The Society of People High on Happiness and Contentment in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, a Short Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
In the story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, it discusses about a society of people where everything is all about happiness and contentment. This imaginary society is so perfect but yet it all relies on the torment of one child that is seen as ugly to their society. Without him present up, these people in Omelas can live their days of infinite happiness. The child in the story is used as a symbol with a strong message to make us realize that in today’s society people mostly care about their own happiness even if it includes the misfortunes of others.
Throughout the entire story, the symbolic use of the scapegoat is to make the reader come to a realization of what society is like today. The fact that children were being sacrificed to maintain the happiness of the community shows the terrible reality of the society we are part of. Le Quin was inspired in the statement “One could not accept happiness shared with millions if the condition of that happiness were the s suffering of a lonely soul” (James). How can people be happy while others are suffering? In our society, this would be considered as the old philosophy of “Survival of the fittest” Most of the times, we become aware of injustice but there is only little what we can do about it. Probably we could just think about it, and feel bad but there is very little action that is taken to change this. The ones who try to make a change are pushed away by their own society.
Le Guin wrote that her story states “the dilemma of the American conscience”, she probably was thinking specifically in the real situation within the American Economic System. When it comes to rich people, they get the better end of profit within this economic system. For example, rich people earn about a million times more money than most of their employees. This can lead to the conclusion that the less wealthy are those who often share less than of the Americans wealth, as well as attending poorer schools than the average upper – class Americans due to the economic structure that is established for the rich and the poor.
The message within the story demonstrates that the society in Omelas is no different as to the one we are currently living now. Le Guin’s mission within this short story was to “less to imagine alien cultures than to explore humanity” (Gioia 208). This means that she made a pretend society that shares the cruel rationality of our own. Even though they don’t have many resources, they still manage to maintain an ugly demeanor towards this “mission” to create a perfect, stress-free and happy society at the cost of enslaving a young child in a dark room. Le Guin’s message is plain and simple, which is that no matter how far we go to create a perfect society, it will always have an ugly side to it.
Being a white woman writing in the modern United States, she might be seriously conscious of the racial discrimination surrounding her. On the other hand, African Americans were leaving in totally opposite conditions. Black Americans were frequently discriminated through American history. African Americans poverty and imprisonment have been extremely higher than white Americans. “While America has been a Utopic land of plenty for many rich whites, it has been a world of pain for many African Americans who have been murdered, lynched, discriminated against, or excluded from middle- class America.” (Hill).
This is a real situation in our society where “the moral accountability of a society for which the happiness of the majority rests on the abject misery of a powerless few” (Sobeloff).This is the way how our society works there is a lot of people who will just accept society just the way it is with injustice it does not matter for them just as long as they are happy. In the story we have a clear example of how selfish and cruel those in society can be when it comes to their own fortunes. They would not like to change their situation because it will, mean the ending of their own happiness.
As we further journey into this story, we begin to realize that if this miserable child is receiving such horrible treatment from Omelas, then that would mean that all other children could face the same fate. It’s as if this child is a black sheep in a family made to be perfect without any flaws whatsoever. One can look at this child in the story and look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what society is trying to get out of them. Some of us could be the most successful in life or following down the wrong path to our self-destruction. At the end of the day, it won’t matter because if society thinks that you’re poison to them then you might as well join that young boy in that dark room to spend your days just to satisfy certain needs to society. If that is what it boils down to, then for some of us that feel ugly and useless in a brutal society then you’ll just end up in a dark room in your world.
The purpose of the story is not only to show how society has become so brutalized in its attempt to be perfect but it shows us that gaining perfection is not needed for society to be stable. From the moment we are born, we think that we live in a perfect world filled with joy by our parents. As we grow up though, that joy created by our parents of this “perfect” world that we supposedly live in is suddenly crushed when society’s true colors begin to show. This would lead to confusion for the young girl/boy who thought that this world was a perfect place to live, which isn’t the case now. After much time of being revealed to the reality that we live in, these young boys and girls begin to accept society for their own and just go with the flow. As hard as it is to believe, when one really looks at it, maybe a sense of corruption is needed in order to balance out the good and evil of life.
If this world was so perfect, then it would be just as destructive as a society filled with corruption. The reason I say is because it would become a bigger issue to prevent any flaw from entering this world. The boy in this story is a prime example of what we would be sacrificing in order to keep a society pure and perfect. Le Guin describes the boy as “…feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition and neglect” (Gioia 211). A place like Omelas that would sacrifice children and lock them away to never see the outdoors just to keep a “happy and pure” atmosphere is somewhere that should never exist. This sense of urgency to create a society only built on seeing the bright side of things in life is all fine and dandy but when you have to sacrifice a human being, let alone a child, just to make sure that there are no imperfections in this society is just inhuman.
We can fight this off all we want but at the end of the day, the hunger for perfection will always appear no matter how much we don’t want it. The fact remains that just as the boy was imprisoned by the people of Omelas for the sake of perfection is almost the same as our modern society tries to attempt at making this world a better one. There is no such thing as perfection in this world no matter how much people tend to argue on the issue. However, if an opportunity presented itself that there was a way to make this world perfect at the cost of enslaving a lost soul, some wouldn’t hesitate to do so which is what the citizens of Omelas did for their “happy” society. This demonstrates that some people live with a “survival of the fittest” savage type mentality as well as selfishness. People now in days would take any shortcuts needed to make their world perfect and this is part of the world we live in today. All of this just to obtain perfection is a manifestation of how our modern society is driven out of the absolute power they wish to gain one day.
Part of the injustice that this child received by the people of Omelas also shows an example of how people can be so quick to judge people based on appearance. The fact that the boy became weak minded after so much time of being imprisoned in that dark room was all thanks to the manipulation that Omelas did upon him. As I expressed earlier, he felt as though he was a black sheep but to be more specific, he was more like poison to them. Being so quick to judge this child, they made him feel so inferior to life itself. It was to the point where they even locked him away at the chance of people of Omelas and their civilization to be perfectly stable. This leads us to question ourselves of how much are we willing to give up for a belief that there is a way of perfection in the world.
When this story is fully read, the readers will understand why the title of this story is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. The ones who walk away are the same people who go to visit the boy in the dark room. After they visit this boy, they walk far, far away from Omelas and never to return. This shows that these same people that walk out on Omelas are those who are fed up with the treatment of this boy. They also walk out since their entire society is based off of his misery and they didn’t wish to live in a town where they promote locking up lost souls just to maintain “perfection”.
Overall, what is to be understood from this story is that society should never be perfect nor should it be improved by the sacrificing of a lost soul. If we tend to judge people by appearance and taunt them, it would just make ourselves look ugly while they feel beautiful. However, there are some people with low self-esteem that could think they are inferior and the taunting would only make it worse. We should not be a society full of bullies to those who do not fit in because they are just as human as we are. Le Guin probably chose this title for the story to demonstrate that we are not the same as individuals and those who walk away are the people that stand out. In conclusion, if everyone in a society must be the same and not be different then maybe we should be the ones who stand out just like the ones who walk away from Omelas.
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