“The trouble is that we have a bad habit…of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting.”
The above idea that Le Guin raises early in the story is shown throughout as the narrator continually nudges the reader, so to speak, by acknowledging our disbelief in a society as happy and pure as Omelas. When the child is finally revealed to us, it is with a sense of resignation, inevitability:
“Do you believe? …. No?”
The trouble with Omelas is physically revealed in the child, the society itself having been built upon the “successful slaughter” of a fellow human, a helpless human at that. However, the people in this story who are ultimately shunned, locked away in hopelessness and triviality, at least in terms of the narrative, are the citizens who remain in Omelas.
The people who remain have built their joy upon the suffering of the child, a kind of joy the narrator earlier says is not only “fearful” but “trivial.” The triviality of Omelas and those who stay is apparent in the title and by the end of the story—at the start, the reader is drawn to those who “walk away from” Omelas, awaiting their entrance, and by the end is more concerned with the child than with the citizens of the city. But not just that—the very idea of “Utopia” is a trivial one, Utopia being, literally, a No-Place. Indeed Omelas-above-ground is a No Place, it’s buildings interchangeable (“one of the beautiful public buildings…or perhaps…one of its spacious home”), just as the habits and culture of the people who remain matter little, as they are glossed over only vaguely with words like “perhaps,” “maybe.”
The child and the cellar are described in detail, a sharp contrast to the vague language used for the rest of Omelas. Only the child speaks in the novel, an honor awarded not even to those who walk from Omelas—“I will be good!” Despite that, the child is described as “feeble-minded,” “defective,” an “imbecile.” By “glorifying” its pain in the novel, calling such attention to it as opposed to the vague happiness felt by the rest of the citizens of Omelas, Le Guin shows us how we (that is, we of Western society) also trivialize ourselves by glorifying pain.
The United States is a society built “upon successful slaughter.” By being so, “it is fearful and it is trivial.” The child is in pain, suffering, without choice; but the people of Omelas, and we the Western readers of this story, are given a choice, handed to us by Le Guin when she shows us the child. By knowingly accepting and doing nothing to change a system that creates the kind of suffering illustrated by the child, we become trivial ourselves, another faceless cog in the capitalist machine. The question will be what to do when we have not a single suffering child, but endless people in scattered nations around the globe, one thousand-million Atlases holding up the world as we know it.