How does We explore the communist ideology through the use of “we” and “I” and how are these used to strengthen the reading of this text?
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.
Effects of Conformity on the Individual and the Society
Robert Anthony once said, “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity”. Zamyatin’s We depicts the advantages and disadvantages of conforming to a small group of people, an authoritative society in general, and to the extreme totalitarian society of OneState. Through the heroic actions of I-330, Zamyatin clearly indicates that it is more admirable and beneficial to fight for change in a totalitarian government than to ignorantly live in oppression like D-503.
Although Zamyatin undeniably depicts a totalitarian society in a negative light, there are advantages that can be inferred from conforming and obeying authoritarian rule. On a small scale, assimilating into a group of people allows one to feel more connected with his fellow man. This can be seen in the way D-503 experiences great joy and satisfaction from joining the laborers building the Integral: “I descended and mingled with them, fused with their mass, caught in the rhythm of steel and glass…I was floating over a mirror sea” (79). Complying with the majority is simply easier, and at times more natural and gratifying, than ostracizing oneself and attempting to fight the accepted societal norm. For example, when D-503 breaks the law by skipping work and then lying about his absence to his co-worker, he feels great guilt and shame. He condemns himself and realizes that he will never again be able to feel at ease with his co-workers, which causes him great pain, and he reflects: “I, corrupted man, a criminal, was out of place here. No, I shall probably never again be able to fuse myself into this mechanical rhythm, not float over this mirror-like sea. I am to burn eternally from now on, running from place to place, seeking a nook where I may hide my eyes” (80). It is obvious from this passage that D-503 derives much pleasure from his conformity and unity with the laborers, and that he regrets ostracizing himself from the group.
On a larger scale, conforming to an authoritarian society guarantees one’s safety and possible advancement in the social hierarchy. To elaborate, authoritarian societies often have government forces such as the secret police (represented by the bureau of guardians in “We”) that monitor possible uprisings and acts of treason. Complying with authoritarian rule means not having to worry about being persecuted by the state or in extreme cases, executed. Also, the more an individual adheres to the authority of tyrannical societies, the higher chance he has for advancing in the social hierarchy. For instance, the guardians of OneState are responsible for upholding the strict laws of the government and for this reason they are granted more authority and power.
In the extreme totalitarian society of OneState, conforming to the authority comes with a lot of benefits. By being part of this society and contributing to it, citizens have access to an ever-present source of food and shelter, since OneState has a “radically transformed social system that has established a stable and secure world order for the general population” (Hatchings 87). In addition, the citizens of OneState are protected from most crimes and are even allotted time for all basic human needs, such as eating, sleeping, socializing and having sex. The citizens are brainwashed into believing that they live in a state of paradise and that all other lifestyles are absurd. This brainwashing can be viewed as a benefit because these citizens live care-free lives and are completely oblivious to the true horror of their oppressive circumstances. For D-503 any other life seems implausible, as he writes, “One thing has always seemed to me most improbable: how could a government, even a primitive government, permit people to live without anything like our Tables-without compulsory walks, without precise regulation of the time to eat…such a life was actually wholesale murder” (14). For these citizens, their imposed ignorance is bliss.
Along with the benefits of conforming and of submitting to authoritarian rule, there are also, of course, a great many disadvantages. On a small scale, conforming to a group often means sacrificing your sense of individuality and becoming indistinguishable from the crowd. An extreme example of this is the daily, identical routine of every individual in OneState, during which every citizen is an identical copy of another. In his diary, D-503 writes, “Every morning…at the same hour, at the same minute, we wake up, millions of us at once. At the very same hour, millions like one, we begin our work, and millions like one, we finish it” (13). There is no opportunity to be spontaneous or distinguish oneself during these routines.
In a totalitarian society, submitting to authoritarian rule means giving up the freedom of speech and the right to privacy. In We this can be seen in the character of R-13, a writer who has no choice but to compose works glorifying the actions of the State, even though he does not support those actions. For instance, when D-503 compliments R-13 on the poem that he wrote for an execution, R-13 exclaims, “I am dead sick of it. Everybody keeps on: “The death sentence, the death sentence!” I want to hear no more of it!” (59). R-13 is frustrated by the fact that he has no choice but to promote support for the Benefactor and the State, even though he opposes both. This practice of stifling one’s own opinion and instead creating propaganda for the autocracy is common in most totalitarian societies. Apart from extreme censorship, the government of dictatorial societies often invades the privacy of its citizens as well. Such violations of privacy generally include going through someone’s mail, financial records, medical documents, as well as random property searches and more. In We, a more extreme invasion of privacy is enforced by subjecting the citizens to a life in a city of glass, so that most actions are visible and “beneath the eyes of everyone” in the city, especially those of the guardians (19).
