Analysis of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”

Laney Frydendall, Writer

The short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” was written by Ursula LeGuin in 1973 to show some insight to our capitalistic society. This story portrays a seemingly perfect utopian society with everything anyone can ever imagine. However, the one catch to this “flawless” city is a tortured boy their happiness depends on. Through a Marxist lense, one can see that the author’s purpose is to expose the truth about our capitalistic society. Marxism is a literary criticism used to explore class differences and how our socioeconomic system is at the center of our world. LeGuin uses Omelas to point out the faults in our real-life capitalistic society and show that the socioeconomic system is at the center of our society by comparing the United States to Omelas’ citizens and the tortured boy to mistreated adults and children who work in factories to make our products overseas.

To see the connection between the two societies. We first have to look at the similarities between them. Omelas, like the United States, is a place of freedom and for the most part, happiness. In the Story LeGuin states, “Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all” (LeGuin 753). By saying this, we can assume that LeGuin wants the reader to see Omelas as their own world. We all have different interests and she even goes to say that even if you want drugs, you can in your perfect, utopian world (LeGuin 754). If LeGuin did not want us to imagine our own world, she would have laid Omelas out so the reader can better understand their society. Instead, she gives us the freedom to make our own happy place with no guilt. 

One can see from LeGuin’s use of the boy that the socioeconomic system is at the center of our society. To see this, they have to figure out how the boy relates to everyday life. In our society, many products are made overseas in factories that pay very little for the amount of work that is done. The working conditions in those factories make the people miserable and put them in a cage they cannot escape just like the boy. LeGuin explains this when she states the people of Omelas, “all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. […] they all understand that their happiness […] depend[s] wholly on this child’s abominable misery” (LeGuin 755). Almost all Americans know about the consequences of the process called offshoring, but very few actually try to stop it. Most people think that the benefits of the products outweigh the suffering the workers go through. This proves that the center of society is the socioeconomic system. We care more about products than people. Due to this, nothing is done and the miserable workers have to keep working in awful conditions. LeGuin highlights this when she says, “It is the existence of the child , and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science”(LeGuin 756). They have somber feelings for them but in the end ignore them. People know that their amazing, utopian society is built on the tears and suffering of others. Yet very few people, as seen in the short story also, leave the city. 

There are also real world connections to our society concerning the ones who leave Omelas. Guilt is pretty much non existent there. Everyone eventually comes to terms with what the boy is going through. This is seen in LeGuin’s explanation of the terms of happiness in Omelas “To exchange all the goodness and grace of everyday 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” (LeGuin 756). They are much more concerned with the society’s happiness than the happiness of one suffering boy in a closet. They are willing to let him suffer to get the products that make them happy. It is not moral, but they have no guilt when choosing what makes them happy. However, there are exceptions to this as people leave Omelas. A real world connection to the citizens that leave are the people in American society that refuse to buy products made by the sweatshops and go help the mistreated workers. It is a hard life, but they know what they are going to do. LeGuin asserts the deserters of Omelas “seem to know where they are going” (LeGuin 756). It is difficult for regular citizens that have accepted the fate of the boy or the workers to understand what the deserters will be doing. Activism is not seen in Omelas but the reader can assume that it is what the deserters will be doing. They are the people in society that take a stand for the workers that are pushed down by the weight of their job and futureless life. 

In conclusion, looking at LeGuin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’, through a Marxist lense allows the reader to relate the story to real-life society. Marxist ideas are seen everywhere in daily life and one cannot escape it. We can relate Omelas to life in America in many ways. They are both places of freedom, where one can have or do almost anything they want. However, both societies have their ugly side related to their own selfish desires. The people of Omelas want to keep the little boy in the closet because it results in their happiness while Americans ignore the pain and suffering happening overseas due to offshoring. Both societies know what is happening and in a way, are the same society just told in the different perspective of LeGuin. Overall, she is trying to get the reader to see the faults in American society by showing us Omelas. People may think Omelas is an awful place after reading, but they need to look in the mirror because it is their society LeGuin is talking about.