47

I think this was a short story, and I have no recollection of where or when I read it. It had a dystopian disguised as a utopian feel.

From what I remember, the world was at peace and everyone was happy, except for one child who was kept in a dungeon or somewhere horrible. This child was neglected and abused.

For some reason this was necessary for the rest of the world to be happy.

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    From the title I thought you were referring to the New Testament :-) – TheAsh Feb 11 at 14:59
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    This is a form of the repugnant conclusion, a common objection to utilitarianism. It has lots of treatments in various media, including sci-fi. – Jared Smith Feb 11 at 19:04
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    Similar to The Beast Below from Doctor Who – mowwwalker Feb 12 at 1:48
  • @TheAsh Christ was 33 years old on the cross. Hardly a "small child." – jpmc26 Feb 13 at 11:00
91

This is actually a commonly occurring plot motif. However, the most explicit example of this would be "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula LeGuin (PDF). The titular "ones" are those people who refuse to accept the suffering for one child as a necessity to preserve their utopia.

Per Wikipedia:

The only chronological element of the work is that it begins by describing the first day of summer in Omelas, a shimmering city of unbelievable happiness and delight. In Omelas, the summer solstice is celebrated with a glorious festival and a race featuring young people on horseback. The vibrant festival atmosphere, however, seems to be an everyday characteristic of the blissful community, whose citizens, though limited in their advanced technology to communal (rather than private) resources, are still intelligent, sophisticated, and cultured. Omelas has no kings, soldiers, priests, or slaves. The specific socio-politico-economic setup of the community is not mentioned, but the narrator merely explains that the reader cannot be sure of every particular.

The uncertain narrator reflects that "Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all." Everything about Omelas is so abundantly pleasing that the narrator decides the reader is not yet truly convinced of its existence and so elaborates upon the final element of the city: its one atrocity. The city's constant state of serenity and splendor requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness, and misery.

Once citizens are old enough to know the truth, most, though initially shocked and disgusted, ultimately acquiesce to this one injustice that secures the happiness of the rest of the city. However, a few citizens, young and old, silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go. The story ends with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

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    I had a surprising amount of difficulty remembering how to spell "Omelas" for this answer, in spite of the fact that I grew up in Salem, Oregon. – Buzz Feb 11 at 6:11
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    This is it! Thank you! – Cherie Feb 11 at 7:23
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    @Cherie you can accept the answer by clicking the checkmark on the left. Please do; it will show everyone the mystery was solved, and reward both you and Buzz with some reputation :) – Jenayah Feb 11 at 9:01
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    Beautiful story. Thanks for the answer. – Neo Darwin Feb 11 at 19:51
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    As LeGuin herself commented, the story ""has a long and happy career of being used by teachers to upset students and make them argue fiercely about morality." – WhatRoughBeast Feb 11 at 22:00
16

'The Giver' by Lois Lowry fits part of your description

Per Wikipedia:

"The Giver is a 1993 American children's novel (generally young adult or older) set in a society that is at first presented as a utopian society but gradually appears more and more dystopian. The society has taken away pain and strife by converting to "Sameness""

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    It's apparently not what Cherie wanted, but I thought of this as well. The story also features a teenager, who has to learn all the differences and all the pain that the rest of the society chose to forget, in order to provide wisdom for them. This answer might be improved by adding this info. – Sumyrda Feb 11 at 11:28
  • I would call the society he lived in a "dungeon or somewhere horrible," I would consider the burden of carrying all memories to be abuse, but I can't agree that the child was neglected – USER_8675309 Feb 12 at 23:01
0

Doesn't exactly match your criteria but the Eragon series also has a character, Elva, who was cursed to shield others from their pain instead of the intended blessing of being shielded from pain. This link provides more details.

  • As this is a series of fantasy books (so not a short story) and IIRC, isn't quite dystopian, I think this should rather have been a comment. Although if you can add more "matching" elements and prove me wrong, I'll happily stand corrected ;D – Jenayah Feb 12 at 18:50
  • This was also my first thought based on the title, but the question contains many elements that thoroughly rule this out. – ApproachingDarknessFish Feb 15 at 2:43

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