We

By Yevgeny Zamyatin

Introduction

Welcome to the world of “We” 🌌, a pioneering novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin that has captivated readers and critics alike with its profound exploration of dystopian society. Written in 1920, amidst the turbulent waves of post-revolutionary Russia, Zamyatin’s work emerged not only as a groundbreaking piece of science fiction but also as a sharp critique of the burgeoning Soviet Union’s ideology and the concept of a utopian society.

Yevgeny Zamyatin was an engineer by profession and a writer by passion, whose personal experiences with the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 deeply influenced his views on individuality, freedom, and state control. These themes are vividly explored in “We,” which is often hailed as the first dystopian novel, predating even George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

Set in a future totalitarian society governed by “The One State,” the novel is narrated through the diary entries of D-503, a mathematician and loyal citizen, who begins to question the principles of his world. “We” is classified under the genre of science fiction, with a strong leaning towards political satire and philosophical speculation. Its innovative narrative style, combined with its bold commentary on totalitarianism and the loss of individuality, makes “We” a seminal work that continues to be relevant and thought-provoking.

So, let’s dive into the glass-enclosed world of “We,” where the concept of “I” is forbidden, and the collective “We” reigns supreme. 📖✨

Plot Summary

“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin unfolds in the One State, an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the government to supervise its citizens constantly. The story is conveyed through the diary of D-503, an engineer leading the construction of the Integral, a spacecraft designed to subjugate alien civilizations to the beneficent yoke of reason.

Exposition: D-503 introduces us to the One State, a society where freedom is considered the cause of unhappiness, and thus, citizens live under the strict control of the Benefactor, following the Table of Hours. People are known by numbers instead of names, and D-503’s life is regulated like clockwork, devoid of individual desires.

Rising Action: The plot thickens when D-503 meets I-330, a woman who dramatically contrasts with the uniformity of the One State. She introduces him to a world of emotions, illegal activities, and the resistance group Mephi. As D-503 becomes involved with I-330, he starts experiencing dreams and emotions, previously unknown to him, leading to a crisis of identity and belief.

Climax: The climax occurs when D-503’s transformation reaches its peak. After spending time with I-330 and the Mephi, he is torn between his loyalty to the One State and his newfound feelings. His crisis deepens when the authorities introduce the Great Operation, a brain surgery to remove the imagination, ensuring citizens’ loyalty. D-503 must decide where his allegiances lie.

Falling Action: In the aftermath of his decision, D-503 finds himself increasingly at odds with the One State. His attempts to navigate his new emotions and understand I-330’s plans culminate in his betrayal by a close friend, leading to his capture and forced submission to the Great Operation.

Resolution: The novel concludes with D-503 having undergone the Great Operation, losing his ability to dream and feel emotions. He reports I-330 and the Mephi to the authorities, leading to their arrest. Despite the rebellion’s suppression and his return to a state of obedient conformity, the ending suggests that the spirit of rebellion has not been completely extinguished within the One State.

Through D-503’s diary, Zamyatin explores the tension between individual freedom and state control, questioning the price of a harmonious and predictable society.

Character Analysis

“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin features a cast of characters who embody the novel’s exploration of individuality, freedom, and conformity within a dystopian society. Here’s a closer look at the main characters:

D-503 is the protagonist, a mathematician, and the chief engineer of the Integral, a spaceship intended to spread the ideology of the One State across the universe. Initially a loyal citizen, his encounter with I-330 and exposure to the concepts of individuality and emotion lead to a profound personal crisis. His character development is central to the novel, highlighting the struggle between personal freedom and societal control.

I-330 is a mysterious and charismatic woman who plays a pivotal role in awakening D-503’s sense of individuality. She is a member of the Mephi, an organization opposed to the One State. Her complex personality, combining seductive charm with revolutionary fervor, challenges D-503’s perceptions and loyalty to the One State. Her influence on D-503 symbolizes the power of individual thought and emotion over oppressive societal norms.

O-90 is D-503’s companion, assigned to him by the state. She embodies the ideal citizen of the One State, content with her life and duties. Her desire for a child with D-503, despite it being against the rules, introduces a conflict between state control and human emotion. Her character arc explores themes of maternal instinct, love, and the sacrifices made for personal happiness.

The Benefactor is the dictator of the One State, a god-like figure who embodies absolute authority and the suppression of individual will. He represents the ultimate power of the state over its citizens, enforcing strict adherence to logic and reason while eradicating personal freedoms.

S-4711 is a member of the secret police, or the Guardians, who monitors citizens for signs of dissent or deviation from the state’s norms. His relationship with D-503 serves as a reminder of the One State’s surveillance and control over its citizens, highlighting the constant tension between personal privacy and state oversight.

