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.

Leave a Comment