37 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1973

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Story Analysis

Analysis: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

Over the course of a career that spanned almost sixty years, Ursula K. Le Guin helped to establish speculative fiction as a serious form of literature. Although much of her work can be classified as fantasy or science fiction, Le Guin used these genres to explore issues related to gender, environmentalism, psychology, and—as "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" demonstrates—ethics.

That said, this particular story is heavy on ideas, even for Le Guin. It is frequently taught in philosophy classes, and it is not hard to see why: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" doesn't have much in the way of plot, instead functioning as an extended explorationof a society based on utilitarian principles. Broadly speaking, utilitarianism is a school of ethics that maintains that the morally "correct" action is the one that produces the greatest happiness or good to the greatest number of people. Although different philosophers adapt this basic idea in various ways, one common criticism of many strands of utilitarianism is the one Le Guin raises in this story: that it potentially justifies horrible suffering and abuse if the net result is positive.

Relatedly, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" also asks us to think about the relationship between happiness and pain.