Here’s a summary table of their character analysis:

CharacterRole in the StoryPersonality/MotivationCharacter Development
D-503Protagonist, EngineerLoyal, logical, transforms through emotional awakeningShifts from conformity to questioning, struggles with loyalty
I-330Rebel, Love interestCharismatic, rebellious, seductiveChallenges the status quo, impacts D-503’s transformation
O-90Companion to D-503Submissive, desires motherhoodSeeks personal happiness, defies state control for love
The BenefactorRuler of the One StateAuthoritative, unyieldingEmbodies state power, opposes individual freedom
S-4711Guardian, SurveillanceObservant, loyal to the stateRepresents state control and surveillance

These characters are instrumental in exploring the novel’s themes of freedom, individuality, and the dystopian nature of a seemingly utopian society. Their interactions and developments offer a profound commentary on the human condition under oppressive regimes.

Themes and Symbols

“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin delves into a plethora of themes and symbols that enrich the novel’s narrative, making it a cornerstone of dystopian literature. Here’s an exploration of the major themes and symbols:

Individuality vs. Collectivism: The core theme of the novel revolves around the conflict between individual desires and collective societal norms. The One State represents the extreme of collectivism, where personal identities are suppressed for the sake of social harmony and efficiency. D-503’s journey symbolizes the struggle to reclaim individual thought and emotion from the clutches of a conformist society.

Freedom vs. Control: “We” scrutinizes the idea of freedom in the context of a totalitarian regime that prioritizes control over personal liberty. The narrative questions whether true freedom can exist under such conditions, and whether safety and predictability are worth the sacrifice of personal freedoms.

The Role of Emotion and Logic: The novel contrasts the cold, logical reasoning promoted by the One State with the chaotic, unpredictable nature of human emotions. Through D-503’s experiences, Zamyatin argues that emotion is an essential component of human identity and creativity, challenging the notion that logic alone can lead to a perfect society.

Surveillance and Privacy: The glass architecture of the One State symbolizes the absence of privacy, where citizens are constantly observed by the state. This theme reflects the pervasive surveillance practices of totalitarian regimes and the invasion of personal life by governmental authority.

Nature vs. Technology: The novel depicts a tension between the natural world and the technological utopia envisioned by the One State. The Green Wall separating the urbanized world from the wild nature outside symbolizes the barrier between human society and the natural world, questioning the sustainability and ethical implications of a completely engineered existence.

Rebellion and Conformity: I-330 and the Mephi represent the spirit of rebellion against the oppressive order of the One State. The conflict between the desire to conform for the sake of safety and the impulse to resist oppression is a recurring motif, highlighting the eternal struggle between the status quo and the push for change.

These themes are intricately woven into the fabric of “We,” making it a profound commentary on the human condition and the societal constructs that define our existence. Through its exploration of these themes, “We” challenges readers to reflect on the balance between individuality and societal norms, freedom and control, emotion and logic.

Style and Tone

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” is celebrated not only for its groundbreaking ideas but also for its unique writing style and tone, which contribute significantly to the mood and atmosphere of the book. Here’s a closer look:

Dystopian Satire: The tone of “We” is deeply satirical, targeting the utopian ideals of Zamyatin’s contemporaries. Through irony and exaggeration, Zamyatin critiques the notion that a perfectly logical and ordered society can lead to human happiness. His use of satire serves as a warning against the dangers of excessive rationality and the loss of individual freedom.

Philosophical Inquiry: The narrative is imbued with philosophical questions about the nature of happiness, freedom, and humanity. Zamyatin’s style invites readers to ponder deep existential and ethical dilemmas, reflecting the author’s own engagement with philosophical debates of his time.

Poetic Imagery: Despite the logical and mathematical precision that characterizes the One State, Zamyatin’s prose is rich with poetic imagery and metaphor. This juxtaposition creates a striking contrast between the cold, sterile environment of the dystopia and the vivid, emotional world that D-503 begins to discover. The imagery often revolves around nature, dreams, and human emotion, highlighting the stark differences between the natural and artificial worlds.

Stream of Consciousness: Zamyatin employs a stream of consciousness technique to give readers direct access to D-503’s thoughts and emotions. This narrative style mirrors the protagonist’s psychological turmoil and evolving consciousness, effectively drawing readers into his internal conflict. The disjointed, often fragmented nature of D-503’s diary entries reflects his growing doubts and emotional awakening.

Symbolic Language: The novel makes extensive use of symbols, such as the Glass Wall and the Integral, to represent the themes of isolation, control, and expansion of the One State’s ideology. Zamyatin’s symbolic language enriches the narrative, allowing readers to explore multiple layers of meaning within the story.

