The Child: An Explication of the Symbol from
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
O miracle! But I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tell, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Omelas, as describe by the author, is a utopia. However, even this seeming heavenly society has a fault.
In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door and no window The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect.
What sort of society that is supposed to be indescribably happy has a child like this? To what purpose does this child serve, and why would the people of the town go along with something so vulgar? It would appear to outside eyes as something unnecessary and monstrous, but there is a deeper meaning than meets the eye.
The Child serves a purpose so great and important that the city does its best to ignore it. One might think that nothing is worth what this child must go through; however, in this case, it is worth it. The author explains that their happiness, health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this childs abominable misery. This child is the representation of balance. Without this child, this society would fall apart. The story even describes that some of the people feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. The child is the balance even if it was brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. This explains that even if the child was treated with the same love and kindness as the rest of the village, as soon as that kindness happened, the utopia would no longer exist. The child would be raised in conditions that only barely surpass his last arrangements. It is this principle that allows the utopia to exist. The pain and suffering of this child allows for the existence of such a perfect society to exist; it is the darkness to the light.
This description of Omelas and the happiness that resides inside of it are but a taste of the beauty that is described throughout the story. After reading about the child, it is hard to quite understand why the town would do such a thing, but you need to see how the rest of the town lives.
With a clamor bells that se the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city In the streets between the houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public building, processions moved In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dance, the procession was a dance Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still corning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across miles of sunlit air a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of bells.
It is this balance of pain and happiness that allows Omelas to continue. The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child this is the sacrifice everyone is willing to live with, however there are those people who feel the guilt.
Even in this town that seems to have figured out a way to live with eternal happiness there are those who feel guilty for the treatment of the Child. 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. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two and then leaves home. This is action that some of the people take is evidence that many people are feeling guilt or sadness which is not allowed in Omelas. So these people walk ahead into the darkness and they do not come back. The place they go toward is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city and are never seen again. This action, along with the two extremes involving the child and the overall happiness of the city, shows that balance is the key to the survival of the utopia which is Omelas.
The world exists in a balance of good and evil, poor and wealthy, and without one the other cannot exist. If city of Omelas did not have a child suffering the most horrible fate, who would they be able to call their city a utopia? With nothing to compare their happiness to, it does not quite exist as happiness. There is no Ying with Yang, there is not Darkness without the Light and there cannot be happiness without misery.