The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

By Ursula K. Le Guin

This is one of the most profound stories I have ever read. It does a lot in five pages. I read it first in 2006, and it has stayed with me ever since. Le Guin creates a city called Omelas, a place were people are very happy. But, although they were incredibly happy, they were not simple:

They were no less complex than us. 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.”

She describes this beautiful city of joy and then asks her readers: Do you believe?

She decides that we can’t yet believe, not without one more detail of the life in Omelas.

What she then describes is what I found so incredibly profound because at first the whole story seems like pure fantasy, but after further consideration, it struck me that the second part of the story (be warned this is only my interpretation) accurately describes what is happening to the animals on this planet (other than humans). It struck me so forcefully and so completely.  And so sadly. I doubt that Ursula meant for me to take it that way, but once the idea formed in my mind, it’s been unshakable.

“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…”

The end of the story seems to leave us with a choice.

What a fantastic job Ursula has done.

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