de tratar. Y es que a la pregunta de ¿Puede ser lícito el sufrimiento extremo de alguien en favor del bien común? la respuesta parece fácil pero no lo es. Todos queremos pensar que actuaríamos de una manera ante esta situación, pero a la hora de la verdad, ¿seríamos capaces de sacrificar la felicidad de toda una sociedad por una sola persona, que a todas luces ya no podría ser feliz fuera de ese encierro?

Esta edición que he leído, de nórdica libros, es realmente buena. Viene en tapa dura, con un papel rígido pero sin brillos (que no se marquen las huellas es siempre bueno) y con una gran cantidad de ilustraciones, que lo hacen destacar como una buena compra para la estantería. Para muestra, un botón:



The first time I was aware of this story was as a result of Doctor Who, after an episode it was commented that the basis of the story in question was similar to this The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. But the book of stories that includes it was not within my reach, until randomly this edition fell into my hands.

In this short story, the author presents us with a festival full of colors, in which the people who live in Omelas find everything that can make them happy. In Omelas there is no suffering, no needs, everything you want you can have it. But not without cost, since for all this to be possible, a boy or girl must suffer for all the others.

This story has a message behind it that is not easy to deal with. And it is that to the question of Can the extreme suffering of someone in favor of the common good be lawful? the answer seems easy but it is not. We all want to think that we would act in a certain way in this situation, but at the moment of truth, would we be capable of sacrificing the happiness of an entire society for a single person, who obviously could no longer be happy outside of that confinement?

This edition that I have read, from Nordic books, is really good. It comes in a hardcover, with a stiff but non-glossy paper (not leaving fingerprints is always a good thing) and with a large number of illustrations, which make it stand out as a good buy for the shelf. For example, a button up this comment ⬆
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,097 reviews17.7k followers
April 22, 2020
I stand by my opinion that this is the most brilliant short story ever written. This is a powerful story of doing what's right, even for one person. Of the human need for better. Of the human need to BE better.

I know everyone's obsessing over The Egg right now, but this short story is the same length (four pages) and deserves some love as well. Go read it here.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,107 followers
December 4, 2022
Whether you think I'm reading this just in time for the holidays or because you might think that this story might be one custom-designed for our modern world, I'll leave it up to you.

Let us just say that this is the ultimate test of our ethics, distilled down to the bare necessities and presented in such a way that there is no value judgment.

If you could have a near-perfect society where everyone is cared for and is happy, for the cost of the abuse of one child, would you maintain it or walk away?

Let's look at our world. There is lots of abuse and systematic abuse at that, within all walks of life and across any kind of line we care to draw. Very little is being done to stop any of it.

I think we've collectively agreed to maintain Omelas, and cheaply, too, because we get very little out of it.

If you ask me why I would point to the holidays, then I'll ask a certain subset of you this: if the abuse of one man redeems the rest, then what, exactly, does that mean to a Christian? Oh, sweet baby Jesus..
Profile Image for Alex ☣ Deranged KittyCat ☣.
651 reviews407 followers
December 19, 2017
You can read this short story here or listen to it on YouTube.

I want to believe I would walk away from Omelas. And you know what? I'm a hypocrite. I would not feel so outraged should it all happen to an adult. But to a child? "I will be good," it says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" Why a child? Child abuse always gets to me.

And why this sacrifice? Who made this rule? Symbolism be damned, I want this child freed because i know about him/her. I despise the people of Omelas for accepting what is done to the child.

I cannot give more than 3 stars because of how I feel. I understand that my strong feelings mean this short story is extremely good. And yet I hate it passionately.
Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews139 followers
October 17, 2021
/Updated and extended after reread in 2020

Synopsis: The seaside city Omelas is a blissful and heavenly utopia: people are happy, there is no violence, or terror, things are good, The Festival of Summer is running. But the easy living comes with a price: one single child is put away in a cellar, getting no attention at all, and lives a miserable life. Everyone in Omelas knows about this sacrifice, but if anybody would care for the child, the utopia would be destroyed by some unknown force. Most people live with this misery swept under the carpet. And then, there are those who cannot stand it, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Review: This story is no story, it has no plot, no main character, it is a critique of (American) moral life. It describes in vivid descriptions a philosophical concept which is an extension of William James's essay The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life (or Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov): a utopia which relies on the suffering of a single person can only be wrong.

The title concentrates on (one form of) the logical consequence that morale persons would take. It can be understood as an argument against utilitarianism. For Trekkies, there is Spock's often cited "Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." (cf. Wrath of Khan). Or read it as a parable of first world exploitation of poorer countries: Think about all the children workers in the Lithium mines of D.R. Kongo just to get you a nice cellphone.

To add a grain of salt to the story, Le Guin put in some of her political topics to this utopian vision - she adds free sex, and religion without temples or clergy:

"I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate."

There are also drugs,

"which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcana and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond all belief; and it is not habit-forming"

Though it doesn't work as a short story at all, it resonates - far better because easier accessible than James's complicate philosophical essay. Would you walk away? Or take the easy path and stay? Those are the two answers induced by Le Guin directly. Since my first reads, I've learned that this story is heavily treated in U.S. schools and universities and thus is the best known story of Le Guin to a broader audience. Thus, third choices have been found, and brilliant author N.K. Jemisin is not the only one to say: Let's stay and fix it (cf. her story "The Ones Who Stay and Fight").

One small, but interesting side fact is the question of the origins of the word "Omelas" - Le Guin read beackwards a road sign 'Salem (Oregon)' - an hours drive away from her home Portland in Oregon; yes, the same town invaded by military police these days. There you have one of several connections to our times. But it can also be read differently: "Homme helas", the Greek human. Jemisin turned that to Um-Helat in her answer to Le Guin's story.

In my last review, written in 2017, I noted the following: "I'm pretty sure that nowadays it wouldn't win the puppy polluted Hugo Awards like it did in 1974. Where people back in the 1970s in a different mind set than now?" Now, in 2020, I have more hope - the puppies are mostly gone, the pendulum swung to the other extreme of voting for diversity.

The story is just as relevant as ever - back in 1975, Le Guin expressed in her introduction to the story

"The dilemma of the American conscience can hardly be better stated."

With all the #BlackLiveMatters of our days, this still holds. Not only in the U.S.A., but also in Europe and everywhere else.
Profile Image for nastya .
450 reviews290 followers
January 18, 2023
This might be a perfect little philosophical story that gives no answers, just asks questions. And your interpretation and answer will change through your life with experience.
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