Review – The ones who walk away from Omelas

Tho ones who walk away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published: October 1973
Genre: Short stories, fantasy, fiction
Pages: 32

The ones who walk away from Omelas is a short story that raises questions that make you think and it allows for you to make up your own ideas and answers to the questions that it raises. There are no right or wrong answers, only how and what it makes you feel about the questions.

I think we have all heard or come by the question “Is a thousand joy’s worth a single pain?” before, or some version of it at least. In the story “Omelas” is a place where the people are filled with joy and happiness. The interpretation of what that happiness is, is up to us. We create our own ideas and the story only gives us suggestions to what it may be, but it’s up to our hearts to define. 

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“Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all” the author writes.

We create our own ideas and the story only gives us suggestions to what it may be, but it’s up to our hearts to define. The catch is (cause there’s always a catch right?) that hidden in the midst of all this happiness is a small child, locked in a small place screaming in pain and suffering. The happy people of Omelas know of this child and its suffering, but releasing the child would destroy the balance of Omelas and be the end of eternal bliss. Those are the terms. How do you feel about that?

“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. 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.”

Then there are the ones that walk away from Omelas. Why they suddenly decide to leave or where they go, we cannot know or begin to understand. They just up and leave, through the gates across the fields, always alone, they go.

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I’d like to think that I am the kind of person that would walk away from Omelas. That I would not sit idly by and let an innocent bear pain for my happiness. But is this realistic in our own circumstances and the unfair divide in our world? Is this a sacrifice I am willing to give when it’s no longer hypothetical? In a crisis situation, I’d like to think that I am capable of that, but the reality of daily life doesn’t allow for this kind of sacrifice without me coming off as some kind of  martyr.

I also saw Omelas as a whole, not as a city but as a person. And each person in omelas is a feeling within us. Some we are more aware of than others and our pain or locked up traumas are absolutely necessary to have marker to measure our happiness. For how can we know if we are happy if we have not any sadness to compare it to? We need a scale of some sort to weigh our feelings.

And some memories, feelings or thoughts leave us, for no apparent reason. That’s just how we work.

“But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

I loved this story and how it made me think. If you want to open your mind and release some thoughts you’ve come to the right place, but be aware that there are no answers to be found here.

I was brought here by BTS, yes you read that right, the korean boyband encourages reading with their music and videos. Their music video “Spring day” pays homage to the book and they’ve added some extra cryptic material for further reflection and theories to flourish. It’s definitely worth a watch!

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