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The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  3,145 ratings  ·  194 reviews
Some inhabitants of a peaceful kingdom cannot tolerate the act of cruelty that underlies its happiness.
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published 1993 by Creative Education, Inc. (first published October 1973)
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Best Short Stories
66th out of 803 books — 622 voters
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Left-wing Science Fiction and Fantasy
20th out of 91 books — 113 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Is the happiness of thousands worth the suffering of a single innocent person? Of one innocent child? Think about that. And hold your loud and resounding and outraged NO! for a minute.

A background - this is what the brilliant Ursula K. Le Guin brings up in her very short 1973 story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. It just a few pages she asks us to conceive of a utopia, a place where everyone enjoys happiness, the lovely place. But for reasons unspecified, the happiness of all others depends...more
mark monday
“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”

In case you need reminding that Le Guin is one of the very best of writers, a person of compassion and anger and intellectual rigor and elegant grace, a person of vision... read this story. It is barely 8...more
To me, this short story offers one of those "open question" scenarios. Apparently it was written in response to Le Guin's reading of the following passage from The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life by William James:

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 t...more
6.0 stars. On my list of "All Time Favorite" short stories and is in the running to be number one. Not so much a story as a narrative description of a fictional town in which everyone lives in complete and total happiness at the expense of one child's abject misery and suffering. As powerful and as emotional a piece of writing as I have ever read in any genre. Find it and read it and I am sure you will agree. This one is amazing. Highest Possible Recommendation.

This classic short story popped up in my feed this evening, and I decided to hunt it down and read it for myself. Gorgeous gut puncher is all I can say. I love a story that can sneak up on you like that and demand from you everything in you to give. It's one of those stories that insinuates itself into your soul, that lingers in the mind.

LeGuin poses the age-old question, does the end ever justify the means? Is the sacrifice of one or few ever worth it if it means protection of the many? Humans...more
Jul 01, 2008 Jude rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jude by: kimi reminded me
It's curious that so many (amazon) reviewers identify so uncritically with those who walk away. I think that is the base-note of the story - and the element that haunts those of us who often witness injustice from a heartsick and ineffectual distance: having enough wit to see wrong but not enough imagination/courage/energy to engage with it, change it.

A friend of mine teaches this story in college. There is a goose-bump moment when one student comprehends why the story is named what it is and w...more
Scribble Orca
This book is an analogy for how we justify enjoying our good fortune obtained though the enforced suffering of others. Whether it is within the circle of your own family, your neighbourhood, your state or your country, there is a chain of events, circumstance, belief and acquiescence which continues to sustain an amoral inequality in our local and global societies. We wouldn't need this book or others like it if reality was different.
Erich Franz Guzmann

What an amazing tale!
I am really glad I read it, (thanks for the recommendation review Stephen) though the imagery and the social and philosophical writing was very heart-wrenching, and/but eye opening indeed, as well.

There are a couple of sites that are offering the eBook version for free in the PDf format and it is short enough that if you have 10-20 minutes to spare, you should definitely give it a shot and let us know what you think, This is one I would not pass up if I were you. I am glad I

I wrote this last year when I read the story with a book group. It's one of the first reviews I wrote, and rather than edit it to improve, I present it here in its flawed state as an early attempt!

Le Guin signals that this is a fable or fairytale by opening with a utopian scene. She unfurls it with the flourish of a carnival, a Festival of Summer that brings out merry mothers, elders in stiff robes, and children whose high calls do no harm. There are horses, colours, ceremonial nakedness, number...more
Crazy, Crazy Stuff !

I stand in awe of the authors who can sketch the multi-dimentional world in few paragraphs. The love and hate, the calm and chaos, the active and passive, the politics and policies, the credo and beliefs, everything wrapped in a dainty package and delivered right at you doorstep. All one has to do is open and decipher it.

