The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas • 1973 • Utopia short story by Ursula K. Le Guin


This story is no story, it has no plot, no main character. It describes in vivid descriptions a philosophical concept which is an extension of William James’s essay The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life: an utopia which relies on the suffering of a single person can only be wrong.  The title concentrates on the logical consequence that morale persons would take. It can be understood as an argument against utilitarianism, or a parable of first world exploitation of poorer countries: Think about all the children workers in the Lithium mines of D.R. Kongo just to get you a nice cellphone.

Though it doesn’t work as a short story at all, it resonates – far better because easier accessible than James’s complicate philosophical essay. Would you walk away? Or take the easy path and stay?

I’m pretty sure that nowadays it wouldn’t win the puppy polluted Hugo Awards like it did in 1974. Where people back in the 1970s in a different mind set than now?

Meta: isfdb. This SF short story appeared 1973 in robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions 3. I read it in her anthology The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. It won the 1974 Hugo Award.


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