In the extreme case of OneState, “that is governed by its despotic and malevolent Benefactor,” submitting to the tyrannical rule of the Benefactor and the dictatorial laws of the state in general leads to the loss of most of the citizens’ rights, imagination, and independence (Hutchings 85). As mentioned before, the rights of the citizens of OneState are nonexistent. They cannot speak, write, or act in any way other than how the law explicitly permits them to.The OneState in We is so oppressive that it even manages to place restrictions on thoughts and imagination, classifying dreams as “a symptom of disease” (62). Moreover, “The imagination, or ‘fantasy’ which is considered to be the ‘last barricade on our way to happiness’ in OneState, is something which needs to be ‘cut out or extirpated’…for this process ‘nothing but surgery’ will do” (Burns 76). This surgery is referred to as the “Great Operation,” and it is forced upon all of the citizens towards the end of the book. Lastly, the citizens of OneState are also robbed of their independence. This is evident in the way that they are kept imprisoned by the State inside the “eternal glass… [of] the Green Wall” (5). These citizens are forced to be completely dependent upon OneState and are unaware of the fact that life is possible outside of the Green Wall.
The choice of whether or not to conform and yield to the authority can be a difficult one to make, and the impact of each decision varies, as can be seen by studying D-503 and I-330. D-503 ultimately chooses to conform to OneState, sacrificing his past memories and leading a robotic life that is completely devoid of any emotion. This decision comes as no surprise, however, since D-503 suffers great anxiety over his lawbreaking and scheming actions with I-330 throughout the entire novel. This can be seen in the way that he is constantly tempted to turn himself into the Bureau of Guardians. The strongest reason for D-503’s resolution to relent to OneState is his realization that I-330 has betrayed him and is simply using him. Without I-330, D-503 has little motivation to resist the Benefactor or keep to I-330’s cause. He succumbs to OneState and undergoes the “Great Operation”, after which he appears “before the Benefactor and [tells] him everything known to [him] about the enemies of happiness” (217). By choosing to surrender to the Benefactor, D-503 makes the conscious decision that for him, it is more important to forget his past with I-330 than to continue trying to introduce freedom into OneState. As a result of this decision, D-503 regresses back to his former state of ignorance and bliss, and continues on to lead an insignificant, empty life.
On the other hand, I-330 “rejects everything that the OneState stands for” and refuses to surrender to the demands of the Benefactor, proving that she is the true hero of the novel and the character whose actions should be praised and followed (Burns 82). From beginning to the very end, I-330 strives to free the citizens of OneState from oppression. Even when she is continuously tortured in the Gas Chamber, she still “does not utter a word” about her mission or her followers (218). Her actions, unlike those of D-503, have a lasting impact on OneState. This is evident in the several changes that take place after her rebellion. First, the Machine used to execute criminals with its “electric ray” is obliterated, as the narrator writes: “the disorderly fragments of the Machine, which was once perfect and great, fell down in all directions” (204). In addition, the Green Wall is destroyed, letting in life from outside the wall, such as birds, which “filled the sky with their sharp, black, descending triangles” (204). Lastly, citizens began to speak out against the State, hanging banners that read “Down with the machine! Down with the Operation!”(192). Through her relentlessness and refusal to give into the Benefactor, I-330 is able to seriously undermine the authority of OneState, provide hope for change and improvement, and convince other citizens of OneState to carry on her legacy.
We allows readers to make a variety of interpretations about conformity, ranging from small to larger scales. The novel describes the conflicts individuals may face when debating whether or not to conform and obey an autocratic ruler. However, the novel ultimately points out that only those who are brave and strong enough to fight against conformity and oppression, such as I-330, have a chance at a better life, and the possibility of instilling a positive change in the society.
