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Review: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” A Short Story by Ursula K. Le Guin

What is Omelas? Where is Omelas? It is not a real place that exists. According to the author Ursula K. Le Guin, Omelas is a Utopian society or a fairytale town where “the happiness is based on discrimination of what is necessary.” It is a hypothetical enigma of choice between leaving such a place or staying back.

The author chose Omelas as the name of this hypothetical town by merely turning Salem’s(Oregon) city’s name backward. Pronounced as Homme Hélas (Alas Men!) Omelas, unlike any other place, is filled with wealth, food, and happiness. It is a place of rejoicing, sex, and wonders. There is no King or a government. No rules. Nothing but music and parties. People have nothing to worry about or fear—however, all this happiness depends on one condition. Under the city, in a basement, there is a child caged. Nobody knows its gender or age. The book describes the child as “feeble-minded, perhaps it was born defective.” Everyone knows about the existence of the child.

“They all know it has to be there. Some understand why and some don’t”
At a certain age, the people of Omelas get to know about this child. Some people can live with this piece of information, and some cry about it and come to accept it. In contrast, some decide to leave this paradise. There is no other choice. If you save the child, that will destroy Omelas. That is why the child is the “discrimination of what is necessary.” The question the author leaves behind is, Would you be able to walk away from Omelas? The morally correct answer would be yes, but living by morals does not guarantee your happiness.

Omelas, the child, and its people who decide to stay or leave are allegories the author has created. Omelas is the current Utopian society we live in. The child is the injustice and inhumanity that the current utopia is built upon. Many decide to accept it and continue to live in our community, and a few choose to leave to have peace. However, one fact remains the same: the child will never be saved. Meaning the injustice will remain unaffected.

The book received additional popularity following the music video for the track Spring Day from the album You Never Walk Alone by the world-famous South Korean boy band BTS. The MV contains references to Le Guin’s short story. There is even a scene of this inn, named “Omelas,” which is a well-lit, joyful location at one point. Another time, when Jungkook (the youngest, who also represents the child in the short story) is lost and seemingly distressed, runs in search of someone or something, the inn with the “no vacancy” sign is visible in the background.

Image from Spring Day by BTS

At the end of the MV, they all walk together into a bright spring day, away from the camera, representing them walking away from Omelas.

BTS members are well-read, especially the leader Kim Nam Joon, who has personally recommended numerous books to their fans. They introduced me to this incredible short story, which quickly became one of my favorites.

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