Analysis of Symbolism in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

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Words: 1001 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

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Words: 1001|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

Analysis of Symbolism in the One Who Walk Away from Omelas
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The essay analyzes Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas." This thought-provoking narrative presents a utopian society called Omelas, where happiness and prosperity abound. However, the city's blissful existence hinges on the suffering of one child, locked away in a basement, malnourished and mistreated.

Le Guin employs various symbols throughout the story to convey its deeper moral and philosophical themes. Omelas itself is depicted as a place of joy, celebrations, and contentment. The child, who continuously plays a wooden flute, symbolizes purity and the simplicity of happiness. Yet, beneath this seemingly perfect exterior lies a dark truth: the city's prosperity depends entirely on the child's misery, representing a form of slavery.

The essay also explores the reactions of the people of Omelas when they become aware of the child's suffering. Some choose to walk away from the city, symbolizing a moral stance against sacrificing one for the happiness of many. These individuals represent the acknowledgment that no society can truly be utopian if it relies on the suffering of an innocent.


Would you be able to live happily knowing that there is a child suffering for your happiness? In “The One Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Le Guin describes a scenario in which an entire city’s population can experience a pure form of happiness as long as one child suffers as a sacrifice. Le Guin uses symbols such as the city of Omelas, the child who never stops playing the flute, the child in the basement, and the ones who walk away to expose the moral weaknesses within modern society, and to suggest the fact that no society is perfect. Omelas is described by the narrator as the story begins as “In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air…and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.” The narrator shows that the citizens of Omelas are healthy, happy by describing the city of Omelas through many senses like the sounds, the visual, the smells. Omelas is a city with frequent celebrations and other festivities. However, there is an exception for the one child that lives in the basement under a public building who is malnourished, mistreated, and confined. Furthermore, the city of Omelas is portrayed as a utopian society by using symbol of “a child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute… for he never ceases playing and never see them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune”. He keeps playing as though there is nothing else in the world can make him feel any happier.

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Children are the symbol of purity and carefree happiness. The child never stops playing the flute is symbolic because the flute is a simple primitive instrument with nothing to offer except a simple melody. The child finds joy in it anyways, although this optimistic scene has something darker to reveal. The life of the people who live in Omelas was described as joyous but in fact is one of mindless happiness. Everything is given to them by a miserable child who lives in a locked room in a basement. To help this one tormented child would result in the suffering of the entire city. Le Guin proves her point by explaining that if the child were to be freed, all the prosperity and beauty of Omelas would disappear. She states that the natives of Omelas are well-educated, warm-hearted people. Yet, they are aware that “the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars… depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” Even though the narrator tells us that Omelas does not keep slaves, the child symbolizes slavery because he is not free and is a servant of Omelas like a slave is to its owner. The dirtiness on the bottom of the tiny prison floor where the child sleeps in is similar what many slaves in America used to sleep in. The narrator is suggesting that in today’s society, not everyone can be happy and live a delightful life. All around the world, people are living in poverty and abandon, but they cannot always be saved from what is happening to them.

The reactions of the people after acknowledging the existence of the child is also a very essential detail. The ones who walked away from Omelas is a symbol for morality in the story. By deciding to leave the city, they are sending a message that no one person should be miserable for the happiness of other people: “They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back… But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.” Le Guin shows that there is no such thing as a utopian society. When the ones who walk away from Omelas leave, it is as if they are going to a society where everything is not as blissful. It may not be a perfect society, but it is a place that is more realistic to live where they do not have to suffer the guilt of knowing that there is a child being tormented for their happiness.

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Le Guin uses many different methods to portray Omelas as a Utopian society. In the end, she reveals that there are some people who leave the city after they saw the child and uses them as a symbol of morality. Le Guin exposes the moral weaknesses within modern society by using the ones who stays at Omelas because they enjoy living in a “perfect society” and they do not care about the fact that there is a child living in the basement suffering for them. She proves that no society is perfect, and there will always be someone out there living in poverty and neglect.


Le Guin, city of Omelas, Omelas leave, citizens of Omelas,Omelas, beauty of Omelas, utopian society, perfect society, natives of Omelas, flute, locked room, society, wooden flute, symbols


  1. Wyman, S. (2012). Reading Through Fictions in Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 25(4), 228-232. (
  3. Hirsch, A. K. (2016). Walking off the Edge of the World: Sacrifice, Chance, and Dazzling Dissolution in the Book of Job and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. Humanities, 5(3), 67. (
  4. Adams, R. (1991). Narrative Voice and Unimaginability of the Utopian” Feminine” in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and” The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. Utopian Studies, 2(1/2), 35-47. (
  5. Güranç, M. (2019). An Analysis of the Utopia Question in Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. Journal of English Language and Literature Club, 1(2), 36-39. (
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Analysis of Symbolism in the One Who Walk Away from Omelas. (2023, February 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Analysis of Symbolism in the One Who Walk Away from Omelas.” GradesFixer, 28 Feb. 2023,
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