One of many equally bleak covers.
And I'm convinced that in the end we will prevail. Because Reason must prevail.
One of the earliest known Dystopia
novels, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921 and predating both Brave New World
(1932) and 1984
(1949), which it directly inspired. It's also notable for being the first work banned by Goskomizdat
, not published in the Soviet Union until 1988, and some parts of the description of the One State read as scaringly similar to Stalinism — eight years before it began to take shape. (The Soviets especially didn't like the book's implication that theirs was not the final
, destined-for-success revolution.)
The entire book is a fictional diary
written by the protagonist, D-503, a citizen of the totalitarian One State. (Literally in Russian: "United State", "Unified State" or "Wholesome State".) It's ruled by a Big Brother-like figure known as the Benefactor. People are called "numbers" and lead a highly math- and logic-centered (read: Straw Vulcan
) existence. Everything is arranged via rigid timetables, down to sex — and because sex is brought down to a purely logical activity, Eternal Sexual Freedom
is the norm. "Every number", the Benefactor states, "belongs to every other number", and monogamy and irrational love are strongly discouraged as a result.
D-503 regularly has sex with O-90, a very sweet woman who delights in his presence. He shares her with his best friend, the state poet R-13. One day, D-503 is approached by another woman: I-330, a member of La Résistance
called the Mephi, whom he falls madly in love with. He starts to realize that his sexual and intellectual connection to O-90 is dwindling quickly. And when R-13 starts secretly meeting the mysterious I-330 as well, D-503 begins to feel something he's never experienced before: jealousy, emotional love, a desire for monogamy and privacy, and a yearning for the unknown.
Eight months after reading We
, George Orwell
sat down and started writing 1984
as a direct cultural translation of the story. Both Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut
(who based Player Piano
) have accused Aldous Huxley
of stealing the plot of We
for Brave New World
, although Huxley always denied it. Ayn Rand
is uncannily similar to We
. Last but not least, We
heavily influenced Equilibrium
in all its campy glory, so much that it could very well be considered an over-the-top We: The Movie
Zamyatin himself was, in turn, influenced primarily by H. G. Wells
, whose works he had previously edited in Russian.
We contains examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: U, to D.
- Accidentally Accurate: Like Brave New World it correctly guessed a future medical discovery. In this case that damaging a part of the human brain can destroy that person's emotions. Though it involves an icepick instead of X-Rays.
- After the End: D-503 states that the One State was established after a 200-year war caused by shortage of natural resources. (Bizarrely, it also makes food out of oil. Perhaps in Zamyatin's time, oil wasn't considered a resource that could ever come to shortage?)
- This could be just propaganda. The pristine wilderness outside the Green Wall doesn't fit a supposedly post-apocalyptic world. But of course, a totalitarian government would want its people to believe that it was their only hope of survival.
- A Million is a Statistic: D-503 proudly reflects how an industrial accident got a score of people incinerated and none of their colleauges so much as flinched or hesitated for a moment.
- Assimilation Plot: The Mephi call the state of the One State "entropy", making a reference to the concept of "heat death" in relation to everyone being basically a carbon copy of each other; and themselves they view as "energy", meant to revitalize society.
- Bittersweet Ending or Bolivian Army Ending, depending on how you see the odds; D-503 is basically gone as a person, but La Résistance may well win after all.
- City in a Bottle
- Dystopia: Possibly the Trope Maker.
- Emotion Suppression: People of the One State are calculating, emotionless and strive only to follow only logic. In the end a way is discovered to truly erase an individual's ability to feel emotions by irradiating a certain spot of the brain with X-Rays and everyone is irreversibly brainwashed.
- Free-Love Future and No Sex Allowed: Yes, "every number belongs to every other number," but everyone is issued so many sex tickets based on their hormone levels, and sex without a ticket is outlawed. The worst of 2 opposite dystopian edicts!
- Good People Have Good Sex: And emotionless people have emotionless sex.
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Or so I-330 theorizes ("You can only love that which refuses to be conquered.").
- Individuality Is Illegal: The Benefactor is actually a little lenient about this, because the 'numbers' of the One State all think alike anyway and so there's little danger of any real "traitorous" individualism catching on.
- La Résistance: The Mephi.
- Les Collaborateurs: D-503 becomes one at the end.
- Meaningful Name: The woman who rebels against a society where Individuality Is Illegal is named I-330.
- New Eden: The outside world.
- Not Me This Time: I-330 initially thinks D-503 was the one who revealed the plan to commandeer the Integral; he never gets the chance to tell her it wasn't him.
- Rage Within The Machine
- Shout-Out: To Crime and Punishment, once D goes into delirium and tries to murder U.
- The Spock: D-503 in the beginning; and he returns to this state in the end as well.
- Theme Naming: There are only six characters named in the book (seven, if you include The Benefactor). Two of the names are partial and do not include the number, only the letter. Still, some patterns can be seen:
- All the male characters' letters are consonants (D, R, S). All the females' letters are vowels (O, I, U).
- All the females' numbers are even (330, 90). All the males' numbers are odd (503, 13). 503 and 13 are also both prime numbers.
- Given the sprinkling of Biblical symbolism (The Mephi, etc.), there may be a deeper numerological significance to the names.
- Straw Vulcan: The One State is apparently a Planet of Hats of Straw Vulcans; D-503 experiences a Logic Bomb in the form of the square root of -1, which he considers unfitting for a mathematically rigorous world.
- One should also consider that the use of (-1)^0.5 is not quite right when it comes to mathematics, though it will only be evident to (and matter for) people with at least a college education.
- Plus, as a mathematician, D-503 knows that if you multiply i by i, then you result in the completely rational integer -1. Probably explains his Character Development.
- Trope Maker: As much as Brave New World, 1984 and Brazil have solidified the tropes, Zamyatin basically built the first novel-length totalitarian sci-fi society.
- Unusual Euphemism: Not as much as in 1984, but still plentiful. One notable example is "By Pythagoras' pants!" To explain the cultural context, "Pythagoras' pants" is part of a Russian mnemonic for memorizing his theorem. It is an image based on a visual representation of the theorem, a right triangle with squares constructed on its three sides, which indeed resembles shorts or briefs.
- Villain with Good Publicity: The Benefactor is genuinely popular in this brainwashed society, but still sees fit to quell the very mild opposition and pretend that his support is completely unanimous instead of only almost unanimous.
- Was It All a Lie?: The Benefactor makes D-503 suspect that I-330 was just using him because the Mephi needed the Integral.
- You Are Number Six: All the citizens of the One State have a name consisting of a letter paired with a number. There may be some deeper significance to these names.