37 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1973

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Symbols & Motifs


"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a heavily allegorical story, and even the city itself has symbolic meaning. Although we can take Omelas at face value and still understand Le Guin's critique of utilitarianism, interpreting the narrative too literally may obscure its real-world implications. Clearly, Omelas, as Le Guin describes it, could not exist in reality; for one thing, as the narrator's requests for her readers' input indicate, everyone defines happiness in slightly different terms. As a result, it's difficult to imagine any society that could guarantee happiness to all its citizens. Symbolically, however, Omelas does correspond to most if not all human societies; there are very few social structures that do not sacrifice (or at least ignore) the needs of one group of people to ensure the well-being of another. Omelas, then, represents exploitation in all its forms: depending on the story's reader, the "child" might represent a colonized people, a homeless population, the working class, or other demographics.

Even more abstractly, we can read Omelas as a symbol for the psychological transformation each member of an unjust society goes through in order to survive on a day-to-day basis. The narrator is emphatic about how distressing it is for Omelas’s citizens to learn about the existence of

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