I didn’t understand the story at first. But when I reread it a second time, I realized how powerful and thematic the story is. So I will describe a few important lessons you can pick from the story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
It’s a short story. It won the Hugo award for best short story in 1974.
This is a summary, especially for those who have read it first and didn’t understand it. So let’s start with the plot.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas Plot
We have a town. The beauty of this city is outstanding. The author describes it as “Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairytale.” Perfect, excellent, blessed, whatever positive adjective you can pick is great for describing this place. However, the only thing that makes the city become what it is is shocking and mysterious. A young boy of, say, thirteen is tied under an underground and maltreated. (The picture that comes to mind is that of a sick child locked somewhere, unfed, tortured, and dying every minute, even as he begged for help.) The problem is, if this boy is taken out of the locked room and fed, the mighty, decorated, and the great city of Omelas will crumble.
Let’s start with a question: with the above summary, what would you do if you were a citizen of Omelas and saw this boy for the first time?
Hang on. You don’t have to answer yet. Check out the key lessons before you answer that.
5 Lessons from the Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
Fiction — literary fiction especially — has amazing value, but the lessons won’t jump at you the way it’s done with non-fiction. Instead, you need to reread them or understand the different reasons why you should read fiction.
That said, these are the important life lessons from The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.
#1. No One has it all
The city is beautiful if you walk around. It is an amazing city if you start from the entrance, see the procession from the city, and follow it to the Green Fields. These are beautiful sights until you get, according to the story, to the basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door and no window. You will find the feeble ten-year-old and his pains and torture are the reason for all the beauty you have seen.
It is the same with most things. There are a dark side, the broken parts that make the beauty you see. It follows the popular saying that everyone has a skeleton in their cupboard. There is a dark side to every (most) beautiful thing.
You can apply this knowledge to building a business. Every big or standing successful business has a dark side, like a small stain on the sparking white robe. Likewise, humans have less attractive habits, backstories, or secrets. We are flawed, but that’s life.
#2. There is a sacrifice for every beautiful thing
If a real estate agent shows you a fine house, you will ask, how much does this cost? It’s like asking what I will pay to get this place.
It’s the same thing with everything. I am writing this post while there are episodes of House of Dragon I should be watching. If you are starting a business, you will sacrifice money, time, and even relationships to get a successful story.
The feeble child is the sacrifice for the Omelas. As sad as I feel reading about how he’s treated, I still have to think of him as the price to be paid. According to the story, you can’t treat him right and have beautiful Omelas. You can’t spend all your time on Netflix and build an online business.
#3. Life is unfair
I keep thinking of how they choose this boy who has to suffer in the basement. It reminds me of reading the Lottery, where all the town members decide who to stone to death by playing a lottery. Of course, it will be unlucky if everyone dips their hand in a box and someone picks up the unfortunate card. But every citizen already knows this thing.
It’s the same thing sometimes in life. Someone is unlucky because of something they have no control over.
In Nigeria, crude oil is abundant. This story makes me imagine some family or person who has lost their lands or properties to the government because there is oil. They should be compensated. Are they? As you enjoy the ride in your car or the engine in that industry continues to produce finished goods, remember that someone’s property is already damaged. Some people have their water and arable lands ruined because of oil spillage.
While living in Omela, some people have to come to terms with the truth about that child in the basement. They learn to live with it. Others choose to leave.
#4. The truth will often change you
When you set out to find out the truth about something, be ready for a reality that will shake you — often.
When I started my first blog, I aimed to learn SEO and improve my chances of generating more content writing leads. Through blogging, I learned a lot of lessons about SEO, which changed my perspective on it.
Many of the things I heard and read earlier were lies.
I’m still learning that and getting to know more than anyone who hasn’t taken the time to do the work and find the truth.
So when you set out to find the truth, be prepared for the unexpected.
#5. Everyone has a choice when they see something evil
At the end of the story, we read about people who made a difficult choice.
We read in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas that every member of the city knows about this little boy in the basement. Many of the citizens accept that as a reality.
We have a few who choose differently. They are the ones who walk away from Omelas.
At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates.The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
Back to our question
What will you do when you see evil? This question is the main point of The Ones who walk away from Omelas’ summary. Will you choose to walk away or accept it as an important part of reality?
You can also my review of East of Eden book.