By Symbolism: An explication of a Passage in Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

8 August 2016

“They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. 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 short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin is rooted in a Utopian city which seems to be a place of great exuberance. She creates a deeper meaning by the use of tone and symbolism that is shown throughout the story. She begins the story by writing of the summer festival that is occurring in Omelas. She also speaks of procession of dancing in the streets of Omelas, the horses went about without gear, and how children played about the city. Symbolism is used excessively throughout this story.

McGee agrees: “Ursula K. Le Guin critiques modern society in an artistic way. Le Guin accomplishes this by strategically written symbols, conveying the deeper moral” (McGee). Le Guin sets a delightful tone that symbolizes the happiness within the city and the naked children running freely to represent the exemption of guilt among the civilians of Omelas. Another example of this freedom is when Le Guin states that the people of Omelas “so they also got on without stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb.” (Le Guin 253). This sentence shows that Omelas does not have any extreme authority within the city. The city of Omelas is a place that is free of judgment, guilt, and is filled with joy. The city symbolizes what most would consider a perfect city. The tone in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas takes a turn when Le Guin speaks of the child that is locked inside of a basement with one window, dusty boards, mops and a rusty bucket; he or she is suffering from malnutrition.

Based on the initial tone of the story, which is very delightful, you would not know that there was a child suffering so that others may be happy. The child is a Jesus like symbol in the way that its misery is sacrificed for the happiness and freedom of others. The cellar in which the child is left in is a clear symbol that it is lonely and had no one who cares enough to care for it. Also, the fact that the child sits in its own defecation shows that it is unable to care for itself and does not know any better.. This child, as Le Guin says, is “feeble-minded.

Perhaps it was born defective… ” (Le Guin 255). Le Guin says that there are in fact people who cannot accept that their happiness depends on the miserable life of the child whom is locked inside a room afraid and lonely (256). The people of Omelas are aware of this child but choose not to set it free because they know that it will have an effect on the happiness that lies in their town. The ones who decide to remain in Omelas after they learn of the child are a representation of vicarious suffering and selfishness among society. These people are the ones who walk away from Omelas.

When she talks of this the tone of the story becomes flat. Belarafon agrees that the tone of the story again changes, “The tone changes abruptly to flat, simple descriptions, showing that however the outside is glorious, the inside of this room never changes. It is this place and its horrors that allow the outside utopia to exist. This above all else is the only concrete thing about Omelas; whatever else is “imagined” above, it is dependent on this single moral choice. ” (Belarafon) These people exemplify those in society who are not selfish and have the courage to help those other than themselves.

The tone plays a major role in the symbolism that Le Guin uses through the story. She uses a cheerful tone to lead us through a city that she describes to in a “fairy-tale aspect” (Belarafon). The tone gradually goes from cheerful to a dismal tone when she explains to readers how the happiness of each person is the city is dependent upon this child’s misery. The happiness that Le Guin initially displays sculpts the story so that it triggers an emotional response from readers. Without change of tone throughout the story readers would not understand the value of the happiness that exists in the city of Omelas.

According to McGee, Le Guin is using symbolism to depict modern society and the ““out of sight of mind” mentality for the people of this gilded utopia, the basement symbolizes a clear division in the upper- and lower- classes” (McGee). When people are able to avoid the problem then it is no longer a worry to them therefore they feel that the problem does not affect their lives in anyway. This is shown in the story when Le Guin tells us that the child is locked in a room under a house basically hidden from the city. The way that she uses symbolism gives a clear meaning for the story before us.

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By Symbolism: An explication of a Passage in Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". (2016, Aug 11). Retrieved February 25, 2020, from
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