LeGuin’s story “The Ones who walk away from Omelas” presents a picture of a utopian city, governed by an underlying understanding that despite the moral repulsion of heaping torture upon one individual, it is a necessity for the mental well being of the many, in order that the utopian condition of the city might be preserved. The story “encapsulates the full beauty and horror of a society in which the good of the many occurs at the expense of the suffering of a small minority. "The abused child in the basement" from that story became a kind of shorthand for the disadvantaged in our discussions of social equity as it applies to all citizens.” (Adams, and Pugh 65) In a similar manner, Jackson’s "The Lottery" is based on the theme of one individual becoming a scapegoat to support a group mechanism for the sacrifice of one to preserve the happiness of many. Crane’s "The Blue Hotel" shows a self-selecting scapegoat who by rubbing in his difference creates a collusive communal reaction leading to his death.
LeGuin’s story suggests an idyllic existence in a culture of a prosperous and sophisticated people, much given to carnivals, parades, and festivals of all kinds where their leaders are wise and free of corruption. A picture of a crime-free society where there is no wants or distress of any kind. The shocking contrast comes when the existence of a single child locked in filthy, miserable conditions within a broom closet is revealed to the reader.
"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. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. . . . The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. 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 might be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feebleminded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. . . . The door is always locked, and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes–the child has no understanding of time or interval–sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. "I will be good," it says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" They never answer." (Le Guin, 281)
The existence of the child is known to the citizens of the town – it sometimes begs for release and promises to be good, because it is suffering so much