To me, this short story offers one of those "open question" scenarios. Apparently it was written in response to Le Guin's reading of the following passage from The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life by William James:Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
Le Guin wrote the piece as a musing piece of speculation, building her imagined utopia as a : "Perhaps this or perhaps that, but definitely this and this."
To me her "utopia" had the flavor of a 60's or 70's hippie's idea of what an utopia might be, I can see Ms Le Guin with bare feet and flowers in her hair.. :)
She did a very good job of posing a moral dilemma; one that doesn't seem to have a pat answer, and which one rolls around in your head considering options against one another.
I agree with the opinion that walking away might not
be the best option...-personally, I would save the child and tough cookies for the rest, but I realize a lot of people would not agree with that way out, and I actually respect each person's 'choice' regarding the tough moral decision posed in the story.
I don't agree, however, with the idea that "Omelas" is supposed to represent the West and the child the Third World. Firstly, changing the plight of the Third World is certainly not as easy as simply taking the child out of it's closet and feeding and caring for it. In fact, interference tends only to instigate dependence and more misery, if anything. But yes, I agree that those who exploit aspects of the Third World only to profiteer from such connivance are of course worsening the plight of those they interfere with.
...and secondly, doing the latter would not magically plunge the West into darkness. There are many countries in the West who are doing fine without having to rely on 'exploitation' of the 3rd world. If, for example, Africa (or Tuvalu) or Tasmania had never existed, would that cause untold misery for the entire rest of the world? Do we need misery anywhere to make the rest happier? Personally I just cannot see it, (in the sense that the child makes the Omelasians' utopia possible) although, if any part of the world was not there the rest would of course be culturally be poorer, and poorer in knowledge and diversity; but that's not the point I'm trying to make - I'm trying to say that I don't see how a scapegoat is essential for an Utopia in such a physical sense.
I think this is a piece that is very hard to figure out if you try to tie it to a very specific situation, and serves it's best value if you keep it as a sort of more abstract question. I think Le Guin didn't intend for it to be specifically tied to only one situation, but rather as a general question of ethics;- one which mainly challenges the idea of utilitarianism.
Of course, the very open-endedness of the scenario allows for it to be applied to as many specific situations as people can find it fit to do.