This is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin about a society that values the happiness of the city over that of a child under the city. Omelas is a city where the residents all lead happy lives. The narrator focuses on one day, whereby there is a summer festival. The day is bright, and the children are racing about and riding horses. The air is sweet, and bells ring. Below is an overview of the rest of the story.
A Brief Synopsis of the Story
The narrator reveals that the happiness of the city might be suspicious to some. Happiness is viewed as a type of innocence, foolishness, and simple, unlike pain and evil, which are more complicated. However, the narrator reiterates that the residents of Omelas live complex lives.
They might lack some of the things that others possess, but they do not feel deprived by it. The people reach an understanding of what’s necessary, what is destructive, and what’s both or neither. They have what is necessary. These people also have luxuries that are neither destructive nor necessary. Intelligent, passionate, and mature adults inhabit the city.
However, the picture that the narrator has painted on Omelas is not the entire story. There is something else that makes this city special. They have been guaranteed happiness. However, they had to strike a bargain. It is not revealed by whom it was struck or even how. As part of the bargain, under the city, there is a room containing a stunted, scared, half-starved child whom everyone over adolescence knows about. This child is in a closet and is shown to anyone wishing to see. It is fed poorly with half a bowl of mushy cornmeal a day and is left to stay in its dirt and excrement. This child whines sometimes, and when it tries to talk, it is mostly gibberish and pleads to be set free. None is allowed to speak kindly to it.
If the child leaves the closet, the city will falter. All the happiness of Omelas, all of the health, wealth, science, music, architecture depend on the suffering of this child. The residents know that if it were to be released, there is a possibility the degraded child would be happy. This would mean the unhappiness of the majority. The people have hence been taught of compassion and also the terrible sense of justice, and they base their normal lives on this.
Some of the young people and even the adult ones who visit the child, go through the gates of Omelas and head for the mountains, from which they do not return.