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Questions Re: Omelas, Reaction Paper Example

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  • Is what Omelas does “right” or “wrong”? Why? Omelas is wrong because the child is not immortal. It will die and will have to be replaced, dooming yet another child to the same fate. The town accepts the situation with no moral/philosophical justification. This raises the question of the reality of the power that protects Omelas in exchange for the child’s fate. It must be either governmental or supernatural. It seems too omniscient to be the former, so it must be the latter. If so, is the power actually real? If not, then Omelas is guilty of collective cowardism — they are afraid to find out the truth. If it is real, the force would surely be an awesomely powerful one, and so Omelas would have the moral right to accept what was handed to them. But Omelas is still wrong because it refuses to collectively own up to is agreement. It could condemn itself publically while accepting the terms. But it refuses to and chooses a happiness of the damned.
  • What justification does the town use to keep the child there? The justification is that the child, apparently an imbecile, would not be happy outside of its imprisonment anyway, and in fact would be mystified and terrified. But the child’s custodians know that it pleads aloud to be released, promising to be good if it is freed. Are you persuaded by this justification? Clearly, no.

  • What about the issue of guilt? If letting the child out brings guilt to Omelas, does that change your opinion of whether it is right or wrong to keep the child down there? Here I have to take exception to LeGuin’s comment that “to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.” I think she is using artistic license to be morally illogical for the purpose of creating a false dilemma — which, in my opinion, might reveal a structural weakness to the story, one I think most fantasy stories might share. Regardless, to free the child would plainly expel collective guilt from the walls. 4. Is it “morally right” or “morally wrong” to walk away? Based on my answer to question 3, I think that it is morally right — without the quotations marks — to walk away. It is the only moral response available to protesting individuals, because were they to forcibly free the child, they would bring ruin on thousands of people who were simply born in the town and had no say in the dilemma other than to be confronted both by it and the precedence set by their own loving parents. Those who walk away sacrifice their own happiness, and possibly their own lives, instead of sacrificing theirs and everyone else’s. Is walking away better or worse than staying (in terms of “right”/“wrong”)? From my answer to question 4, I believe that walking away is better, and probably the only moral solution to the dilemma. If enough people walked away, especially the leading people of the town, the devil’s bargain would gradually become mooted.
  • After you saw the child, would you stay in Omelas? Or would you walk away? Why? I like to think that I would have the courage to walk away. But an important point has to be made. Those who walk away after seeing the child would be on a higher moral plane than those who walked away without seeing the child first. The reason is that the child is revolting in appearance and manner. It sits in excrement and is bloated with skinny limbs. And “it” is sexless. Yet there were those who could still accept the moral value of the child’s life, and make the brave choice of leaving Omelas. So it is an important if subtle point in the story that only those who actually go to see the child ever leave the town. We can assume that there will be a steady future supply of those self-exiles, so we cannot quite assign collective guilt to the town, either today or tomorrow.

In answering these questions, I keep thinking about how the terms right and wrong, and morally right and morally wrong appear in quotation marks, as if they were inherently subjective. But no one today would say that the Holocaust was “morally wrong.” They would say that it was morally wrong, with no quotation marks. But a Nazi in 1938 Germany might use the quotation marks. Should we, the students here at Omelas College, use them too?

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