Alston Badger

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid.”

Le Guin’s brief aside about happiness and pain establishes the notion that the pursuit of happiness is a worthy cause, that misery does not make life interesting. However, the people of Omelas become far more interesting when Le Guin reveals that all of them eventually become aware of the sacrificial child. Much of the drama of the story comes from how the population of Omelas’ reacts to the revelation of the child. The people of Omelas seem to be obliviously happy until the reader learns that they all have to reconcile with what provides their joy. Le Guin’s rhetorical “Do you believe in them?” suggests that by having the Omelas people aware of the price of their happiness they become more realistic. By becoming more realistic, they become more interesting.

Clearly, the addition of some degree of unhappiness creates drama because the story itself is named for those who cannot reconcile with their knowledge of the child. Though the story seems to contradict Le Guin’s brief aside condemning the glorification of pain, her idolization of the pursuit of happiness becomes even clear at the end. Those who walk away from Omelas leave because they are unhappy with the idea that someone must suffer indefinitely so they can have enjoyable lives. So these people go somewhere where they can find happiness without having someone suffer for them. Le Guin certainly makes those who walk away appear as the noblest people in the story. There are still plenty of people in Omelas that are content with the child suffering for them. However, by making those who walk away the heroes of the story Le Guin suggests that no happiness is worthy having if it comes from the suffering of another.

From a writing standpoint, a story needs conflict to be engaging. The more trying the conflict is, the more interesting the story. Therefore, Le Guin’s contempt towards the glorification of pain does not seem to be directed at authors, since she takes full advantage of conflict to advance her story. Le Guin seems to be urging the reader to embrace the pursuit of happiness, which is certainly not a new idea. However, if science-fictionisn inherently tied to the notion that it must urge some degree, no matter how small, of societal change then perhaps Le Guin’s aside was nothing more than a suggestion for how the reader should live.