A Moral Dilemma In The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas By Ursula Le Guin
The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas, written by Ursula Le Guin is an iconic piece of literature. This short story is about a “perfect” society that guarantees happiness for all of its citizens, but only at the cost of a child suffering. As a reader, one can get lost in the vivid details. For example, the narrator states, “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. ” Which then leads to a predicament, a moral predicament at that, one that questions the worth of humanity, society, and happiness. Furthermore, the happiness of one, in comparison to the happiness of many. Guin, uses symbolism in this story to communicate the city’s past and present issue at hand. The child serves as a symbol, a symbol of moral dilemma. When analyzed, this short story tests different ethical theories such as Utilitarianism, Categorical Imperative and Hypothetical Imperative.
If I were a citizen of Omelas I would do everything in my power to help the child escape the miserable life it was forced into. To know that a child younger than my little brother, suffering alone in a dark room, sitting in it’s waste, with little to no human interaction, would make me feel like a monster. I can only imagine the pain of the child and its parents. I would choose to follow the categorical imperative, which is a moral law. A categorical imperative implies doing the right thing regardless of the consequences that await. I feel that I have a civic duty to do the right thing and help the child escape. It is almost like the “golden rule”. To treat others they way that you wished to be treated. I know that I would not want to be mistreated and stuck in a broom closet, so I would not want anyone else to experience that.
If the city operates off of inhumane treatment of a living creature, does that mean it must be a human? If we look closely, the child is living and responsive, just like an animal. Now, we do know that animals have the same, if not, similar capabilities and there is an abundance of food. So, what if I replaced the child for an animal? Since the child is being treated like an animal, it should be an animal they are mistreating. All of the gruesome acts of against the child, which consisted of malnutrition, emotional abuse and physical abuse could be done to an animal. A child’s life is considered more valuable than an animals life. This is only to say because a child can contribute more to society than an animal can. It is not right to let a child experience a life and then rip it away from it, then let it be haunted by the voice of it’s mother and the touch of warm sunlight on it’s skin. These memories are cruel form of torture.
Even when the other children saw the child they were furious at the city for knowling keeping a child locked away against its own will. The children can connect because they child is one of them. As stated in the story, “They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. ” One can conclude that the children felt morally obligated to do the do right thing, not because of a tangible reward or even special recognition, which is the concept of hypothetical imperative. Especially as children, there is not much they can do because they feel powerless, so it is up to the adults that have been aware of the issue to make a change.
In the TEDTalk titled, Fair Trade Cell Phone, by Bandi Mbubi, discusses the brutal behavior that occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to get Tantalum, a heat conductor that is a necessary part in the production of cell phones. He explains that since 1996, men women and children of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been raped, beaten and enslaved in the process of obtaining the Tantalum. This is quite similar to the dilemma in Omelas. In both cases, there is an ultimate goal that guarantees happiness for many people, in Omelas it’s prosperity and for the United States and other major productions countries benefiting from Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s mass production of cell phones. On the contrary, both cases are able to explore other options to meet the same end goal. Specifically in Omelas, there might be a child suffering, but there could be a sort of loophole that is yet to be discovered. The only thing stopping the citizens from exploring other options is their fear of consequences and what they do not know.
Some may say that the consequence for helping the child escape is too great, and would rather walk away from the evil of Omelas. The narrator claims, “If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. ” Instead of facing the possible consequences, many would choose to walk away from the city and accept the child sacrifice. This is an individualist mindset. To leave Omelas, or to even stay in Omelas, is a moral decision. A moral decision to choose yourself, your own happiness over the happiness of the child. Imagine if you had just become a parent, filled with pure joy, ready to teach it all of what life has to offer, then suddenly have your baby ripped away from you to serve as a sacrifice. Would you still enjoy the happiness and prosperity of the city knowing your child is sitting in the basement of a dark closet, living in inhumane conditions? Some might also add that those who choose to walk away are noble acts.
In fact, to leave a city that operates off of a child suffering is just as ethically wrong. Yes, you would not continue feeding into the system, but you would be allowing it to continue. In reference to the film, The True Cost, the film discussed different ways to improve the fashion industry by raising the pay of workers, improving the working facilities, and providing workers with more benefits. But, the underlying goal is to eradicate the fast fashion industry. Similarly, the improving of the fashion industry equates to walking away from Omelas, but eradicating the fast fashion industry would be helping the child break free.
Although the happiness of many may seem like the obvious choice, it some cases it may not be the right choice. The narrator says, “To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed. ” This means that happiness of many may also equate to the guilt of many. Despite the current system of Omelas, the innocent child should not have to receive brutal treatment in order for the other citizens to live in happiness and prosperity.
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