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Book Review: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

There is a longing to understand what needs to be saved and what not. The need to save someone by sacrificing some people has been an essential part of human history and has been going on for a very long time.

The understanding of what is ethically correct when trying to save a bunch of people by sacrificing a certain part of the society is rooted in a larger part of certain societies from the caste system in India to the blacks in America. The cases are more than ever and the morality and ethics of understanding and doing these acts showcases the true nature of humanity and its suffering.

This short story by Ursula K. Le Guin is one wonderful but terrifying exploration of utopia and the ethical dilemma.

Omelas is a beautiful city where everyone is happy and everything is perfect. The narrator takes care to remind us that this is a modern city, not Arcadian: the point is not how they are happy, and thus how we can be happy like the people of Omelas, but rather that they are happy despite living in a city which is remarkably like ours.

The narrator’s descriptions are wonderful, something straight out of a children’s classic, but there is also suspicion. This suspicion is affirmed when the narrator tells us of a small boy suffering in a basement under the city — a boy that every civilian knows exists and whose suffering means that everyone else can be happy.

The dilemma arises when some civilians start to question what is the right thing to do. To leave the beautiful city to find a place somewhere else and be free of the guilt or live where they are knowing that their happiness is a cause of suffering for a child.

This short story raises so many important questions about utopia, bystanders, social responsibility and, most interestingly, the human capacity for goodness.

I do think it also raises a version of the Trolley Problem (utilitarianism) — would you make one suffer to ensure the happiness of an entire city?

By Samyak

Russian melancholy/Derek Parfit/Doris Lessing/B.R. Ambedkar/Franz Kafka/Sol Lewitt/every film by Satoshi Kon/poetry + writing + a lot of other things.

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