In this story Guin tells us of the city Omelas, calmer, happier and more model than any other. But underneath the quiet lies a secret which everyone knows a...more
Omelas's citizens have all the blessings we could imagine and they are cultured and wise but the price of having these good fortunes is one child's misery. A "scapegoat" to take on the "sins" of the city. Similar to the Biblical idea of the Savior taking on the sins of the world.

Though at first appalled at the barbarity of such a bargain, we may begin to realize that in our civilization, though not in such an extreme way, the majority benefits from those who sacrifice to make their lives better....more
I am not one of the ones who walk away from Omelas. How can I possibly, while typing this on my laptop, laying on my bed next to my cell phone and tablet, watching netflix, eating taquitos and basically having a great time. Who suffers for my comfort? Many people, I expect. And that's not going to change if I only get angry about it. I suppose I could be a more informed voter and consumer, but I try to do those things dispassionately and without identifying too strongly with a choice (to make my...more
I hate this. I really hate this story. At first I thought what they were doing to that child was cruel and I would have no part in it. I would be the one who walked away from Omelas. But then I realized the child would still be suffering even if I left. So I decided to go and rescue the child. But if I do that, I would be destroying every other person's happiness and isn't that just as wrong? I was stuck on all decisions, and realized that every action had a consequence. And then I thought, 'Dam...more
Ellie [The Empress]
Feb 18, 2014 Ellie [The Empress] rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone. Enjoying philosophical and moral questions/stories
Recommended to Ellie [The Empress] by: Michele
I listened to this short story on Youtube and the end of it brought tears to my eyes.

The beginning is a little bit slow. It describes an Utopian city of happiness and prosperity. That is until you hear/read about the dark secret that lies in a city's basement. The price the people pay for this Utopia.

This short story, can make you question your moral beliefs. Would you sacrifice (view spoiler) Maybe you think you wouldn't. I hope I wou...more
ძალიან პატარა მოთხრობაა, მაგრამ მნიშვნელოვან მორალურ დილემას ეხმაურება და ღრმა ემოციებს აღძრავს. ვინც ინგლისურად კითხულობთ, ყველას გირჩევთ, რომ წაიკითხოთ. კომენტარში დავდებ ლინკს.
Again, Ursula Le Guin strikes directly to the core, in just several pages. I get a reference to this short story after reading utilitarianism section in Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?. It is one of the harshest critics against utilitarianism. It really shows the power of literature in the world of ideas. Le Guin manages to do more than many other philosophers.

Reading this short story really makes me uneasy. I myself am a proponent of utilitarianism (the Mill variant, not the Bentham). Ev...more
Allison Barnes
I'm in the middle of a Utopia/dystopia theme with my students, so we've been reading a lot of books where society is supposedly perfect, but there are horrifying things going on behind the scenes (we've covered The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, and The Lottery so far). It's interesting to pose questions at the beginning about equality, a perfect society, etc. and gauge their responses before and after reading.
This story is haunting - (view spoiler)...more
Sara Alaee
"Let's walk away from Omelas...Let's break the hard-wired rules of suffering and injustice... let's live in utopia...". This is the gist of this story as I realized; perhaps also a good reminder for us living in the world of conflict, bloodshed and injustice as of today.

Daniel Roy
Nov 18, 2012 Daniel Roy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Daniel by: Minister Faust
Shelves: sf
I love this story dearly. I know many often see it as a Gedankenexperiment on Utopia and the cost we are willing to pay for it; I see it as a metaphor for our own lives in the Western world. Much of our prosperity and convenience, sometimes our sense of happiness and self, necessitates the misery of others. Child labor for our consumer goods, or war for oil.

That's why I have a hard time believing someone would not accept Omelas's deal. I feel that we as a society have done so in orders of magnit...more
I recently had occasion to reread this story, and am once again absolutely blown away by the brilliance, significance and modern relevance of this, especially in view of current events (Penn State.) Quite possibly the best thing Le Guin has written, in a very deep pool of excellent work.
The irony that I am writing a review for this story on a device whose creation can most likely be directly attributed to some level of exploitation of poor people in another part of the world is not lost on me.