Futuristic and Technical Jargon: Zamyatin incorporates futuristic and technical jargon to create a believable dystopian world. This not only enhances the setting but also reflects the dehumanization and mechanization of society, where even language is subject to the state’s control.

These elements of style and tone work together to create a compelling narrative that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging. Zamyatin’s “We” stands as a masterpiece of dystopian literature, thanks to its innovative use of language and its profound exploration of human nature and society.

Literary Devices used in We

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is a treasure trove of literary devices that enrich the novel’s themes and narrative. Let’s explore the top 10 devices used throughout the book:

1. Symbolism — Zamyatin employs symbolism extensively, with objects and settings representing broader ideas. The Glass Wall symbolizes transparency and surveillance in the One State, while the Green Wall represents the barrier between the controlled urban space and the wild, natural world beyond. These symbols deepen the narrative’s exploration of freedom, control, and the human spirit.

2. Metaphor — The entire society of the One State can be seen as a metaphor for the mechanization and dehumanization of individuals under totalitarian regimes. The citizens are referred to as “numbers” rather than people, highlighting their loss of identity and individuality.

3. AllegoryWe itself is a political allegory, critiquing Soviet Russia’s use of collectivism and state control to suppress individual freedoms. The narrative parallels Zamyatin’s concerns about the direction of the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution.

4. Irony — There is a pervasive irony in the citizens’ belief that they are living in a utopia, while from the reader’s perspective, it is clearly a dystopia. This irony emphasizes the subjective nature of happiness and the dangers of sacrificing freedom for security.

5. Foreshadowing — Early in the novel, D-503’s encounters with nature and his dreams foreshadow his eventual awakening to individual thought and rebellion against the One State’s oppressive regime.

6. Imagery — Zamyatin uses vivid imagery to contrast the sterile, geometric precision of the One State with the chaotic beauty of the natural world. This imagery not only enriches the setting but also reinforces the theme of man versus machine.

7. Paradox — The novel is filled with paradoxes, such as the pursuit of happiness through the elimination of freedom. These paradoxes challenge readers to think critically about the nature of happiness and the role of government in society.

8. Simile — Zamyatin frequently uses similes to draw comparisons between the citizens’ experiences and mechanical or mathematical concepts, reinforcing the dehumanization theme and the dominance of logic over emotion in the One State.

9. Allusion — The novel contains allusions to biblical and historical texts, such as the story of Adam and Eve and the Tower of Babel, which deepen the narrative’s examination of knowledge, freedom, and rebellion.

10. Stream of Consciousness — The use of stream of consciousness narration allows readers to experience D-503’s internal conflicts and transformation firsthand. This technique effectively conveys the protagonist’s psychological depth and the disorienting effects of his awakening.

These literary devices are integral to the richness of We, allowing Zamyatin not only to craft a compelling dystopian narrative but also to engage with complex themes of freedom, identity, and the human condition.

Literary Devices Examples

For each of the top 10 literary devices used in “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin, here are tables providing 3 examples and explanations:

Symbolism

DeviceExampleExplanation
SymbolismGlass WallRepresents the transparency and surveillance within the One State, highlighting the lack of privacy.
SymbolismGreen WallSymbolizes the separation between the controlled, artificial environment of the One State and the natural, free world outside.
SymbolismIntegralEmbodies the One State’s desire to extend its control and rationality to the entire universe, illustrating its imperialistic ambitions.

Metaphor

DeviceExampleExplanation
MetaphorCitizens as “numbers”Illustrates the dehumanization and loss of individual identity in the One State, reducing people to mere components of the collective.
MetaphorThe spaceship Integral as a “bottle of the finest wine”Suggests the idea of the One State’s ideology being a refined product, intended to be exported and imposed on other worlds.
MetaphorThe operation to remove imaginationRepresents the ultimate control over individuals by literally excising the part of the mind responsible for creativity and dissent.

Allegory

DeviceExampleExplanation
AllegoryThe entire narrativeServes as a critique of Soviet Russia’s political system and the broader dangers of utopian ideologies that prioritize the collective over the individual.

Irony

DeviceExampleExplanation
IronyThe One State’s claim to happinessIt’s ironic that the citizens believe they are happy, despite living under constant surveillance and control, illustrating the dissonance between state propaganda and individual reality.

Foreshadowing

DeviceExampleExplanation
ForeshadowingD-503’s dreamsEarly dreams foreshadow his later awakening to individuality and questioning of the One State’s doctrines.

Imagery

DeviceExampleExplanation
ImageryDescriptions of the Glass CityVividly depicts the transparency and coldness of the One State, contrasting with the warm, chaotic beauty of nature outside the Green Wall.

Paradox

DeviceExampleExplanation
ParadoxHappiness through lack of freedomHighlights the absurdity of the One State’s belief that eliminating personal freedom can lead to happiness, questioning the true nature of happiness.

