Underneath the City of Omelas

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursla Le Guin is a very eye opening and awakening piece that mirrors our very own society and the underlying issues suppressed for the sake of our lifestyles. I actually read this piece in my previous English class and remembered how immediately I compared “Omelas” to the United States when the city is described as “bright-towered by the sea”, (Le Guin 1). The city of Omelas seems to be a complete utopia as the reader is given vivid imagery of how “joyous” and nearly perfect Omelas is, with “a cheerful sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells”, (Le Guin 1). Similar to us modern day American citizens, the people of Omelas “were not a simple folk”, (Le Guin 2). Le Guin stresses multiple times in the story that though these people had very few laws and “did without monarchy, slavery… the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police and the bomb”, (Le Guin 2), they were not simple folk; they were not “dulcet shepherds… bland utopians”. Le Guin also ¬†gives off the impression that Omelas is a magical golden city, and then takes it back by recommending the reader “add an orgy”, (Le Guin 3), in efforts to help us taint the perfect image we’ve conjured in our heads as we imagine Omelas.

Like a well oiled machine, the city of Omelas and its happy citizens thrive and survive because of the suffering and brutal neglect of a nameless child described by Le Guin from page 4 to 5. This poor child and his/ her suffering is the very fuel to the livelihood and happiness of the people of Omelas, and these terms were “strict and absolute” or “all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed”, (Le Guin 5). The most shocking part of it all is that the people of Omelas were completely aware of this child living beneath them! Some were “outraged” and “disgusted” as described on Le Guin 5, while others felt helpless in knowing the essence of the child’s pain to their lives. A reader can interpret the child’s anguish and suffering as a symbol of America’s middle working class, or Laborers who dedicate themselves to working and serving as pillars to support the upper class. This dystopian society created by Le Guin is in fact painted as a Utopian world to represent the hidden reality of what keeps us up and running. Everything from the clothes we wear to the food we eat, most sourced and created by under compensated workers in poor work conditions. The happiness of these citizens of Omelas depended wholly on this child’s tormented life beneath the beautiful streets of the city.

I really enjoy how Le Guin leaves us space to infer on our own and conclude with several possible connections and messages with our own interpretations. She paints such a vibrant and realistic image of a seemingly perfect city and then flips the mood to show the inner workings of how such a happiness and lifestyle could be possible. While a child is living in complete squalor under absolute gruesome conditions, the city of Omelas still shines by the sea while the happiness in the air radiates and warmth seeps through the cracks in the boards on the window of that basement.

One thought on “Underneath the City of Omelas

  1. Daniel

    “While a child is living in complete squalor under absolute gruesome conditions, the city of Omelas still shines by the sea while the happiness in the air radiates and warmth seeps through the cracks in the boards on the window of that basement”
    The contrast between the squalid child and the opulence of Omelas mocks us.

    Reply

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