Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Slipping in Omelas

Rellie's picture

In “Slipping into Something More Comfortable” the concept of “slipping” is introduced as “an act of associative miss-speaking”. Meaning it could be a Freudian slip, stereotyping, even micro aggression. It is usually negative but can be positive such as acts of regression into playful child-like behavior, however for the sake of this paper I will be focusing on the negative aspects of slipping. Therefore slips that are offensive and even harmful will be the main focus as I analyze the short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

Omelas is a metaphorical utopia. It is meant to be difficult to imagine even with the intense imagery throughout the story because it is like nothing that a person can experience in this world; a world without inhibitions or guilt. The people of Omelas are very susceptible to slippage due to their lack of remorse because if you don’t feel shame for saying something or doing something then you never learn to not say it or do that action. At the same time their lack of armies or organized religion show that no one takes offense enough to either cause a violent encounter or condemn someone to an eternal flame.

In this short story the citizens of Omelas never actually speak but their actions are instead illustrated so that the reader can understand the society. The catch to this utopian society is that a child must be kept in deplorable conditions away from the rest of the population. It isn’t a secret either. Children of Omelas are told about this when they are about eight or twelve and often visit the ostracized child after they learn of it. Some of them become angry and lash out at the child others depressed, but within of a few weeks most of the children come to understand that this is what it takes to be happy. These actions can all be seen as acts of slipping. The parents telling their children of the lonely child is falling into an accepted tradition that creates a new generation of compliant adults who will not question the order of things. It is a repetitive cycle of giving children the idea of agency and then showing them the barriers and also the padding around that barrier that makes the town and their way of life very appealing.

When the kids get angry or depressed this shows how they really feel which is another act of “slipping”. These negative emotions aren’t illegal but they “thought themselves superior” to strong negative emotions such as “anger, outrage, [and] impotence”. That’s why the child in the cellar exists to keep all of these strong emotions away from them so they can continually be happy. However in the moments they see the child they experience helplessness which inspires these emotions. By slipping into these emotions they display their true nature. They don’t have any true control over their lives. They are told that they can basically give into any pleasurable desire they want but they can’t leave without losing this and it all depends on another’s suffering. So instead they give into deeper emotions that they didn’t even know they were capable of without even thinking about it.  

Most people stay in Omelas for obvious reasons. The children who see the sub-human usually come to a place of understanding with themselves that it’s one child’s life versus the entirety of the village’s tranquility and prosperity. That even if they let the child out it would get love and comfort that it wouldn’t appreciate or understand due to its feeble minded nature, and it wouldn’t last long either since their world would soon after crumble. Therefore they convince themselves that this way is better and they become comfortable with this way of life. The citizens are taking the easier route that avoids conflict and confrontation. Even on the other end of the spectrum when people just walk away from Omelas they are avoiding confronting everything about their little world. They see that this system is corrupt and still decide to leave it for someone else to figure out and avoid answering the hard questions that would bring the of lack humanity of their neighbors and loved ones to the surface.

Slipping in Omelas locks the citizens in a paradox of what is safe and what is right. It is commentary on the human condition and how far we are willing to go to achieve happiness. However is it true happiness if it depends on the suffering of another? It reminds me of the donut man, a Christian children’s show host who described the idea of shallow happiness by comparing it to a donut. This happiness is usually based off of material goods and giving into one’s ego often. He would then get a donut hole and put into the donut and say that the donut hole was Jesus and that you need Jesus in your life in order to achieve true happiness. I personally don’t agree that you need an omnipresent being in your life in order to feel real happiness but instead I believe that if you practice compassion and kindness towards your fellow man happiness follows. Not even as a reward but it is more of a side effect. So when Omelians slip into what they consider comfortable whether that is anger, giving in, or walking away, they all do it in order to fulfill a shallow happiness. Until they confront the child and find a way to live without it having to suffer will their community truly be happy and content.