The story ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ addresses the fundamental dilemma of deontological v. utilitarian ethics. Deontological ethics holds that a person should act morally irrespective of the consequences, while utilitarian ethics believes that beneficial consequences justify any action necessary to achieve such consequences. The central conflict of the story is whether it’s justified ‘to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one.’
The story focuses on people’s acceptance of the fact that their happiness means pain and suffering for someone else. The writer shows how people reflect on this issue and ultimately come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to change anything in this world. However, it’s also suggested that their happiness, love and joy all stem from their knowledge of the imbecile boy locked in one of the cellars.
All the descriptions in the story are very true-to-life and visionary at the same time. At the beginning of the narrative, the author presents the city of Omelas in a very favorable light. The reader feels like being present at the colorful fair, breathing warm and fresh air full of the smell of delicious food being cooked. By the point Le Guin makes her point, the reader falls in love with the utopian city. This psychological ploy is necessary to make the reader think for himself or herself: is it acceptable to base the happiness of the masses on the suffering of one citizen? If the reader’s answer were negative, s/he would join those who walk away from Omelas in search of a place more just and perfect than the beautiful utopian town.
Questions: 1) Taking into account that there is implicit criticism of our world present in the story, would the author prefer the reality to the world of Omelas?
2) Why does the author refer to the fact that some people walk away from Omelas as to ‘quite incredible’?
3) What, in your opinion, happens to the people who leave Omelas? Are any of them coming back?