Corruption and Control Within the One-State: An Attempt to Eliminate Happiness to Maintain Power
In Zamyatin’s We, the One-State society is structured to eliminate all aspects of life that may contribute to negativity. A totalitarian government controlled by the Benefactor sets up a world in which people – referred to by numbers – do not have to make choices. The numbers experience a completely regimented lifestyle designed to eliminate error, mistakes, and uncertainty. All aspects of society are regulated to ensure there is no pain, envy, or confusion when one follows the mandated laws. From this perspective, in all respects civilization should be at its pinnacle. Then why then does the civilization D-503 describes appear to be more of a dystopia? As D-503’s journal records progress, it becomes apparent that many numbers are unable to conform completely to the One-State, as the individual experiences aspects of life the government is unable to regulate. The claim that civilization is at its pinnacle proves false as analyses of the One-State government reveal underlying motivations that aim to prevent happiness rather than maintain it. Furthermore, love and emotions –which the government aims to suppress – are unavoidable and ultimately necessary for the potential to experience actual happiness over simple contentment. D-503 describes “unfreedom” to be an important aspect of the One-State. In his world, number’s daily lives are, for the most part, out of their control. Each number must obey all laws that control their exact schedules from their occupations and exercises, to mealtimes. Also, Guardians follow the numbers to ensure the laws of unfreedom are obeyed. Originally, D-503 views unfreedom as a necessary part of life, an improvement to the old ways of the “ancients”, which utilized choices (61). He explains that without freedom there is no possibility to make the wrong decision, and therefore nothing can go wrong. As of the start to his records, D-503 has only lived abiding by the mandated laws of the Benefactor, and accordingly he is unaware of life with the ability to make decisions. This ignorance perhaps illustrates why the totalitarian government enacts the unfreedom policies in the first place. While numbers could not harm their lives in a regulated society, when one loses the freedom to make choices they also lose the ability to desire more, better in life. The One-State wants complete control, and in order to remain in power, it is essential that the numbers live in contentment, without the potential to desire more out of life than that which is offered by the State. Accordingly, it is important to acknowledge this corrupted mentality of the government to be a major defect of civilization. Although D-503 originally agrees with the policies of unfreedom, after meeting I-330 he begins to question such ideas. I-330 is another number that proved to fascinate D-503. She is pretty, promiscuous, deviant, and in many aspects a representation of what the One-State is against. At first, D-503 is confused and aggravated by her actions that challenge core values of the One-State. As he witnesses her drink and smoke illegally, D-503 warns, “everyone who poisons himself with nicotine, and especially alcohol, is ruthlessly destroyed by the One-State” (55). Often, such disobedience from the One-State frustrates D-503; he hates her for making him stray from the strict lifestyle of unfreedom and conformity. Still, as the journal records progress D-503 falls in love with I-330 and their relationship allows him to explore ideas of freedom of which he was previously unaware. Whereas he originally thinks life had held happiness, one may argue it was not until after spending time with I-330, full of excitement and uncertainty, that D-503 realizes that the past years had held merely satisfaction. In a way, the struggle D-503 encounters between loyalty to the state versus rebellion, parallels the conflict of Adam and Eve’s struggle of good versus evil. D-503 describes the choice of these biblical figures to be “happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness” (61). As he is taught of the negative consequences this choice ensues, D-503 reasons that eliminating freedom thwarts harmful results. Nevertheless, life with I-330 and introduction to the Memphi group, a secret subculture of numbers who organize rebellion, allow him to appreciate and desire freedom. To a certain extent, D-503’s choice to join the Memphi rebellion parallels that of Adam and Eve’s choice to choose evil, but moreover the choice towards freedom despite negative consequences. D-503 notes the joy in self-determination and explains, “I was I, a separate entity, a world. I had ceased to be a component, as I had been, and become a unit” (157). Perhaps a turning point for D-503, he identifies with independence. This change D-503 experiences illustrates how the corruptive and suppressive government had been restrictive to prevent the joy that comes with freedom.In addition to unfreedom, D-503 describes another crucial component to the One-State to be the elimination of love. According to D-503, the “Great Two Hundred Years War” was able to conquer love so that it was “subjugated, i.e., organized and reduced to mathematical order” (21). The One-State decides to regulate love by controlling sex between the numbers. There are designated