Discuss the themes in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin. 

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

 “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin presents an unusual utopian type of city. Everything is beautiful and well done in the city.  The people seem happy in this world. The children laugh and play. 

The narration is third person point of view with an involved narrator.  The narrator tells the story of the city of Omelas, the city by the sea.  Focusing on the parallel of Omelas and the present society, the narrator offers the reader the opportunity to suggest how he thinks that the world would be run.  Then, she adds her own version of what should be placed in the society.


There are basically three themes that are developed in the story.   The first motif that is clearly a part of the story is morality. If the utopian city’s survival is based on one condition and that involves the suffering of a child, what moral decision should be made?  Everyone else wins, and the child loses; or everyone loses, and the child wins.  In Omelas the decision is made, the child loses.  That is the rule.  There are no other conditions. A child must be kept in a small, locked, filthy room with no light.  No one can speak or touch the child to take care of its sores.  The child must be in this place in these conditions, or Omelas will no longer survive.

Hopefully, morality would swing to the side of the child.  A society who chooses to ignore the presence of a suffering child cannot call itself civilized. This is the situation over which the author wants the reader to ponder. 

The second thematic issue is guilt versus innocence.  Every child in Omelas between the ages of eight and twelve is told about the child.  Some want to see him. Many adults choose to look at him. Once the person has actually witnessed the child, what then does he do? Many cry and grieve and then return to their lives.  Some go on without the showing of emotion.  There are some both young and old who walk away from Omelas and are never seen again.  No one knows what happens to them. 

There are two things to consider.  If a person has seen the child, he is not guilty of immorality if he does nothing.  Secondly, if a person leaves Omelas, he is leaving the child behind and also becomes guilty of the child’s abuse as well.  There are no innocent people in Omelas if everyone knows about the child and does nothing.

The third theme regards the idea of ideal happiness. Is there such a thing as perfect happiness? Does happiness come with a price tag? These are the questions that the author asks to be discussed.  In the story, obviously, there is a price tag for this Utopian happiness: a child must suffer. 

If a person knows about the child, there should be no way for complete happiness to occur because of the guilt that is brought by the knowledge of the child’s suffering. Some philosophers believe that there is no society in which pure happiness can happen as long as there are people who envy others, who refuse to accept authority, or take things that do not belong to them. 

Read the study guide:
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question