*This post was written and inspired by one of my Composition II assignments. You can read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin by clicking on the link.
The seemingly happy city of Omelas depends on one horrible thing: the suffering of an individual. As the city gathers together to celebrate their annual Summer Festival, below the city is a child that is locked away. At one point or another, citizens learn about the truth of the miserable child. When they do, they can decide how they respond but most continue to go on with their day. This ugly flaw of Omelas is that the citizen’s happiness lies on the hidden truth (a tragic secret). To live in a peaceful and seemingly perfect town just to discover that a child is held hostage in a basement closet, living in poor conditions, shatters the ideal image of the town. The society’s principles of happiness are founded on the suffering of another human being. The short story allows you to morph your perspective in order to dive into a deep thought: can happiness exist without the extreme opposite? How do the two emotions relate? Since the child has once experienced happiness of his or her own at one point, the child can reference the difference between happiness and suffering. You can compare and contrast the city above celebrating merrily, to the child below that is alone in misery. Those celebrating the festival are all aware of what their foundation is build on. The citizens can turn a blind eye and accept the cruel reality or the can reject Omelas and walk away.
It is revealed that the citizens of Omelas learn about the truth of the child being locked away. No one does anything to help the child despite learning the truth. I think it is important that people are aware of the child’s imprisonment and misery because the story is written to make the reader question their own society. Wherever we look, there are always flaws or injustice in society, or life in general. When you think about politics, even religion, and any form of organization you will find cracks in the foundation. There is always an imbalance. In the 2001 movie Vanilla Sky, a quote forever stuck with me: “Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.” What that means is that you cannot appreciate one extreme without knowing the other. Sweet isn’t sweet unless you have had sour. Though this does not ever justify the horrible treatment of the child, I believe the narrator is asking the reader to relate to this symbol. The society as a whole collectively neglects the child by doing nothing because they know they are powerless when it comes to changing the foundation of Omelas. If the citizens didn’t know the truth, the story would have a different meaning. In this 1973 short story, the child exists symbolically.
The child represents the elephant in the room, in many situations. For example, our healthcare system is one flaw in our society. Many people enjoy their privilege to have healthcare while others don’t have the luxury of healthcare. Does half of the nation truly not care about the suffering of so many individuals that cannot afford to seek medical care? Do people truly feel nothing knowing that others cannot afford his or her marked up prescriptions that keep them alive? Not affording insulin, for example, can cause a patient to ration their medication and risk death. I don’t believe that these people are truly evil, but I believe that they don’t want their happiness to be affected in order to save others from the misery that is reality. In a way, those with health insurance justify and turn a blind eye just like the citizens of Omelas. If we were to have healthcare for all, the fairness and even grounds would perhaps not be as comfortable to some, thus leaving them to prefer that others live uncomfortably. Those who are chronically ill, not poor enough or rich enough, or have preexisting health conditions are like the child locked in the basement.
I do believe those who walk away from the good life in Omelas are brave. Those who walk away are making a stand and rejecting their society. Those who walk away give the child a fighting chance. If only everyone were to walk away from the norm, a change could ensue. Though people feel powerless and limited when it comes to using their voice, they are not. As we approach the upcoming election, I am reminded that so many people believe their one single vote doesn’t matter. It does. Even in the past few elections, votes were so close in numbers that they were required to be recounted. What if those who thought their vote didn’t matter actually did vote? In 2016, only 6 in 10 eligible voters voted (NPR). Just think about how drastically the results could have changed if everyone voted. I feel as though changes rarely happen because people are complacent and don’t believe they can create change. Change comes from those who make a stand. Think about Rosa Parks. Had she surrendered her seat to a white man, that pivotal moment in society may not have started an important movement.
The child represents the relation of how the emotions intertwine: happiness and suffering. The narrator had a great vision to tell a story that made the reader think. I do believe the story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a great story worth reading because it relates to our own society. The reality is that many of us accept horrible and unjust situations because the rest of society does. Think about it: What are you personally doing about sex trafficking right now? What have you personally done to make a difference in child hunger, the opioid epidemic, child poverty, domestic violence, or the mental health crisis? Many of us sit back and go on with everyday life, looking away from the ugly truth. Enjoy your television shows, air conditioning and warm pizza while knowing that so many in the world are suffering. If you don’t want to be like a citizen of Omelas, eating your corndog at the fair, then stop going to the fair and find a way to help the child prisoners of the world. If each and every one of us took a position on an important matter, actively raised awareness, found supporters, and demanded a change, the world might be a little bit better.
NPR. (2020). Source from United States Election Project; ballot results from the Associated Press elections API. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2018/09/10/645223716/on-the-sidelines-of-democracy-exploring-why-so-many-americans-dont-vote