Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Paradox is a constant motif throughout the story. At first, the story appears like a straightforward tale of a beautiful city and its happy citizens preparing for a celebration. After this brief introduction, however, the paradoxes begin to emerge. The people appear simple in their happiness, but they are actually complex. There is religion, but no clergy. There is a sense of triumph and bravery, but no soldiers. There is the drug drooz, but no one really takes it. And once the fact of the suffering child is established, the whole existence of Omelas becomes a paradox. It is a city of perfect happiness and contentedness, of beauty and splendor, but it is entirely dependent upon the most horrific suffering imaginable. The people enjoy tremendous freedom, from hunger and guilt and pain, but they are not free to help the child, lest their utopia collapse. Le Guin’s use of paradox creates a mood of uncertainty, discomfort, and consternation. The purpose is to make the reader uncomfortable, not only with the Omelas they have imagined but also with the real world they inhabit. The moral implications of living in a paradoxical world are unclear, and the narrator leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. At the end of the story, the narrator hints at a straightforward solution to the paradox of moral dilemma: one can simply walk away. Yet, the people who choose to leave this terrible utopia represent another paradox. The ones who walk away from Omelas are certain of where they are going, but where they are going may not exist.