“They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas.”
After reading the story, it is known that this passage refers to the child kept “In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings…”. But could it be, that the child represents individuality of the person? As much of a stretch as it may seem, I would argue this could be one facet of Le Guin’s literary diamond.
The people of Omelas are described as “mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched”. How strange that every single person can be described the same way. Painting the entire picture with a single color, seems a little odd. Le Guin makes it a point that the concept of the “sacrificial child” is “usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve.” This could be taken as just an arbitrary age range, but I would say this was done with purpose, as it is during this time that children start to blossom into their own, try to blaze their own path. Such individuality would wreck the perfection of Omelas, and the leadership knows this. Adults explain to the children and even let them see the wretchedness of the child, and “they feel disgust”. The children are shocked into fear, shocked into submission. The wretched child, the one kept in the cellar, is the individuality of the people of Omelas, locked in the cellar of the mind, kept hidden in the dark, suppressed. The people of Omelas are led to believe that nurturing the child would lead to “the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas” to “wither and be destroyed”. They believe this and thus it is held to be the truth. The child kept in pain and misery is what keeps Omelas in luxury. Putting aside the self for the greater good, and spreading this belief to the young during the formative years. Omelas is described in beauty and splendor before showing the reader the cost. The victimized child, the unique self, locked away, pushed aside, for the betterment of the whole.
But this does not befall all, as “at times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all.” These are “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, the ones who reject the idea of self-suppression. The ones who leave, they swing open the cellar door and let their child free, knowing that doing so ostracizes them from their home, but knowing it is right. They toss down the mask of uniformity offered to them, and turn down a life of perfection at the sake of the soul.
I argue that the child kept in the cellar, is the embodiment of individuality, of uniqueness, and in fact is the reason for the prosperity Omelas experiences, not because of some pact or bargain, but because when every cog is in place, and every spring does its job, the clock runs perfectly. I say the child, is the representation of the imperfections of humanity, the things that make each person an original, and though suppressing the child will lead to delight and luxury, the ones who walk away, though not knowing where they go, know there is a better place out there, a place where they can be themselves.