Simile

DeviceExampleExplanation
SimileCitizens moving “like the hands of a clock”Emphasizes the mechanized, predictable nature of life in the One State, devoid of spontaneity or individual will.

Allusion

DeviceExampleExplanation
AllusionReferences to biblical storiesDraws parallels between the One State’s quest for absolute knowledge and control and the biblical stories of rebellion against divine order.

Stream of Consciousness

DeviceExampleExplanation
Stream of ConsciousnessD-503’s diary entriesProvides an intimate look into D-503’s mind, capturing his evolving thoughts and emotions in real-time, reflecting his inner turmoil and eventual awakening.

These examples showcase how Zamyatin uses a range of literary devices to deepen the thematic complexity of “We” and enhance the reader’s engagement with the narrative.

We – FAQs

What is the significance of the numbers for names in We?
In We, characters are given numbers instead of names, reflecting the dehumanization and loss of individual identity in the One State. This practice underscores the society’s emphasis on collective identity over personal uniqueness, serving as a critique of totalitarian systems that suppress individuality.

How does the Glass Wall symbolize control in the One State?
The Glass Wall symbolizes the One State’s control over its citizens by maintaining transparency in all aspects of life, eliminating privacy. It represents the government’s desire for complete surveillance and oversight, where citizens’ actions and thoughts are constantly monitored to ensure conformity to state ideals.

What is the role of I-330 in D-503’s transformation?
I-330 plays a crucial role in D-503’s transformation by introducing him to illicit emotions and rebellious thoughts. Through her influence, D-503 begins to question the One State’s doctrines, experiences love and desire, and ultimately becomes involved with the Mephi resistance. I-330 symbolizes the power of individual thought and emotion to challenge oppressive systems.

How does the Great Operation serve the interests of the One State?
The Great Operation, which involves removing the imagination from citizens’ brains, serves the One State’s interests by eliminating the capacity for individual thought, creativity, and dissent. By ensuring that citizens cannot imagine alternatives to the One State’s reality, the government seeks to maintain absolute control and prevent rebellion.

What does the Green Wall symbolize in the novel?
The Green Wall separates the urbanized, controlled environment of the One State from the natural world outside. It symbolizes the barrier between human-made order and natural chaos, as well as the One State’s attempt to isolate its citizens from any influence that could disrupt its control. The Green Wall also represents the divide between the suppression of individual desires and the freedom of the uncontrolled natural world.

Can We be considered a prediction of future totalitarian regimes?
While not intended as a direct prediction, We can be seen as a prophetic critique of the potential for any society to drift towards totalitarianism when it prioritizes collective ideology over individual rights. Zamyatin’s portrayal of the One State’s oppressive control mechanisms eerily echoes the tactics used by totalitarian regimes that emerged after the novel’s publication, making it a timeless warning against the dangers of absolute power and the suppression of freedom.

Quiz

QuestionABCD
What is the main setting of We?A spaceshipA glass cityA desert islandA medieval castle
Who is the protagonist of We?I-330O-90D-503S-4711
What does the Green Wall separate?Two enemy statesDifferent social classesThe One State from the natural worldThe past from the future
What is the Integral?A mathematical formulaA spaceshipA weaponA law
Who leads the rebellion against the One State?D-503I-330The BenefactorO-90
What does the Great Operation remove?The imaginationThe ability to loveMemoryPhysical pain
What symbolizes the One State’s control and surveillance?The Green WallThe Glass WallThe IntegralThe Benefactor’s palace
What is the primary genre of We?RomanceScience fictionHistorical fictionFantasy

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, focusing on key elements of the setting, characters, plot, and themes.

Exercise

Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from We:

“In the streets, people flowed in unison, their steps synchronizing like the ticking of a clock. The glass buildings on either side reflected not just the physical forms but seemed to mirror the collective soul of the One State. Above, the sky was a dome of unblemished blue, a perfect backdrop for the Integral, which hung overhead like a testament to the triumph of reason over chaos.”


Answers:

  1. Metaphor: “people flowed in unison” compares the movement of people to a fluid, highlighting the loss of individuality in the One State.
  2. Simile: “their steps synchronizing like the ticking of a clock” likens the synchronized movement of people to the precise, mechanical ticking of a clock, emphasizing the regulated and controlled nature of society.
  3. Imagery: The description of the glass buildings and the sky creates vivid images that enhance the setting’s atmosphere, portraying the One State as a place of superficial beauty and order.
  4. Symbolism: The Integral hanging “like a testament to the triumph of reason over chaos” symbolizes the One State’s ideology, representing its belief in the supremacy of logic and order over the natural, chaotic world.
Index