The fact that I own items from Nike, Banana Republic and other American apparel companies that have well documented levels of malfeasance in treating their employees - and refuse to end this abuse because shitty people like me keep buying their crap, even when we know what they do - is an...more
I read the story and then read about a dozen of the reviews for it, to see some other opinions. I like the fact that the story has generated such opposing opinions but I'm having a hard time defining just what I think of the tale myself.

I am fundamentally opposed to having one persons pain procure the happiness of everyone else but 'the good of the many outweigh the good of the few' also rings true for me. Maybe it's because in this story, the 'few' has no say in the matter, that it disturbs me?...more
I'm not sure what to make of this small, and it seems, universally popular piece. Perhaps because I found LeGuin's city to be sort of boring, a sort of committee rendered version of what a Utopia should be like, doing away with almost every cliched sort of evil or bad that there can be. Or perhaps this was not the point, the point was to make you question what you accepted as a reasonable price for that which you considered a greater good.

But we've (or perhaps, I came to this story much later i...more
I loved this short story in high school and I love to re-read it every so often. It still holds up.

When I first read it, I thought I was the person not in the story - the one who rescues the basement kid and makes sure no one ever has to go through that again. But over time, I wonder who I really am. What's the difference between the people who walk away (into situations that may or may not have the same "rules") and those who stay?

And of course I love rolling around in my head the theme that...more
Sunny in Wonderland
This short story reminds me of a music course I once took.

When I was taking an applied music course in college, the professor held a class once a month for all APMU students, regardless of level, to sit in a class and play for each other and be critiqued by our peers. At the time, I was the ONLY first semester student, and the other fifteen or so students had been playing for five or more years. So, I was quite nervous about how these students - all younger than me by at least a decade - would r...more
If your happiness depended one someone else being miserable, would you accept that or give them freedom? If you gave them freedom, you happy care free life as you knew it, would be over. Knowing this, would you still accept the happiness or would you walk away? This short story made me ask those questions and that in my opinion is a great short story.
Darien Munden
Award Winner

The focus of this story is a fairytale paradise called Omelas. In this town everyone is care free. There is no disease, no ugliness, no death or decay. Visitors to the temple grounds in Omelas are free to copulate with any of the attractive priests and priestesses they so desire. In short, Omelas is a carnal paradise, but there's a catch. All of this beauty and seeming perfection depends solely upon the suffering of one small child who is kept in a dungeon beneath Omelas...more
Jennifer M. Hartsock
I really enjoyed this story, even if I deciphered the symbolism incorrectly. I like the style of writing and the message the author got across to me. I would like to read more of her work.

In my opinion, the city of Omelas symbolizes ignorance. These people are beautiful, without problems, without pain, and so forth. This disabled child symbolizes everything “wrong” in the world. These “beautiful” people shun it, know it’s there, but do not accept it into society. This is exactly the definition o...more
I was in a Utopian Fiction seminar in my senior year of high school, and as a consequence of this read every breed of utopian and dystopian story that could be found. Most Utopian stories are awful, irrelevant, pretentious, presumptuous, or boring. Not so with this one. The city that Le Guin creates for the reader actually sounds like a perfect world, but only because it is in fact imperfect. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" gives a truly beautiful poignant and honest look at the choices we...more
Very short, simple fantasy story. Supposed to be a classic, but doesn't do a lot for me. The point is pretty obvious.
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Chaos Reading: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas 32 164 Jun 27, 2014 10:40AM  
Dystopia Land: Shrot Story: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin 26 44 Feb 28, 2014 05:26AM  
Where do they go? 5 49 May 31, 2013 01:26PM  
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As of 2013, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. Forthcoming...more
More about Ursula K. Le Guin...
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2) The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3) The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4) The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #5)

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“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.” 372 likes
“This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.” 13 likes
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