The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin. Omelas is perfect town where everyone is happy, healthy and, carefree. There is no disease, no ugliness, or no death. However, we found out there is a catch. One child is chosen from the population to serve as a sacrifice that will allow the rest of the city to live so lavishly. In the basement of a public building, there is a cellar with one small, dark and damp, room. In this room is the child, neglected, naked, malnourished, sick and afraid.

Should this child ever be allowed to leave their prison and be shown an ounce of kindness or compassion by the citizens of Omelas this magical paradise will fall apart. But the sad truth, the people of Omelas know the child is there. They even come to watch, even bring their children to see. After being exposed to the truth, most of the people of Omelas are initially startled and sickened, but are eventually able to come to terms with the fact and determine to live their lives in such a way as to make the misery of the unfortunate child worth it. However, some of the citizens silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go.

According to her biography Ursula K. Le Guin writes both poetry and prose, and in various modes including realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, young children’s books, books for young adults, screenplays, verbal texts for musicians, voice texts and, essays. She has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, seven volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN/Malamud award, etc. In 1974 “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” won the Hugo Award for best short story.

The story begins with a festival of summer comes to the city of Omelas and everyone is laughing, singing and enjoying their time. The boats in the harbor sparkled with flags, old people in their long stiff robs, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walk. The children would be crossing flights over the music and the singing. In the green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city and cheering faint of sweetness that from time to time, great joyous clanging of bells.

One would want to live in this life style because everyone wants to have happiness rather to be miserable like the child who is locked in the basement who is left to live a miserable life, paying for everyone happiness. The child symbolizes that one’s happiness come from making another human being unhappy. The child is condemned to take on the sins of the city, similar to the Biblical idea of the Jesus Christ taking on the sins of the world.

The City of Omelas is a place of joy and happiness, there can be all sorts of indulgences, amazing technologies, drugs, beer, and orgies in the streets, and in short Omelas is a carnal paradise. The story is symbolic, not based on an actual society. The reader would agree that this is fairytale because not everything is perfect. But underneath the quiet lies a secret, which everyone knows about.

The secrets, which those who can’t bear to burden, decide to walk away from Omelas. Those who decide to leave the city. They leave when they first learn of the child’s existence and some leave after a long battle with their guilt. But they all leave independently without anybody knowing where they are going. They simply walk out and disappear and never to return. “They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back.” Ones believes the ones who walk away from Omelas may be better than the citizens that remain for they have something of a conscience that will not allow themselves to succeed from the suffering of the child, but in being a citizen of Omelas who once did enjoy happiness through the child misery they leave in trying to do right by the child.

The people of Omelas knew that their happiness, living without problems, without pain, the beauty of the city, and their harvest growing is all depended on the child’s misery. One can see that it is not right for the child to live a miserable life in order for everyone else to be enjoying his or her life to the fullest. The reader can see how hurt some of the people of Omelas feels about the situation they truly wants to help the child but the whole city happiness depends on it. So instead of helping the child they rather walk away. They rather take the easy way out which is also the coward way out. One feels like this story is using the Utilitarianism theory, which is the correct action that will produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people is the option one should choose.

A person performs the acts that benefit the most people, regardless of personal feelings or the social constraints such as laws. That is such a cruel concept, why should the child suffer for the whole city? Doesn’t he have just as much right to a happy life as the other people? What makes their life more important than his? One can clearly see the happiness of the city of Omelas, one would want to live that life style but if it means putting that poor child through all that misery one would pass up that opportunity. Reader can agree that there is no reason for one person’s happiness to be more important than another. Unless one is selfish and does not care about other people well being. This truly makes one think about the concept of Jesus Christ dying for one sin when he is a indeed sinless. Maybe sometimes people burden their self with other people’s problems simply because, they feel as if that is their life purpose to save humanity.

In conclusion, the story ends with ‘The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to us than the city of happiness.” Every person should be responsible for those around them. To torture one for the benefit of others is to start the fall of the humankind. There is no way that a society can survive if based on the idea that some must suffer in order for others to live good, fulfilling lives. If ones happiness depended on someone else’s being miserable, would one accept that or give them freedom? If one gave them freedom, one happy carefree life, as one knew it, would be over. Knowing this, would one still accept the happiness or would one walk away? This short story made one ask those questions, how can one live with one self-knowing that.


  1. Kennedy, X J., and Dana Gioia. Literature. 12th ed. N.p.: n.p., 2013. 257-62. Print.
  2. ‘Style and Technique’ Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition Ed. Charles E. May., Inc. 2004 8 Dec, 2014
  3. Blue, Drown M. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
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The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. (2021, Jun 06). Retrieved June 27, 2022 , from

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