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

Start Free Trial

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas Characters

The main characters in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” are the child, the people of Omelas, and the ones who walk away.

  • The child is Omelas's scapegoat. Imprisoned alone in a filthy room, it is forced to live in fear and misery so that others may be happy.
  • The people of Omelas understand that their happiness is dependent on the child's suffering. While some initially want to help the child, they come to believe it would be wrong to do so.
  • The ones who walk away are citizens who leave the city after seeing the child and walk into the darkness, never to return.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 766

In "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, the main characters are the child who suffers and the people of Omelas. The people of Omelas are all ages and sexes and are discussed generally in two groups: those who stay in Omelas and those who choose to leave it.

The Child

The child is presented as the victim of a horrible fate. They is addressed in the story as "it" because they are treated like an object. They are chained up in a tool room: naked, isolated, gawked at, and treated inhumanely. The child is denied their life, family, free will, and any human interaction—even a conversation. While the child used to cry out for help, they have since come to understand that no one will rescue them; instead, they babble and groan, idly passing the time in misery.

This child is the quintessential scapegoat, someone who is falsely made to suffer for the "good" of the majority. In the field of psychology, the scapegoat in a dysfunctional family dynamic results in one child being singled out. This child does not deserve the false blame, abuse, and general dehumanization they experience at the hands of their family members but will be treated that way by parents and siblings alike in order to sustain a false unity and corrupt sense of loyalty among the other members. This is precisely what the child in the story symbolizes: a scapegoat whose reduced dignity and dehumanization is used to sustain the unity, power, and structure of Omelas as a society.

The People of Omelas

All people in Omelas live prosperous, pleasurable lives, but between the ages of eight to twelve years old, they are awakened to the horrible reality of the suffering child for the first time. These children are at first tormented by the sight of the child; but, as they grow, they are conditioned to believe it would be "wrong" to help the child:

They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed stay in Omelas at the expense of the child's life, soul, and well-being.

Many of the children in Omelas are persuaded that they must help sustain the corrupt power structure of the town as they grow older. This is not unlike how family members in dysfunctional family units who question the idea of the "scapegoat" are often made to feel as if they have betrayed their entire family.

The story goes on to say that "they, like the child, are not free" because their happiness comes at a cost of another. However, the people of Omelas justify the suffering of the child by convincing themselves that it would not be happy if it was free— that the child is too imbecilic and inhuman at this point to be worth rescuing and wouldn't appreciate freedom. Thus, they feel assured in their decision to subjugate the child to these deplorable conditions in order to sustain their own idyllic lives.


(This entire section contains 766 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Ones Who Walk Away

There are some who leave Omelas soon after seeing the child. These people must pass "through the beautiful gates" of Omelas, and traverse through darkness:

Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow‑lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back.

The ones who leave Omelas have faced the literal darkness of their reality (the corruption and evil behind the success of their society) and have rejected the pleasures and prosperity that this society can offer. They choose isolation and reject the false narrative of Omelas—a "utopia" that is driven by self-deception and sustained by the complete and absolute suffering of one individual. Although they cannot threaten power structure of Omelas itself, they can walk away.