The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

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The Child is the awful, shameful secret of Omelas—the secret that everyone knows. Citizens are only able to experience their happiness because this child suffers. Further, every citizen must confront the truth of the child’s miserable existence, as learning about the child is a type of coming-of-age ritual in Omelas. The reader never learns the child’s personal information, in part because it barely has any; Omelas has denied it the opportunity to develop personhood. The narrator exclusively uses the pronoun “it” when describing the child, reinforcing the child’s status as an object rather than a subject in its own right. The child is malnourished and un-socialized. Its body is underdeveloped and covered in festering sores. Even though the child is locked in perpetual suffering, it still protests its situation, pleading with its jailors: “Please let me out. I will be good!” Even though it has been objectified through torturous neglect for years, the child still remembers sunlight and its mother’s voice—thus, it remembers what it was like to be treated like a human being well enough to understand that its current state is inhuman. It experienced happiness enough to understand that it is now suffering. Like all people in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” The Child is highly symbolic, serving not only as the scapegoat for the society of Omelas, but as a symbol for scapegoats more generally. (A scapegoat is an individual who suffers in place of many—for example, the one criminal who takes the fall for robbing a bank to save the rest of his criminal team from jail, even though they robbed the bank together.) The symbolic scapegoating of this one child, in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” begs the question of whether a society can be called “just” or “perfect” if it is founded on even one instance of cruelty and injustice. Le Guin does not give her readers any clear answers to this question—she only poses it to her reader by depicting the child as a scapegoat in the extreme.

The Child Quotes in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

The The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas quotes below are all either spoken by The Child or refer to The Child. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Orion edition of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas published in 2015.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas Quotes

The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!” They never answer.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Child
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

They all know that it has to be there […] they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers […] depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Child
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Child
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Child
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Child Character Timeline in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

The timeline below shows where the character The Child appears in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Coming into Society Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
...windowless room in a basement beneath one of the city’s public buildings lives a malnourished child. The room is tiny, about the size of a broom closet. The child shares the... (full context)
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Coming into Society Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
The child has not always lived in the locked room. In fact, it remembers “sunlight and its... (full context)
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
This child’s existence is not a secret. Everyone in Omelas knows about it, whether they have seen... (full context)
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Coming into Society Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
Learning about the child’s existence is a sort of coming-of-age ritual in Omelas—an experience each child has, usually between... (full context)
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Coming into Society Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
Despite the initial trauma of learning about the child, most citizens come to justify their inaction. For some it takes weeks, for others, years,... (full context)
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Coming into Society Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
The people of Omelas do not forget about the child’s misery. Rather, their understanding of the child’s misery allows them to more deeply understand and... (full context)
Imagination and Allegory Theme Icon
...pauses to ask the audience if they believe in Omelas now, after learning about the child. The narrator suggests that this cruel situation makes Omelas “more credible.” Yet, there is another... (full context)
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Imagination and Allegory Theme Icon
Though most citizens of Omelas come to accept the awful predicament of the child’s misery, some do not. Sometimes citizens decide to reject the terms of life in Omelas—something... (full context)