Far away is the utopian city of Omelas, where the locals are getting ready to celebrate a festival. The people's joy is untainted for children and adults alike as they enjoy music, horse-riding, and feasts. Yet, despite this (apparently) complete happiness, the narrator repeatedly tells the reader that these people aren't any simpler or more naive than those who live in other places. Eventually the reason for such prosperity and contentment is revealed...The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
is a Meta Fiction
by Ursula K. Le Guin
, written in 1973.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas contains examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending: The last few paragraphs focuses on those who leave the city, disgusted with its "Utopia Justifies the Means" attitude, while the city itself continues as before, but there is a note of hope in regards to what the ones who walk away may be heading for.
- Crapsaccharine World: Downplayed. Omelas genuinely is a Utopia, but one whose existence relies on a continually-sustained act of unspeakable barbarity towards an innocent.
- Devil's Advocate: At one point, the Narrator takes on that role. Aside from The Needs of the Many and Utopia Justifies the Means arguments it presents, it also proposes that since the forsaken child is so traumatized as to be irrevocably brain-damaged, perhaps there's no reason not to extend its suffering as long as possible to save someone else from the same fate.
- Fate Worse than Death: Being chosen to be the one child on whose suffering the city is founded.
- Free-Love Future: The narrator suggests that, if the reader thinks this would be ideal, then Omelas has this kind of society.
- Good Is Not Dumb: The narrator emphasizes that the happiness of the people of Omelas doesn't make them stupid or naive.
- Inherent in the System: In order for Omelas to run properly, one child must be kept in absolute misery.
- Lemony Narrator: The story is written as the Narrator having a conversation with the reader. The Narrator asks philosophical and rhetorical questions of the reader at several points.
- Meta Fiction: The narrator speaks directly to the reader, even insisting that they cannot properly describe Omelas in all its glory.
- The Needs of the Many: The entire basis for the story is more-or-less an exploration of this trope.
- Perfect Pacifist People: The people of Omelas, the narrator muses, have no need for soldiers.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child.
- Sdrawkcab Name: Word of God says that Omelas was named by spelling Salem, O[regon] backwards.
- Title Drop: The very last line, in reference to those people who refused to continue living in a city based on... that.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Subverted, possibly. It doesn't seem to actually be a secret to anyone except the reader and the very young inhabitants.
- Utopia: Omelas is this. Subverted in that some of its inhabitants decide, once they know its secret, that it isn't worth it.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: We learn that a young child is severely mistreated in order for everyone else to be happy.
- Arguably a partial subversion: the narration never quite makes clear if the suffering child is really necessary or not, merely that we the readers would never believe the story if not for that element. Which also makes it a bit of a Take That, Audience! for being unwilling to accept that Utopia could actually exist without a price.
- Was It Really Worth It?: Everyone in Omelas must face this question. After seeing the suffering child, some people can't bear living in Omelas anymore and walk away.