“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin is not just a science fiction story. It is a metaphor for the battle with depression that is fought and overcome by some, but not by others.
In this utopia of Omelas, there is no ruling authority, laws, or slavery. There are no clergy members to exact God’s judgments on them. These are all things that lead to people feeling fear, pain, hopelessness, shame, guilt, and, above all, sadness. With all these feelings seemingly abolished, what is left?
The answer is joy, merriness, and happiness. In Omelas, all the citizens seem to be in a state of sexual enlightenment where they feel they can be open about their sexuality and not be ashamed. Recreational drugs are in ample supply to give the citizens a new form of “lightness.” Everyone there is “joyous” and happy.
But they have a secret. There is a child in a basement. It is never allowed to leave the room. It is beaten, starved, and unloved. It feels all of the abandoned emotions and none of the joy. The citizens “all know it is there,” and they “understand that their happiness…depend[s] wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” Some go and look at the child then continue on their merry way. But others do not. Some look at the child and do not regain the joy once felt. Instead of returning to Omelas, they walk away “into the darkness” to “a place that is even less imaginable.”
The questions that remain unanswered are why does this happen, and where do they go?
My solution is that there is no child at all. The child is a metaphor for all of the depressing feelings that are never accepted by the citizens. Instead of feeling shame or guilt that they know is there, they hide these feelings away and never let them out. If the child is ever visited, they make sure not to talk to it or show it sympathy. To do this would acknowledge that the feelings in question actually exist. When they are finally acknowledged, most people can overcome these feelings and carry on. Others cannot do this and walk, but not aimlessly. “They seem to know where they are going,” even though the narrator does not know. “Walking away” is a metaphor for suicide. The unknown place that cannot be described is death and/or the afterlife.