37 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1973

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Literary Devices

Allegory

Allegory is a form of literature that uses characters, events, and places symbolically to represent something else—typically, abstract concepts. It is closely related to parable, which is a short story that illustrates a moral. However, where a parable usually has only a single and relatively self-evident message, an allegory may have several layers of meaning, in part because each element of the story (for example, a particular setting) may have metaphorical significance.

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" straddles the line between parable and allegory, but its ambiguity ultimately aligns it more with the latter. Although Le Guin's story is on one level a thought experiment designed to reveal the shortcomings of utilitarianism, other readings of the story are also possible. The child, for instance, could symbolize any real-world person or persons whose exploitation secures happiness for another. Alternatively, the city could represent the frame of mind people adopt in order to cope with social injustices; in this reading, the people who leave Omelas do not necessarily represent people who physically leave a flawed society, but rather people who live in a way that prioritizes something other than personal happiness.

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