“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”: An Introspective

The 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” stayed in my mind for weeks after reading it. *Spoilers for the story ahead*

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas: An Introspective

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is a short story by American novelist Ursula K. le Guin. Originally published in 1973, the story centers around the summer festival in the idyllic and utopian city of Omelas. However, as the story progresses, the reader learns that the idyllic nature of the city depends on the perpetual misery of a single child.

I first heard of the story when I learned of popular video-essayist and author Lindsay Ellis’s departure from the internet. She made one last video, a farewell video of sorts, available only to her Patreon members.  Ellis titled the video “Walking Away From Omelas”. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I decided to google it. And that search led me to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The premise immediately intrigued me.

I didn’t read the book immediately, in fact, I waited about a week, but I kept thinking about that synopsis. Eventually, I did pick up the book. It was a rainy day, and I thought that settling in with a cup of tea would be the perfect way to spend it. The book is only 20 pages, so it didn’t take me long to finish it. And I loved it.

The Story

The book begins by describing the summer festival in the idyllic city of Omelas. Le Guin describes the gorgeous weather, the happy people, the picturesque activities. However, Le Guin emphasizes that the people aren’t angelic, goody-goodies. They aren’t that different from us. Le Guin’s descriptions are somehow both vague and detailed, and expertly paint the picture of this world. It is then revealed that the utopian nature of the city has a disturbing catalyst. The happiness and utopia of Omelas are dependent on the continual misery and torture of one small child. Le Guin goes on to describe the child, and the misery it endures in the small, damp basement it lives in. We then learn that when the people of Omelas are young, they learn about the existence of the child. At first, the children are outraged and want to help the child. But eventually, most learn to accept the existence of the child. But some never move on. Some choose to leave, And they are the ones who walk away from Omelas.

My Thoughts

I thought this short story was amazing. It was beautifully written, and the world-building was outstanding. But beyond all that, I enjoyed the book because of how much it made me think. There are lots of different opinions about what the child in Omelas is a metaphor for. Some believe that it’s talking about anti-nationalism, or that the story is representing the ethical theory of utilitarianism. Others believe the child is simply a metaphor for injustice within our society. Therefore, to “walk away from Omelas” is to walk away from a system you believe to be unfair. It’s to take the risk of leaving that happiness behind in pursuit of a place where they can live without guilt. Walking away from Omelas is an irreversible decision, both within the story and applied to whatever meaning you choose to assign to Omelas. You can read the story here.