The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas Symbolism Essay

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin presents a Utopian society that simulates a fairy tale style of life. Everyone is happy.  The city is beautiful and well-built. There is no crime. The people are intelligent.  There are none of the negative aspects of life with which the reader is familiar.

Yet, something was lacking. Smiles had become archaic, and joy was difficult to define.


This society had a great flaw. The continuation of the Omelas depended on a child that lived in a basement broom closet with no windows, behind a locked door. The child had been in this closet without communication, human touch, or any kind of help. He was naked and covered in sores. His sanity was gone because of the circumstances. Fed once a day, he ate half a bowl of corn meal and grease.

Symbolically, the child represents the selfishness of man.  The innocent, mistreated, and tortured child is punished to provide the happy lifestyle of the people of the Omelas. The child is almost a Christ symbol because he is giving his life so that Omelas may survive. If the child were allowed to go free, the idyllic utopia would be chaotic and its joy eradicated.

Everyone in Omelas knows about the child. The children are told between eight and twelve years old.

…Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

The ones who walk away cannot bare the thought of living off the suffering of a child. No one knows for sure what happens to those that choose to leave the city because they are never heard from again. 

This pathetic child represents morality and the moral choices that a society faces. 

The first choice is to continue with the status quo. Let the child suffer for the greater good. Life will go on in Omelas as it always has: happy children, perfect lives, and perfect society.

The second choice would have those who cannot tolerate knowing about the child leaving the civilization and finding someplace else to live.  Unfortunately, this is running away from the problem. This child is not helped and will continue to suffer because no one was willing to do something to help it.

The third choice would be to defy the rules and bring the child out into civilization. This would require that the citizens be willing to sacrifice for the welfare of the suffering child; they would lose Omelas.

The civilized world knows what is right and wrong. No child should suffer so that someone else can be happy.


The short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is filled with a variety of symbols. This makes the difficult part sorting through the various symbols and choosing those which are more important to the development of the story. Below is a list of symbols we believe to be important and their corresponding dissections.

Summer Solstice:
This is symbolic of the light of our consciousness shining more brightly in our awareness.

* Power
* Grace
* Beauty
* Nobility
* Strength
* Freedom
Note: Both the horse and the citizens of Omelas seem to show these characteristics. Also the quote with the horses being a part of the ceremony might be a part of this.

Bird (specifically, the swallow):
Represents freedom, but in the case of the swallow, it's a limited amount of freedom. Swallows can fly, but only so far before they have to rest.

* Grey -> Neutral, balanced, in control
* Green -> Life, nature, fertility and well being
* Silver -> Justice and purity
* Gold -> Power, wealth and faith
* Red -> Danger, emergency and love
* Blue -> Truth, peace and distance
* Yellow -> Warm, cheerful and summertime
* White -> Serenity, purity and virtue
* Black -> Night, death, and sadness

Flute Player:
Lonliness? Are the people of Omelas really happy and living full lives? Sure, they all live together in the city but their lives might not be as connected as depicted in the story. The flute player is making beautiful music, an attraction. Yet people seem distant towards him. Maybe judgement?

More judgement. The people of Omelas are supposed to live without anything morally wrong yet they are constantly judging people. In fact their way of life is dependent on remembering they are better than someone else.

None of the citizens seem to have a complete grasp of what to think. During their young years they seem to almost always be in a state of confusion because of the child in the cellar.

Drugs/Sex Reference:
The importance of drooz could really be anything but we've speculated that it probably is a way of showing that not everyone in the city is really happy and they require (like us) another means of escape from their lives. The allusion to sex might be something that helps us relate to the people of Omelas as it is a primal urge which all humans feel.

Cellar Child:
This child is really a scapegoat. Something the town uses to push all of the blame onto so that they can live happily. He plays a pivotal role in Omelas but it's really not a great job to have.

These are just some of the symbols we were able to pull out of the story, but we believe that these are some of the most important. Each symbol adds to the story and helps shape the meaning into something unique.

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