days and times for numbers to have sex, and pink coupons are required to receive privacy. To further simplify relations, any number is allowed to apply to have sex with whomever they like. The purpose behind maintaining complete control over sex is that with an organized system put into place, there is no room for envy or any other deep feelings, including love. At first, the side of D-503 that needs everything to be rationalized and explainable appreciates the system’s ability to control sex and prevent any confusing feelings. At first glance, one may believe such order does control emotions within society. However, most characters D-503 mentions do experience feelings in some way. The triangle between D-503, R-13 and O-90 (the female of the group) illustrates conflict that arose between these numbers, assigned to each other for many years. D-503 and O-90 are allowed to have sex with each other, as is R-13 and O-90. This connection allows D-503 and R-13 to become close friends, but the companionship ends when I-330 comes up in conversation and R-13 becomes jealous of her relationship with D-503. Also of significance is O-90’s relationship with D-503. At first D-503 is content with their scheduled time together, however after becoming involved with I-330, he loses interested in O-90 and no longer wishes to have sex with her. O-90 soon learns of the new number that disrupted their triangle, and is devastated, as a letter later reveals that she has been in love with D-503 all along. Meanwhile, D-503’s love for I-330 causes him to develop a soul, which is recognized in the One-State to be a serious disease as it contradicts the rational foundations of society. Given the intense feelings of these characters, one must question why such emotions remain when the One-State government has created a strictly regulated system to prevent their existence. How does a society that controls every aspect of ones personnel life, down to scheduled sex days, fail to control the emotional side as well?While every attempt possible is made to eliminate love and other deep feelings, the mindset of the One-State is flawed. Perhaps a critical error exists in that the government seems to equivocate sex and love too closely. While there is no doubt a relation between the two, the physical act of sex and the emotional feelings of love are not one in the same. It is not possible to control one through regulation of the other, which is essentially what the One-State believes can be done. The idea is that it would be possible to control deep feelings such as love, pain, and envy through control over the physical act of sex, but this did not prove to prevent emotions, as seen through the lives of D-503 and the other numbers. Ultimately, although it is stated that the War conquered love, this proves unachievable. Accordingly, an even greater problem remains in that the numbers experience love and emotions, but are unable to express them given the laws as well as the One-State’s equivalence of a soul to illness. For once D-503 realizes there is greater happiness through love and rebellion with I-330, much of him questions the One-States policies. This perhaps lends itself to further hidden motivations of the government to defeat love. Although declared as a method to prevent envy and other negative feelings, a possible underlying function exists that aims to prevent the possibility for numbers to find happiness in love, thus causing them to discover love most important and the main focus in life. The purpose in life may shift from obeying laws that force contentment, to developing love that would provide a deeper sense of happiness, as was the case with D-503. Evident in the records, it is not possible to maintain control over emotions as deep as love, or even jealousy. While the One-States foundations aim to suppress these aspects, most would deem a world built on these principles closer to a nightmare than a utopian dream. It does not prove possible to conform completely to the laws and lifestyles enforced, however for those who live in the One-State no other option is presented, thus making life even more difficult. Through the progression of journal records, it becomes apparent the One-State society is not civilization at its pinnacle, but rather at its worst. The government controls society to eliminate freedom and feelings such as love, which D-503 originally expresses as essential for the guarantee of complete happiness. In reality however, the government focus is not to ensure happiness, but instead maintain a content, mechanized population incapable of true emotions. The thoroughly programmed basis of society creates a system that focuses on laws to maintain order, but fail to take into account human nature and the distinction between physical acts that can be regimented through schedules, with feelings that cannot be controlled. Through this structure, the totalitarian government is able to stay in power as those in society fail to identify actual happiness when simple satisfaction is all they experience, thus ensuring a sense of contentment towards the government with no need for change. A civilization designed to repress happiness and love is not only flawed and ineffective, but also based upon foundations of corruption and suppression, which ultimately represents a dystopian world most would deem horrific in nature.
