The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
In The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin we have the theme of conflict, happiness, freedom, sacrifice, acceptance and control. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Le Guin may be exploring the theme of conflict. There are some in Omelas who disapprove of how the boy in the cellar is treated. So conflicted are these people that they decide upon leaving Omelas because they know that the boy is being used as a scapegoat in order for those in Omelas to be happy. Though this may sound illogical considering that the boy is an innocent this nonetheless is the state of affairs in Omelas. An individual’s happiness and freedom is reliant on the boy being locked up in a dark cellar. With no explanation given as to why the boy is a prisoner. It is as though the boy is being sacrificed in order for others to live a happy and free life. This may be important as it suggests that the hierarchy in Omelas may choose another boy or child in time in order to ensure that there is a continuation of happiness in Omelas.
It is also interesting that those who don’t leave Omelas accept what is happening. They may be upset for a day or two but they realise that their happiness and freedom is dependent on the boy being locked up in the cellar. Though nobody in Omelas knows as to why the boy must be locked up or sacrificed. It is also possible that Le Guin is suggesting that there is a price to pay for happiness and freedom. The price in this case is the fact that the boy is kept in the cellar. Though again nobody in Omelas appears to know or question as to why the boy must be locked up. It might also be a case that Le Guin is suggesting that within every village, town, city or country. There are secrets. What a person sees may not necessarily be the reality of what is really happening. Something which is very much the case in Omelas. In the first section of the story the narrator paints a picture of bliss. However in the section second of the story the reality is very much different. Omelas has a secret. A secret that nobody appears to be able to explain.
There is also some symbolism in the story which might be important. The cellar itself represents freedom and how easily those in authority in Omelas can take away a person’s freedom without any explanation being given. It is also possible that the cellar represents a division in class. With the boy not being deemed worthy to be part of Omelas. Yet those outside the cellar are deemed to be privileged and worthy of happiness and freedom. The horses too may also be symbolically significant as they appear to have a more freedom than the boy does. If anything a horse which would usually be restrained by a harness is not actually restrained in the story. The horses are also treated with love and affection. Something which is completely opposite to how the boy is treated. Omelas itself could symbolise the dilemma that some people face when it comes to the things that they witness in life. Some will chose to ignore any unfairness while others will decide upon leaving their village, town, city or country. Which is very much the case with some of Omelas citizens when they see the conditions that the boy is forced to live under.
Without knowing it the people in Omelas are being controlled by those in authority. They believe that the sacrifice of the one child is imperative for everybody else to be happy. Yet no one asks for an explanation as to why the boy must be sacrificed nor do they ask what the boy might have done. It is as those in Omelas blindly accept the discretion of those in authority. Which may be the point that Le Guin is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that the people in Omelas may not necessarily be as free as they think they are. There are conditions to their freedom and one of the conditions is obviously the fact that the boy must be kept in the cellar. Locked away from the world. Those in Omelas appear to be gullible believing that their own happiness is dependent on the boy being kept in the cellar. Again this would appear to be illogical as the boy does not seem to be different to other boys. Apart from the fact that he is obviously being mistreated and kept in the cellar. In reality Omelas has a secret. One that it likes to keep hidden away from others. Yet it has no logical explanation as to why one individual is singled out in order for the majority to be happy and free.