The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a very short story- only about 4 pages- by the well-known and well-loved author of The Earthsea Trilogy and The Left Hand of Darkness. It is intriguing and disturbing, and raises questions that maybe we don’t want to think about.
I won’t say too much about the story because it is short and it would be too easy to give the entire thing away. There is a city, Omelas. In this city, everyone is successful and wants for nothing. Everyone is happy and content. Well, perhaps not everyone. Because, as always, there is a price for unending happiness and prosperity. Everyone knows what that price is, and most accept it. But for some, the price is too high and if they cannot change Omelas, then they change themselves. These are the ones who walk away from Omelas.
But the questions don’t end there. This is, in many ways, a morality tale. The language is distant and almost clinical, and sets up a stark contrast to the utopia being described. As the story goes along, the impersonal tone becomes the neutral voice, neither condoning nor condemning the price being exacted for the continuing utopia. It merely states the facts, and leaves the decision to those who stay and those who walk away. And that includes the reader: do you stay and accept or walk away in protest? Is walking away enough, knowing that suffering continues?
LeGuin packs a lot into these short pages. This is a quick read, but one that will stay with you.
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