Zamyatin’s “We” and the Garden of Eden
In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We, the reader sees what was supposed to be a utopian society. From the characters’ painfully regimented daily lives to the clandestine desire to break free from the monotony of OneState, we see that not all is perfect; freedom does not create happiness, and happiness does not create a utopian society. Zamyatin uses many literary allusions in his novel, especially involving the Bible. Throughout We, there is a profound connection between OneState and the Bible, especially Genesis 1-4. We is Zamyatin’s response to his personal experiences during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, as well as his life throughout World War I. The novel is in the form of a diary, telling the story of D-503, a number who lives in utopian-seeming society of OneState. Through his diary, D-503 chronicles his strict daily regiment and his misadventures with the resistance group Mephi. Throughout the novel, Zamyatin makes many allusions and connections to the Bible, most commonly with Genesis 1-4, the story of Adam and Eve. The author develops a structure of the totalitarian state that can be paralleled to the Garden of Eden and the price people pay in their hunt for utopia. In We, we have the Benefactor as the Godly figure, the Green Wall as the Garden of Eden, OneState as Paradise, I-330 as Eve, D-503 as Adam, and S-4711 as the serpent. There is also a reference to Mephistopheles (Satan) in the form of the resistance group Mephi. OneState does appear to be an atheist society. All of the members of OneState put all of their faith in the Benefactor as the omnipotent figure; he knows all, he sees all, and he has the power to end a number’s life. The Benefactor of OneState is equal to the God of Christianity. God created man; the Benefactor created OneState. God knows all, sees all, hears all; because of the glass structure of OneState, the Benefactor is able to know all, see all, and hear all. The glass world of OneState also represents the nakedness and absence of individuality of the members of the society, which can be seen in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. The people of OneState are constantly being watched by the Benefactor and by each other. In the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-4, they are constantly under the scrutiny of their creator, God. OneState is seen as Paradise, like the Garden in the story of Adam and Eve. OneState is free from all forms of unhappiness; perceivably, the only way to avoid potential controversy is to be completely oblivious to other ways of thinking. All of the numbers that are living in OneState have been brainwashed, in a sense, to believe that how they are living is truly the ultimate utopia. Most of them (with the exception of the resistance group) do not know what true happiness is; they believe what the Benefactor and the other members of the society say make them happy. This is directly connected to Genesis 3: When Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they gained the knowledge that they were actually naked. The Bible states:Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked […] But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked’[…] He said ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ (Genesis 3.7-12)Adam and Eve did not know that they were naked until they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then they were self-conscious and therefore exiled from the Garden of Eden by God. Now, this doesn’t mean that the only possible way to live in a utopian society is to be completely ignorant to your surroundings, but most often people in utopias are revealed as being ignorant in some way. The numbers in We are seen as “Not men but some kind of tractors in human form” (Zamyatin, 182). They just go about their regimented daily routine and do not stop to think about what they are actually doing, why they are doing what they are doing, or how it truly makes them feel (happy or unhappy). In his diary, D-503 writes:The people longed for someone to tell them, once and for all, the meaning of happiness, and then to bind them to it with a chain. What is it we’re doing right now, if not that? The ancient dream of paradise…Remember: in paradise they’ve lost all knowledge of desires, pity, love—they are the blessed, with their imaginations surgically removed (the only reason why they are blessed)—angels, the Slaves of God. (Zamyatin, 207)The numbers in OneState do not know definitively whether they are happy or not, but because the Benefactor says they are happy, they perceive that they are. In OneState, ignorance is truly blissful.The numbers that live in OneState all go along with the daily way of life, except for a select few. The members of the resistance group Mephi do not believe that the society they are living in is a utopia and they are not content with just sitting around and going along with it. The chief instigator that we see is a female number named I-330. I-330 is the equivalent of Eve if we are looking at We in a biblical sense. Eve is a very cunning and smart woman, and she has Adam under her “spell”; she convinces him to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam confesses to God that it was, indeed, Eve who gave him the food: “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” (Genesis 3.12) In We, we see that D-503 (who represents Adam) is easily persuaded by the things that I-330 says and does, even though he detests her for a good portion of the story. I-330 doesn’t even have to state directly what she wants D-503 to do; she makes implications and his actions follow. I-330 has the same hold on D-503 that Eve had on Adam.When the Mephi break through the Green Wall of OneState, the liberators show the numbers of OneState what they had missing. After the numbers were ultimately given freedom to do what they had always been wishing to do, they did not want those freedoms taken away from them; it made them happy. This is also like the story of Adam and Eve: after Adam and Eve ate the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they gained knowledge and they finally knew, not only that they were naked, but also what pain was. The only way for Adam and Eve to re-enter paradise was through physical death; when they released their mortal selves and let go of the torments of human life they were brought into heaven. This is similar to the characters in We because they achieve this “second Eden” by giving themselves up for the “Great Operation”, in which they have their imaginations removed from their brain, essentially killing their individualities and personalities (which is, after all, what makes you you). There are many literary allusions throughout Zamyatin’s novel, but the most prominent references we see are linked to the Bible. It is easy to see the connections between the dystopian society and characters in We and the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-4. This connection shows the importance of knowing what makes you happy and not letting others dictate what you do in life.Works Cited:Zamyatin, Yevgeny Ivanovich. We (Twentieth-Century Classics). New York: Penguin Classics, 1993. Print.”Genesis 3 American Standard Version.” American Standard Version Bible. Web. 23 Sept. 2009.
