The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas


Ursula K. Le Guin

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Themes and Colors
Individual vs Society Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Coming into Society Theme Icon
Imagination and Allegory Theme Icon
Happiness and Suffering Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Individual vs Society

The utopian city of Omelas relies on a social contract according to which each person must accept that their city’s happiness depends on the suffering of one child. Those who cannot come to terms with the child’s suffering leave the city alone on foot, their destination a mystery. The story therefore presents a classic utilitarian problem: is it morally justifiable to inflict suffering on one person in the service of others’ happiness? In weighing…

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Coming of Age and Coming into Society

The city of Omelas practices a coming of age ritual in which every child, at some point between the ages of eight and twelve, must learn that the happiness of their city depends on the suffering of one abused and neglected child. The town’s children have the choice to accept the suffering of this child and continue living their happy lives, or to walk, alone, out of the city forever. This moral choice marks…

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Imagination and Allegory

The narrator invites the reader to imagine Omelas as they wish. The narrator does not care if the reader knows Omelas is not real, so long as the city feels real to them personally. LeGuin highlights the imaginative act of storytelling by emphasizing both the narrator and reader’s fabrication of Omelas. As the reader pictures Omelas more and more clearly, they become more and more complicit in the world they have built. By the time…

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Happiness and Suffering

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” posits that there can be no happiness without suffering. Even in her imagined city of perfect happiness, LeGuin insists that one child must suffer extreme neglect and torture so the other citizens may experience joy.

The fundamental condition of life in Omelas is that, in order for society to be happy, the child must suffer without reprieve. The price of happiness, in other words, is suffering, and without…

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