Ursula Le Guin: Short Stories

Thoreau, LeGuin, and Moral Obligations

Written as an allegory for slavery and the way it affects the people who employ it, Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” questions just how much of an impact living in a society has on one’s willingness to act in ways different from what they would do in an individual context. It is the story of a prosperous utopian village where every citizen lives a life of bliss and freedom except for one individual: a child who must be kept imprisoned and mistreated in order to sustain the happiness of everyone else. To Henry David Thoreau, the author of “Resistance to Civil Government” and “A Plea for Captain John Brown” and a major proponent of individual morality and judgment, the citizens of Omelas are no different from Americans who continue to live in a society where slavery is legal, since they both inhabit a world where their happiness and success is built upon a foundation of abusive and immoral treatment toward some sort underclass. In addition, he would commend those people who chose to leave Omelas for resisting a malevolent state, but would also ask more of them than to just ignore the injustice going on there.

To Thoreau, the only aspect in which the people of Omelas would be considered “good” citizens is the...

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