When are “we” and “I” of the same importance and have the same meaning? Is it possible not to distinguish these two from each other? The dystopian work We by Yevgeny Zamyatin explores a society in which these two words have been merged in order to produce one distinct mass, free from any individuality. Although each citizen is his or her own self, everyone exists uniformly to create an invariable “we”: the main ambition of OneState. When viewing this work critically, several parallels between OneState and the communist ideology supporting Soviet Russia can be deduced, strengthened by descriptions of “we”, “us” and “I” that are prevalent throughout We, as communism encompasses equality void of prejudiced treatment. This essay will explore how We scrutinizes the communist ideology through the linguistic comparisons between “we and I”, as well as how the plentiful religious allusions strengthen the reading that Zamyatin proposes, which is that communism may easily become a tyranny under which no true happiness can be found.
We addresses OneState as a society far into the future, long after potential readers of this novel have passed away. Notwithstanding this, the real referent of We is his “historical present” (Booker), as a clear dichotomy between the reader and “unknown beings who live on other planets” (3) is provided, developing a clear distinction between “you”- the reader, and “they” or “them”- the unearthly. In the Russian language this novel has originated from, the words “us” and “you” are of a similar origin and are pronounced similarly: “mui” and “thui”. However, a polarity is prominent when examining the terms “us” and “them” within Russia, the “us” being “mui” and the “them” being “oni”. While these differences do not come across very well in the English translation of the text, they are very prominent in the Russian version. When regarding these subtle changes in language use, it is clear that the reader has been placed within the pool of “we” whereas any other addressees are dismissed. The narrator attempts to create a distinct barrier between the two groups: welcoming one group and shunning the other. Readers are meant to feel a greater spiritual connection towards OneState, basking in this sense of nationalism that attempts to envelop them, skewing the reader’s perception of what is actually occurring within this society. However, the tables are turned once more when politics are brought into play. Although the reader as a past citizen is at first regarded as a part of the whole, of “we”, they are ostracized when democracy is brought into question. “It goes without saying that this has no resemblance to the disorderly, unorganized elections in ancient times…. To establish a state on the basis of absolutely unpredictable randomness…could there be anything more idiotic? (132) Those that were once a part of the whole, the readers who have lived before the time of OneState, are addressed as “they”. The bitter, biting tone used during this reflection upon past regimes adds another level of segregation amongst consanguineous individuals. The diction used, particularly the harshness of the “d” and “g” in the words “disorderly”, “unorganized” and “idiotic” melds into one image of synesthesia as one can visualize and hear the harshness of what as being expressed. Zamyatin proposes alongside this the notion that the – that a potential degeneration of the Russian revolution into a stagnant autocracy is highly likely. Zamyatin’s work, in its simplest form, is a warning towards the possible outcome of a communist uprising – how although communism promotes egalitarianism, a common enemy is recognized and exploited. While
While We is follows a first person narrative from the perspective of the main character, D-503, issues between D-503 as an individual and the mass he belongs to arise as the plot progresses. Only one sense of “I” exists within this novel, and this is of the narrator, yet four levels of “we” can be found in this text. The first being the whole human race, including the reader, then all the people of OneState (excluding those living outside the green wall), followed by the individual circles within the larger “we” (such as the characters I-330 and O.) Lastly, the “we” whom D-503 really seeks, the “we” between him and I-330, exists. While D-503 is his own person, he understands the importance of unity and synchronization and how his own self, his “I”, is insignificant in relation to the state. “So, take some scales and put on one side a gram, on the other a ton; on one side “I” and on the other “We”, OneState. It’s clear, isn’t it? – to assert that “I” has certain “rights” with respect to the State is exactly the same as asserting that a gram weighs the same as a ton…Forget that you’re a gram and feel yourself a millionth part of a ton” ( 111.) This clearly illustrates the second level of “we”- the “we” of everyone within OneSate. It reflects the correlations between OneSate and Soviet communist ideology. Instead of the existence of individuality, as evident in liberal Russia before the revolution, an authoritarian state prevails. Although D-503 agrees with the sentiment that OneState must be followed, he is conflicted on this inside due to his growing feelings for I-330. D-503 does not understand the concept of love that is irrational, outside of the rational OneState he lives in, where control and likeness is preserved. His sense of “I” is less prevalent than his sense of “we”, yet it is still present and this bothers him- D-503 goes on a tangent about his growing feelings about I-330 more and more often, and yet he is puzzled by these feelings and cannot express them properly. Although D-503 attempts to accept his feelings, he is ultimately caught and reverted to his past self. Notwithstanding the fact that is an exaggerated representation of that which Zamyatin critiques, there is a confluence of important ideas within this: Zamyatin proposes that there lies danger in attempting to fully sacrifice oneself for a greater whole – it is just not possible as individual thought always persists. The dystopia within We is a clear indication of this. Within the USSR’s communist ideology, Christian religious belief was greatly discouraged. The metaphysical and spiritual features of religion were ostracized, and instead the physical, industrial aspects of life replaced the metaphysical as religion. It is evident while reading this text that Zamyatin subtly critiques this aspect of Soviet Russia through his intertwining of religious symbolism into
Within the USSR’s communist ideology, Christian religious belief was greatly discouraged. The metaphysical and spiritual features of religion were ostracized, and instead the physical, industrial aspects of life replaced the metaphysical as religion. It is evident while reading this text that Zamyatin subtly critiques this aspect of Soviet Russia through his intertwining of religious symbolism into We. Firstly, several parallels between God within the Christian faith and the Benefactor within OneState can be drawn. Whenever the Benefactor is mentioned within the book, his title is capitalized, and when addressed, the “Him” is capitalized. This parallels the way God is addressed in the Christian faith- his name capitalized, outlining his importance and position of power. Additionally, the OneState ceremony (or execution) held near the beginning of the book parallels the Liturgy Christian ceremony. For the character D-503, this execution is a holy act, an act where the great Benefactor determines the final fate of these individuals. Within Russia, this sense of “we” is not given through spiritual means, as the metaphysical experience is often a very personal and individual one, clashing with the communist definition of “I”, which really means “we”. The difference in tone that is used to describe the OneState ceremony compared to D-503’s working days express how the religious undertones of society do exist. When the execution is being described, the tone used is one of excitement and almost this sense of breathlessness exists. During other sections of the book, the tone used is more robotic and rational. The criticism that Zamyatin applies here is that communism does not eliminate faith, more so that communism replaces faith – the Party becomes all that which is holy and the Benefactor God. All metaphysical ideas, which are associated with faith, have not been replaced; they have been merely modified to encompass the ideals within communism.
We largely presents its parallels with a communist state, particularly the Soviet state, through the contrasts between the terms “I” and “we”. These differences shape the world in which the characters of OneState live, and greatly challenge their sense of identity (particularly that of D-503), when “I” becomes more prominent than “we”. The distinction between these two terms is meant to control the people and their thoughts, goals and inspirations of life. The two terms “we” and “I” is what shapes this work as direct critique of the communist authoritarian state that is Soviet Russia, as the two terms lead to D-503 having free thought, yet ultimately falling at the hands of this left-wing state when “I” and “we” are not balanced.