A Perfect Society Vs. A Corrupt Society
Three dollars and fifty-eight cents. To use the money now to buy dinner or wait and let the hunger pass. To sleep on the park bench or try to find availability at the chaotic homeless shelter. To stand outside under the searing sun in hopes of obtaining a few more dollars or to sit under the shady tree and skip another meal. These are the possible decisions that the impoverished might encounter daily. In society today and especially in 16th Century England, these decisions were prevalent among the substantial amount of people suffering in destitution. As Thomas More recognized this problem, he further realized the absurdities and wrongs within his society as the rich lived in ease and the poor suffered through daily turmoil. More’s Utopia criticized the inequities of English society as the novel presents an ideal land where England’s societal problems have been resolved and are nonexistent. Utopia displays a simplistic lifestyle and presents social and economic equality among all the citizens; contrary to England, where there were social classes and an unjust distribution of wealth that made up the basis of English society. More depicted Utopia as the antithesis of English society to enlighten the educated and upper class Englishmen of the wrongs within their society and prompt them to revise their mistakes and aid in the betterment of England.
Within the country of Utopia, the primary focus is agriculture. Everyone is “instructed in it from their childhood,” ensuring that the citizens are knowledgeable of the necessary labors that is the foundation of their civilization (107). The participation in cultivation equalizes the community, as everyone habitually engages in farming and experiences the strenuous work associated with it. More presents the agricultural civilization within Utopia to express the lack of commendation towards farmers within his own society and to critique the egotistical attitude of the privileged. The elites within England were able to indulge themselves in an hour, with the food that had taken farmers months of laborious farming to produce. They ignored the tribulations that farmers underwent in order to acquire a successful harvest and chose to believe that they are above the arduous work. More presents the supercilious and selfish nature of high-class English people as they lived with no worries towards the stability of their homes and lifestyle and had no regards to anyone else that were not classed the same. While farmers relied solely on their unstable harvest as their source of their income, with the harvest possibly being the deciding factor in whether they would have food and a home or not. Making agriculture the basic foundation of Utopian civilization instills a sense of fairness and unity among the community that—due to the narcissism of the elites—England did not have.
Material items such as extravagant clothing and luxurious accessories are deemed ludicrous in Utopia. People on the island do not find opulent items as a necessary aspect to their survival, and therefore find no use for them. All the citizens wear similar, basic clothing with the only distinction being between gender and marriageability. Even the idolization of gold and silver is laughable to the Utopians as they use them as playthings for children, household materials such as “chamber-pots and close-stools”, and also “chains and fetters for their slaves” (137). More presents the Utopians’ distaste to express the absurdity of English people, specifically high-class English people, and their emphasis on sybaritic objects that held no significant contribution to their survival. The upper class was obsessed with having expensive and lavish clothes and jewelry merely to boast to one another. They spent excess amount of money on indulgent objects, while the majority of England barely had enough to sustain themselves. More employs Utopia’s treatment of luxury items for what they are—nonessential and excessive—to show how the elites’ admiration of those objects was simply to appeal to their superiority complex. Rather than utilizing their surplus wealth to aid in the survival of those who are less fortunate within their community, the rich spent money on items with high monetary worth, but in reality, were worthless.
Personal property and possession of items are nonexistent within Utopian civilization as there is “no property among them” and everything “belong[s] to the whole town” (101). Making everyone have the same amount of belongings—basically nothing—further equalizes the citizens of Utopia. More shows that “where no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the public” and therefore focus on contributing to the furtherance of their community, rather than selfishly improving oneself at the expense of others (248). Utopia’s lack of ownership depicts a contrast to England as the privileged class thrived on an immoderate amount of possessions. Possessions defined England’s high society as their social power derived through the number of items that they owned. More presents the strong emphasis his society had on possessions, as their belongings influenced the perception of what other elites thought of them and impacted the life they would live. Property of land and possession of extravagant items determined the person they would marry, the success in their occupation, and their power within government. He shows how vapid the upper echelon of England was as they relied on the quantity of one’s belongings and wealth, rather than the quality of one’s character to determine how “well-off” they would be. More made life in Utopia based off of quality of life and minimalistic living for happiness to present to upper class England that possessions does not bring happiness and should not play such a significant role in influencing one’s life.
The justice system within Utopia is quite basic with minimal laws and straightforward processes and consequences for crimes; thus dismissing the ability for any exploitations of the law. When a crime is committed, the offender defends himself or herself as lawyers are thought to “disguise matters and to wrest the laws” (190). The ability for the accused person to defend oneself to a judge allows for a quicker and more effective process as the argument for innocence comes straight from the accused party and has no “artifices which lawyers are apt to suggest” (190). More formed the Utopian legal system as the converse to England’s legal system to illustrate how the privileged manipulated the system and distorted the definition of justice. England’s legal system favored the elites as those that were affluent and held titles impacted the creation and the interpretation of laws that could benefit them. The high society utilized their wealth to corrupt the system by swaying judges and witnesses in their favor. The use of lawyers further shows how justice can be corrupted within English society as the possibility for a one to be found innocent heavily relied on the proficiency of one’s lawyer. The rich were able to afford more adept lawyers that could effectively influence the courtroom, while the poor could barely afford—or not afford at all—substandard representation.
Utopian civilization is built on humanism, as there is no restriction on the necessities and supplies that families can acquire. Fathers are able to “[take] whatsoever he or his family stand in need of, without either paying for it or leaving anything in exchange” (121). No one in Utopia lives in constant worry about whether or not they will be able to economically provide for their family as there is “plenty of everything among them” (121). More presents a lenient control on the distribution of materials to depict England’s unjust acquirement of necessities. England’s lower class was unable to afford the food and materials that were necessary to their survival; however, the upper class was easily able to afford a surplus amount of food and furthermore, a surplus amount of luxuries. More depicts Utopians lack of desire to obtain more materials than needed, as “they are sure they shall always be supplied” to show how it is fear of not knowing whether one will be able to obtain imperative items that leads to greed and selfishness (121). The attainment of food and materials in England was based on the exchange of currency; therefore, society had an underlying unease from the possibility that they may not be able to afford their essentials. More shows that this underlying unease is what causes the rapacity within the privileged class and consequently, the destitution among the lower class.
Through Utopia, More reveals the un-altruistic and materialistic behavior of the upper class. The equal and united community of Utopia exposes the wrongs within English society as the rich carelessly spent their fortunes on lavish items and the poor struggled to make ends meet. The elites fed their egotistical nature through duplicitous actions derived from their hunger for power and greed; consequently, leaving the impoverished to attempt to survive on what little was remaining. Through the description of the ideal land of Utopia, More presents possible solutions to Englishmen on how their society could have be improved. Members of the upper class had the ability to break free from the narcissistic norms of their class and contribute to the advancement of their society through simply offering a fraction of their wealth—which would have barely made a dent within assets—that would have greatly assisted those living in poverty. Therefore, if you see ever someone that is less fortunate, think: can you afford losing a few dollars? Can your spare change be the difference in someone’s ability to purchase a meal? Will you be that person that takes a step towards the melioration of the world or will you stand by claiming ignorance of the wrongs occurring around you?
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