The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas


Le Guin, Ursula


Short Story


Le Guin's beautiful, perceptive short story unfolds a moral conundrum as it reveals the stunning costs of a seemingly utopian town's comforts. If our comfort depends on the suffering of others, Le Guin asks, how should we feel about these comforts, and what should we do? Is the "greater good" worth the sacrifice? Is such sacrifice even practical? This fairy-tale-like story raises deep moral questions for every member of society, and demands that we, like the citizens in the story, break away from our blissful ignorance and pay close attention to the sources of our own comforts and freedoms. Who is the child who suffers in the story, and what is its relationship to those who walk away from Omelas?

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Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Heritage and TraditionImpact and OutcomesJustice and EqualityLeadership and ResponsibilitySocial and Political Change

Big Questions

How do we remain loyal to our heritage and traditions?What is the impact of our actions - on ourselves and others?Can there be justice without equality?Is justice for all possible? Or will injustice always exist?What are the causes of injustice and inequality?What would you be willing to give up for equality? What would you not be willing to give up?What enables change? What gets in the way?


Civically Engaged Reader

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe the city of Omelas? What do we know about it from the opening pages?
  2. Why does the narrator think seem to doubt that we will believe in and accept the description of “the festival, the city, the joy”?
  3. What is the “function” of the suffering child?
  4. Why do the people of Omelas understand that the child “has to be there”?
  5. How and when do they explain the suffering child to their children? How do the children respond?
  6. What “terrible paradox” must those who observe the suffering child face? Why do they come to accept the child's confinement as “the terrible justice of reality”?
  7. Who are the ones who walk away from Omelas? Why do they leave? And why go alone? Is it a brave act or something else?
  8. Why do some people stay? What do you think of those who stay?
  9. Have you ever made a decision to walk away from Omelas? What happened?
  10. How does Omelas resemble our current society, if at all? Do we have “a suffering child” on whom our lives depend?
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