“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin describes a utopian society. It seems to be what one would think the Garden of Eden might have been like if Eve had not listened to the serpent. The story is told by a third person narrator who relates the events of the story without emotion.
Omelas lies by the sea. The weather is ideal. It has great parks, grand architecture, and residential areas that are well-built. Everyone seems to be happy. The workmen do not seem to mind their jobs.
On the day of the story, it is the Festival of Summer. There are parades with people dancing all leading toward the Green Fields where all the citizens are gathering. There will be a huge horse race. The children are playing naked in the park. There is music and bells ringing.
The people of Omelas are different. The people are happy. Only the things that are necessary are found in the city.
They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. They were not simple folk, they were happy. All smiles have become archaic.
Offering her view of this world, the narrator suggests that there would be no policemen, no stock exchange, no advertisement, and no monarchy or slavery.
This ideal world has a singular flaw. The wonderful world of Omelas comes with a price. In a dismal, dark basement closet somewhere in the city, there is kept a depraved ten year old child. This child is naked and alone. He has lost his sanity because of his circumstances. He is fed once a day corn meal and grease and only enough to survive. There are mops in the room of which the child is afraid. His bottom is covered with sores because he has no way to clean himself. When his feeders come in, he no longer cries, but he makes a moaning sound.
The terrible knowledge of the child and its miserable survival is the climax of the story. When the reader learns that the children are told about the child when they are between eight and twelve years old, the story becomes more horrific.
The city of Omelas exists on the misery of one child. All of the citizens know about the child. Acceptance of the misery of any child calls for action. Yet, the people are willing to go on with their happy existence with this terrifying knowledge. The people tell themselves that it would do no good to free him because he is no longer able to be saved.
Many of the people, particularly young people, come to see him. The Omelas do not like to think about the child. They grieve for him, but there is nothing that can be done. Yet, it is their tears and anger, and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of their surrendering to the rules. They know like the child that they are not free.
The catch to living in Omelas is that the child has to be there, or the city cannot exist. These are the terms that must be followed: If the child were brought out, there would be no goodness, grace, or happiness in Omelas. The terms were strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.
Some of the citizens leave the city after seeing the child. They walk away and are never seen again. No one knows exactly what it is like where they go or whether this place even exists. Unfortunately when they walk away, they still leave the child to suffer. How can that be freedom with the child in their memories?