"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"


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By:Ursula K. Le Guin


Overview:

The city of Omelas is a city filled with happiness as the whole city comes together for the annual Summer Festival. The young and the old gathered on this day meeting on the north end of the city in the meadow called the Green Fields where they would eat food, the children woudl play and all would listening to music. The city was so joyous that even the horses need not a bridle, just a halter. The citizens of Omelas can not be labeled as simple folk or as goody-goody.For whatever brought the citizens of Omelas happiness is what took place, whether it be an orgy or drug use. However, there is one thing that is not found in Omelas and that is guilt. So how is it that such a place exists where complete happiness is found? Under neath one of the beautiful public buildings in the basement, or in a cellar in a private home is a room. Behind the locked door of this room, that has no windows and houses old mops is a child. This child is either a boy or a girl, around the age of ten yet physically it looks six. It was either born with a defective or perhaps it became that way through years malnutrition and neglect. No one is allowed in the room except for when one person or several people come into to either kick the child and refill the water jug and food bucket. The only rule the town has is that no one is ever allowed to speak a kind word to the child, ever. Every one in the town knows about the child and the children of the town are told about it as well at a certain age. Even though nothing can be done about the child being locked down in the cellar there are some people who choose to sacrifice their happiness and walk away from the city of Omelas.


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Important Symbols:

"Those Who Walk Away from Omelas" is an allegorical piece that uses many symbols to contribute to the meaning of the text. One symboexternal image in-darkness.jpgl that really stands out is the child that is mistreated and malnourished. In literature, most children represent purity and holiness. However, in this short story, the child represents man's ego and selfishness. A child was punished everyday to provide happiness for others. The child also represents the chaos that would take place if any changes or modifications to this idyllic utopia were to be made. Guin could be mocking humanity, pointing out the fear of change in certain countries.







Characters

The Citizens

The inhabitants of the city of Omelas live in bliss. During the time the story was written, they are about to celebrate their annual Summer Festival. The citizens are continuously given things throughout the story by the narrator such as drugs, music, perfect health, and intelligence. This represents the power that they possess in the city; the power to have anything they want with no negative consequences, except for one, and that is the consciousness of their reality. Every citizen at one point in time finds out about how they live in such a perfect world, and that is the suffering child. At first, most citizens don't understand it the reasons for the pain that child must endure. The youth that visit the child leave he or she with sadness or anger; even after they know what the child is doing for them. Later, the narrator claims the citizens come to the idea that the suffering child would be no better off free than captive in the cellar. This claim is only for the selfish citizens of Omelas, the ones who enjoy living in the town, while knowing someone suffers for their enjoyment. However, towards the end of the story the citizens are separated into two groups: the selfish and the selfless. The first group are simply the ones who stay in Omelas living under a lie to themselves that the child should be kept in the cellar. The second group of citizens are the true protagonist of the short story, the ones who consciously realize that what goes on in order for Omelas to be perfect is morally wrong, and leave the city in order to show what is right. The second group of citizens is clearly much smaller than the more selfish, larger group of the inhabitants of the city, because the child was never set free due to a majority wanting to keep he or she there in pain, in order to keep their perfect world.

The Child

The child in the short story represents moral choices. First, there is the option of letting the child suffer. This gives citizens the option of having a perfect life in a perfect town, with perfect children, but knowing that they are only getting those nice things because of the pain the child is going through, which in turn in selfish and morally wrong. The next is leaving Omelas to get away from the problem. This represents the selfless citizens of Omelas who choose to not be apart of the suffering and are morally sound. The child in the story gives a way to define each individual in Omelas and their moral character, thus shaping the city as a whole.


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Refernces:

Le Guin, Ursula. "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas." Literature for Composition. 9th ed. Eds Sylvan Barnett, Stephen Burto, and William E. Cain. Longman: New York, 2011.