The short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, written by Ursula Le Guin, is about a so-called perfect society where the sacrifice of a child is what provides harmony, equality, and prosperity to the citizens of this city. As a reader, one is invited to create and visualize their own utopia, so that one is emerged with the reality of a moral dilemma: the happiness of many for the unhappiness of one. The symbol represented in the story reflects current and past society issues such as military sacrifice, slavery, and injustice.
The narrator describes the city of Omelas to have no king (president), political system, technology, weapons, or many of the things that currently permeate our society. The story portrays a utopia where the citizens of Omelas enjoy freedom and pleasures much like Americans do today because of the sacrifice soldiers give everyday for the citizens of the United States. The town sacrifices the child’s existence of a normal life for the sake of peace and freedom, whereas in the real world, soldiers sacrifice their lives for the sake of peace and freedom for their nation.
One can tie the sacrifice the child endures for the way of life in Omelas to the sacrifice of the soldiers in the U. S. ; however, many of the soldiers in the U. S. make their own decision about enlisting in the Armed Forces, whereas the child’s decision was not if its own. However, one can also compare the child’s predicament to those drafted and required to go to war, which are required to sacrifice their lives for the people of its land as the child sacrificed its freedom for the citizens of Omelas.
Conversely, the narrator shows the reader that a perfect society should not celebrate victory in war and blood, but rather celebrate peace and love between humans. The narrator goes further and states, “[b]ut as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers” (244). Clearly, if there is no conflict between nations, there would not be any need for soldiers, but in order for there to be freedom in the United States and “perfection” in Omelas, there has to be a sacrifice to achieve both.
As human beings, we strive for freedom, and as we see in both our world and the one in the story, no one is truly free. “They know that they, like the child, are not free,” writes the narrator, showing the reader that although the citizens apparently live “free” in a perfect society, inside their souls, they are not free. There are no slaves in this utopia, as described by the narrator, but in actuality, the child’s freedom is taken from it, similar to slavery. The child symbolizes slavery because it is not free and is a servant to all the citizens of Omelas.
The narrator clearly gives the reader a contradiction stating, “…they did without…slavery,” but she fails to conclude that the child is a servant of Omelas as a slave is to its owner. The citizens of the city are described as equal, prosperous, and joyous, except for the child who is malnourished, mistreated, and confined. The child lives very much as slaves did in America, where the birth of a slave’s child was to become a slave and never to be freed. The filth and dirt on the bottom floor of the tiny prison where the child sleeps reflects what many slaves used to sleep in.
Another symbol that reflects slavery in the story would be the smelly mops next to the rusty buckets in the corner of the dirty closet, which serves as a reminder the role the child has as a slave, as a servant to the people. The narrator tells the reader, “[i]t is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there…” (245). One can debate that this represents the history of slaves, one that will always be remembered by its people.
The child’s violation of human rights and unfair, maltreatment from the people of Omelas represents injustice. The symbol of injustice debatably manifests itself when the people of Omelas do nothing for the child’s well being for the sake of a perfect society. Although the narrator states that there is no guilt in Omelas, the children show signs of it when the narrators states, “They feel disgust…, [t]hey feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child.
But there is nothing they can do” (245). These feelings are signs that guilt may actually live within the citizens of Omelas, and what is to say about the ones who leave the city and never come back? Is it because of the guilt felt due to the injustice of the child? This is never explained in the story, but one thing is for sure, when people leave Omelas for whatever reason it may be, it does not erase the fact that the child remains suffering when they are long gone, never to return.
In the story, the child if liberated from its unfortunate condition will not be able to enjoy life, but live in fear (246). The children of Omelas struggle to understand, at first, why the child must endure the horrible conditions it lives in, and as described by the narrator, “[o]ften young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage…They may brood over it for weeks or years…Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it” (246).
There are many injustices observed in the world today, such as, discrimination, violation of human rights, and political corruption. The narrator involves the reader to focus and question the injustice that is lived not only in the story, but also in society today. There are many symbols represented in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” but the ones that a more prevalent than others really invites us to look at our own society we live in, and question our ethics and moral beliefs.
As a society and a nation that is abundant, there are sacrifices given each day by soldiers for the people of this land for its freedom. One must not only remember the history of slavery in America, but also realize that it continues to be practiced in other parts of the world. Lastly, one person can make a difference in the world, so let the moral of the story be a lesson to stand up for was is just and fair, unlike the citizens of Omelas who do nothing or turn the other way.