Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” begins on an extremely positive note. The prose, written with such lucidity and depth, took me right into the sun soaked streets of Omelas. I heard the clamour of bells; saw the soaring swallows and the people heading to the summer festival. It was nothing but a delight for my senses as a reader, this utopian place. This is the first section of society. Soon however, with as deftness as possible, it plunged me into the hidden underlining of the town as well as the story. It didn’t take me long before I realized that something was amiss.
“In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room,” dirt ridden, with nothing but a locked door and a child. The writer tells me that the prosperity of Omelas rests on the misery of this deprived child. That’s when I knew there was something rotten in that society. It reeked of utilitarianism. The very fact that majority of the people in Omelas believe in this notion was disconcerting. What was even more shocking was that some of the people went to see the child and understood why it was there but there also were some who merely knew it existed but didn’t understand why. It is like following the societal norms like sheep in a herd.
Blind faith. I wondered why was it so. Perhaps because they were conditioned to believe in it from childhood? It also tells us that despite being in this misery, the child remembers what it was like to live a normal life. Which makes the pain even more potent. The child represents the second section of the society. However, there is also the third section. At times, when some people who go to visit the child, they are struck by the injustice of it all. They are ready to forsake their prosperity and break free from the grinding, almost curse like life of Omelas. But as with every society, those who go against the norms are thrown out of it like flies from milk.
As the writer says, “They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness.” I believe the greater question here is that if we believe that there is something wrong in the society, we must not get out of it. That is not the solution. We must justify defying it so that everyone understands why it is wrong and never repeats it again in the future. What I also learnt was that a single person can not change the world. But if we all try together, that is when the world is worth changing for.