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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: Essay Review

Hallo and guten tag from my new home in Bavaria, Germany. I’ve recently started my master’s program in Philosophy & Economics after a year of planning and preparation. (Preparation as in me just eating at all the restaurants and the food I knew I would miss.) While I am certainly obliged to spend much of my time reading for my courses here, I have no desire to curb my personal reading endeavors.

With that being said, I might not have the time to read Dostoevsky-length novels, so I choose the shorter books on my shelf whenever possible. And essays? The more the merrier.

Enter: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Guin

Packing a punch in under 5 pages, Ursula Guin endows us with a philosophical critique on one aspect of humanity’s existential crisis. Walking us through the governance of a small town called Omelas, we learn that the happiness of the town is dependent upon a child’s suffering. He is interminably locked in a basement with nothing but himself and his sorrows. Each citizen ought to visit the child as a rite of passage to understand why everyone in the town experiences continuous happiness.

We are left to contemplate whether happiness can exist without the subconscious certainty of known suffering.

The author also begs us to consider why in our reality, happiness is seen as uncouth, unsophisticated, and even borderline ignorant, while melancholy is an inherent malady of intellectuals. Is ignorance the only way to achieve bliss?

This is simply to say, I would recommend the essay. The pdf formatting can be found online by searching the title.

Do you believe happiness is only attainable because we understand immense suffering exists in the world? Is happiness a form of ignorance?

I’d love to hear your thoughts below, I am a philosophy student after all.

Written by E.L. Jayne

6 thoughts on “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: Essay Review

  1. I read somewhere once that happiness and joy are a state of mind. That we are looking outward and external stimulation to be joyful and happy. But by changing our state of mind ( being grateful even for the things we take for granted, that we are healthy, have clean water, food on our table, roof above our head etc) we can work on that state of mind. But all that said, it is easier said then done. We have been programmed to look external for so long, so changing that will take time. It is like a muscle and we have to work on that conscience-muscle everyday ( even every minute when we catch ourselves searching outward) What about you? What do you think?

  2. I haven’t read that short story in particular, but I’ve read a couple of her novels, and I’d absolutely recommend reading…anything by her, especially if you’re interested in philosophy.

      1. I’m very sorry-I totally lunched out on replying there. I guess “The Left Hand of Darkness” is the most famous one she wrote. The other ones I’ve read (and which I would highly recommend) are: “Rocannon’s World”, “Planet of Exile”, and “City of Illusions”. They all belong to the same setting-the so-called “Hainish Cycle”, but I have no idea of the order in which they should be read, if there is one.

  3. I haven’t the foggiest notion of what produces happiness, and the word itself is a little slippery.

    But I do think an APPRECIATION for what we might call contentment or happiness likely needs an experience of suffering to understand its absence.

  4. I remember reading this story in one of my English classes in college. What I took from it was that we need to be aware that sometimes our sources of pleasure may be others’ sources of pain. In America, we are often unaware or unsympathetic to how our common amenities (cellphones, cars, and myriad other “things”) come at a great cost to developing nations. What we simply enjoy may mean others go without because we have the economic means to pay for it. I don’t know if you had read that “Omelas” is Salem O (Oregon) backward. Le Guin wrote somewhere that she was looking for inspiration for a title and saw a sign in her rear-view mirror while leaving Salem. I found the story intriguing on many levels. There’s quite an ethical undertone throughout the story. Great post.

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