Relations Between Town and Country: “We” in the Context of Russian Modernist History and Literature
Evgeny Zamyatin was born and raised in Lebedyan, a small village located in the Russian countryside, before moving to St. Petersburg, the then Russian capital, in order to study engineering (Charnaya, date unknown). Therefore, Zamyatin had firsthand experience on the similarities and differences between rural and urban life long before writing “We” (1921) Indeed, the divide between the mentalities of rural and urban inhabitants was a very pertinent topic to Soviet authors who were at the time witnessing their country’s intense industrialization; Evgeny Zamyatin’s treatment of the town vs. country divide is prominent in “We” (1921), especially through his use of different colors and D-503’s description of “The Ancients” in different passages. Noteworthy in its own right, the depiction of these contrasting areas also reveals affinities between Zamyatin’s work and the texts of his modernist peers.
In the first place, D-503’s resentment towards the outside world is described very early in the novel. For instance, at the very beginning of record 2 (p. 6), D-503 notes that the yellow pollen coming “from beyond the Green Wall, from the wild invisible plains […] somewhat hinders logical thinking”. Hence, the outside world is uncivilized and contains elements (i.e. pollen) that can undermine D-503’s logical thinking, hereby hurting his usefulness to the United State. In a transparent city, Zamyatin’s use of the color green can be associated with nature, national significance, and the unknown, since this malleable form of protection from the barbarian outside world is what gives meaning to the citizens of the United State, as stated by D-503: “I cannot imagine to myself a city that is not enveloped by a Green Wall” (p.11). Green, in this instance, gives D-503 and the other “numbers” a sense of identity, since it explicitly tells them where their world ends, and consequently what they are not and it furthermore reinforces their “us vs. them” mentality. D-503 more explicitly adheres to the “us vs. them” mentality while describing the Green Wall later in the novel, when he asserts that: “Man eased to be a wild animal only when he built the first wall” (p.57). The Green Wall thus acts as a very meaningful national symbol to D-503, as it gives him pride and significance as a “number”. Moreover, I concur with my classmate Laurel Stewart’s analysis on the “close reading” discussion board, D-503’s mention of a “green ocean beyond the wall” (p.57) when he is in fact describing trees suggests that the novel’s narrator ignores basic concepts such as a forest and mistakenly uses the term “ocean” instead. Thus the author’s use of the color green can be associated with the concepts of nature, national significance, and the unknown. Likewise, yellow is also a significant color used throughout the novel and is more precisely associated with irrationality than green. Green can be indirectly linked to the concept of irrationality whereas Zamyatin directly links yellow to this concept. Indeed, in the short citation provided at the beginning of this paragraph, D-503 hints at the fact that the color yellow is not homegrown in the United State. It hails from the irrational outside world, and hence is not scientific and even hinders logical thinking (p.11). Also, D-503 associates yellow with the fangs of the animals inhabiting the “other side of the wall”, calling them beasts (p.117). Another instance of which can be found on page 57, when D-503 describes an encounter with a creature living on the other side of the wall: “through the glass, looking at me […] some kind of beast, yellow eyes, stubbornly repeating one and the same thought comprehended by me” Once more, D-503 shows contempt in regards to who or what is living outside the limits of the United State and links yellow with barbarity and otherness reinforced by his incapacity to understand what the creature is telling him. To summarize, Zamyatin depicts the concept of country as uncivilized and irrational through his use of the colors yellow and green. In addition, Zamyatin also uses colors to characterize the United State which in this analysis serves as the city in the “city vs. country” debate. At the beginning of Record 2, D-503 is amazed by the blue sky and says that “on such days you can see into the bluest depths of things, you see certain of their amazing equations” (p.6). Hence, blue here is presented as a color that contributes to D-503’s rational, mathematical thinking. Granted, such a sky most probably does not exclusively pertain to the United State, but it is easily understandable as to why D-503 would so appreciate such a sky. The protagonist of “We” (1922) hates surprises, and there is nothing more reassuring than a completely blue sky. It is as predictable as the machines that D-503 so cherishes. Furthermore, is it worth noting how the completely rational to completely irrational colors figure on the color spectrum since Zamyatin depicts the color blue as being the color of the rational city, and the Green Wall then divides and protects the city from the yellow beasts inhabiting the country (or the outside world). This exactly matches the color spectrum since blue added to yellow equals green. Additionally, the other color that can be linked to the city, and thus with the concept of rationality is the absence of color. D-503 describes the absence of color in very positive terms: “I perceived everything. The absolute straight streets, the glass pavements shimmering with rays of light, the divine parellelipeds of transparent dwellings” (p. 8). From this short excerpt, the reader understands that D-503 holds the absence of color in a high regard for the same reasons as for why he appreciates a pristine blue sky. It denotes predictability because in creating an entire state without walls, the Benefactor deprived the “numbers” from their privacy and they cannot keep secrets from one another. To summarize, Zamyatin links the color blue and the absence of color (or transparent) to the concept of a rational industrialized city that heavily contrasts with the surrounding uncivilized country.
