illustration of a young boy in a cage in the center with lines connecting the boys cage to images of happy people and flowers

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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What are symbols in the story and what do they mean?

Expert Answers

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This story is an allegory that is both political and religious. An allegory uses the characters to symbolize objects or ideas that tell the reader the author's message.

The political message in this story deals with the issue of morality in governments. The child respresents the powerless poor in Western societies, such as the U.S., and in third-world countries. Both of these groups are misused by the political systems and ignored by the wealthy and prosperous. Conversely, the governments of Western countries represent the powerful, rich upper class. The author then asks the reader to look at the moral issue of whether a society is accountable when the happiness of the majority depends upon the misery of the minority.

As a religious allegory, the child symbolizes one who is sacrificed so others may live, a Christ-like figure.

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