The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas
The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas is a short story written by Ursula Le Guin. In her story, Le Guin creates a model Utilitarian society in which the majority of its citizens are devoid of suffering; allowing them to become an expressive, artistic population. Le Guin’s unrelenting pursuit of making the reader imagine a rich, happy and festival abundant society mushrooms and ultimately climaxes with the introduction of the outlet for all of Omelas’ avoided misfortune. Le Guin then introduces a coming of age ritual in which innocent adolescents of the city are made aware of the byproduct of their happiness. She advances with a scenario where most of these adolescents are extremely burdened at first but later devise a rationalization for the “wretched one’s” situation. Le Guin has imagined a possible contemporary Utilitarian society with the goal to maximize the welfare of the greatest number of people. On the contrary, Kant would argue that using the child as a mere means is wrong and argue that the living conditions of the child are not universalizable. The citizens of Omelas must face this moral dilemma for all of their lives or instead choose to silently escape the city altogether.
My central thesis is that Kant would give the child’s life inherent value and advocate that Omelas’ citizens abandon their practices. In this essay I aim to examine the story of Omelas through two opposing filters. One perspective that I will take in my essay is a pupil of Kantian ethics, so that I may use Kantian principles and ideas to critique Le Guin’s work. The second position I will take is that of a Utilitarian. I will respond to criticisms of each frame using points that its opponent raised.
Le Guin uses the aslant description of only Omelas’ joyous events to express its likeness with a “utopia.” She also only develops this society’s technology in ways that further add to life’s pleasures. By using example-rich narration and invoking me to add my own characteristics to Omelas, Le Guin creates a fluid short story applicable to many readers rooted in Utilitarian fundamentals. Using the Utilitarian idea that holds the greatest good for the greatest amount of people in the greatest regard, Mill would argue that the child’s suffering must be accepted. A Utilitarian must take in to account not only this maxim, but also the development of all of Omelas’ citizens. Because Utilitarianism values more capable people over those less fortunate, it also provides a solution for the people of Omelas. Mill would have to consider both the level of benefit and the capabilities of the persons receiving the benefit. Mill would argue that a person of “higher faculties” would require a greater amount of happiness than someone simpler. This would point extend to say that all of the citizens of Omelas would benefit more the suffering child from the same amount of good received. Le Guin tells us that the citizens of Omelas who know...