Furthermore, Zamyatin’s speaks directly about this essay’s main topic when describing the Great Two Hundred Years’ War “the war between city and village” (p.16). Evidently, the city won over the village, since D-503 had previously rhetorically asked: “does it not then follow from this that the most sedentary form of life (ours – is at the same time the most perfect (ours) ” (p.10). Again, positive attributes are associated to cities whereas villages are perceived as old and outdated. Furthermore, Zamyatin tests the reader’s philosophical knowledge by favoring John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism over Immanuel Kant’s ethics on page 12. Indeed, when D-503 condescendingly discusses the Ancients’ surplus of freedom, he mockingly names Immanuel Kant and seems to favor consequentialism over the Ancient’s concept of right or wrong: “to murder a single person, i.e., to decrease the sum of human lives by 50 years – that was criminal, but to decrease the sum of human lives by 50 million years – that was not criminal” (p.12). Here, D-503 is appalled by the fact that the Ancients had so much freedom even if it was hurting their collective quality of life. To him, obligations and regulations are positive aspects that he links to the successful city of one state. The fact that we prefer Kanthian ethics is laughable to D-503, since he favors Bentam’s consequentialism of putting the collective good ahead of what is right or wrong to humanity. For example, Kant would disagree with removing individual freedoms for the greater good, whereas Jeremy Bentham would wait and see how positive or negative the consequences of such a decision are before judging of its morality (Haines, Date Unknown) TZamyatin links the Ancients with the concept of a village and Kanthian ethics whereas the numbers are linked with the city and utilitarianism. The Ancients’ way of life was, according to D-503, primitive and philosophically incomprehensible.
Zamyatin’s representation of the city vs. the village divide is on par with the works of other Russian modernists. However, it is highly different from important pre-Soviet poems, since cities in pre-Soviet Russia were far from peaceful and rational. For example Alexander Blok (1918) depicted then Russian capital Petrograd as a lawless city under anarchy in his famous poem “The Twelve”. Indeed, the poem’s protagonists promise to “fan the world to fire, fan the world afire with blood” (Blok, 1918. P.379) thus describing the reigning anarchy in the revolutionary Russian capital. Vladimir Mayakovski did the same in his most famous work “Cloud in Pants” (1915), when he wrote that “The Krupps and little Krupps grease-paint the city with creases of menacing brows” (p.436). This image used by Mayakovski referencing to rich Germans (The Krupps) who sold weapons to both sides during the First World War showcase the extreme level of violence reigning in the city. We can thus note that both the works were written in the Pre-Soviet period and show the chaotic atmosphere in the cities of the Russian Empire in the early 20th Century, which greatly differs from Zamyatin’s United State represented in “We”.
Aleksandr Blok, “The Twelve” 375-85 in Russian Literature of the Twenties: An Anthology, ed. Carl Proffer and others. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1987. (Originally published in 1918) ·
Evgenii Zamiatin, “We” 2-139 in Russian Literature of the Twenties: An Anthology, ed.Carl Proffer and others. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1987. (originally published in 1921) ·
Laurel Stewart, “We – Yevgeny Zamyatin. Page 57 passage analysis” posted in “Passage Analysis” on October 14th 2016. ·
Maria Charnaya. “Prominent Russians: Evgeny Zamyatin.” Russiapedia. Date Unknown. Accessed December 10, 2016. https://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/literature/evgeny-zamyatin/. ·
Vladimir Mayakovski, “Cloud in Pants,” 430-450 in Russian literature of the Twenties: An Anthology, ed. Carl Proffer and others. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1987. (Originally published in 1915). ·
William Haines, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Date Unknown.Accessed December 10, 2016. https://iep.utm.edu/conseque/.