The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
|"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"|
First book edition
|Author||Ursula K. Le Guin|
|Published in||New Dimensions, volume 3|
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a 1973 short story by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a philosophical parable with a sparse plot featuring bare and abstract descriptions of characters; the city of Omelas is the primary focus of the narrative.
Le Guin's story was originally published in New Dimensions 3, a hard-cover science fiction anthology edited by Robert Silverberg, in October 1973. It was reprinted in Le Guin's The Wind's Twelve Quarters in 1975, and has been frequently anthologized elsewhere.
It has also appeared as an independently published, 31-page hardcover book for young adults in 1993.
In the story, Omelas is a utopian city of happiness and delight, whose inhabitants are intelligent and cultured. Everything about Omelas is pleasing, except for the city's one atrocity: the good fortune of Omelas requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness and misery, and that all her citizens should be told of this upon coming of age.
After being exposed to the truth, most of the people of Omelas are initially shocked and disgusted, but are ultimately able to come to terms with the fact and resolve to live their lives in such a manner as to make the suffering of the unfortunate child acceptable. However, a few citizens, young and old, silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go. The story ends with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."
Background and themes
"The central idea of this psychomyth, the scapegoat", writes Le Guin, "turns up in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and several people have asked me, rather suspiciously, why I gave the credit to William James. The fact is, I haven't been able to re-read Dostoyevsky, much as I loved him, since I was twenty-five, and I'd simply forgotten he used the idea. But when I met it in James' 'The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,' it was with a shock of recognition."
The quote from William James is:
- Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
Le Guin hit upon the name of the town on seeing a road sign for Salem, Oregon, in a car mirror. "[… People ask me] 'Where do you get your ideas from, Ms. Le Guin?' From forgetting Dostoyevsky and reading road signs backwards, naturally. Where else?"
- Spivack, Charlotte, Ursula K. Le Guin, (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984), page 159.
- "Locus Awards Nominee List". The Locus Index to SF Awards. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
- "1974 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
- Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Bibliography: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
- Le Guin, Ursula K. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Creative Education, 1993. ISBN 9780886825010
- Kennedy, X.J., and Dana Gioia (ed.): An Introduction to Fiction, 8th ed., page 274. Longman, 2004. ISBN 0-321-08531-0.
- James, William. "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life". April 1891.
- Bloom, Harold, ed. (1986). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). New York, NY: Chelsea House. ISBN 0-87754-659-2.
- Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2.
- Le Guin, Ursula (1975). The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1st ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-012562-4.
- Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-7393-2.