Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We: Infinitely One with the Machine
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We depicts a futuristic society in which all of humanity is reduced to mere cogs in a machine. The entirety of human life is summed up as the result of mathematical equations, and the individual ceases to have any value. Zamyatin’s jarring rendition of a world stripped of freedom becomes even more disturbing when one realizes how it mirrored Soviet society at the time, and how it accurately predicted the outward expansion of oppressive ideologies.
The dystopian society of We is an isolated city known as the “United State”, or the “One State” in some translations. It is covered entirely in glass, and as a result, the citizens have zero privacy. The only privacy that they have occurs on “sexual days”, where anyone has the right to choose a partner of their liking. These citizens, who are known as ‘Numbers’, perform all of their daily activities according to a strict schedule, and every inhabitant performs them in unison. When you read the description of the city’s two million inhabitants going through their daily routines in sync, this name seems very appropriate–it becomes clear that they are truly nothing more than numbers in a machine.
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We in-depth Review
The story of We follows D-503, an engineer who is leading the construction of a spacecraft known as the Integral. At the beginning of the novel, D-503 is perfectly content with his life in the One State. He finds the lack of privacy and freedom to be exhilarating, which he equates to the realization of an age-old dream. D-503 takes great pleasure in the structure, lack of freedom, and unity that life in the One State offers. D-503 has been conditioned to value the collective over the individual, and treats the deaths of people or the execution of subversives like the repair or replacement of broken parts. He is completely lost in the One State’s ideal of “mathematically faultless happiness”.
However, D-503’s entire world is shattered after he enters into a romantic relationship with I-330, a female Number who awakens him to the richness of human experience. As he falls in love with I-330, he starts to realize that the world he used to appreciate is becoming vague and imperceptible, and that she is the only splash of color in his life. The major turning point in his awakening comes when he rushes to protect a female number whom he believes to be I-330, without even thinking about the consequences of his actions. D-503, who was previously a devout follower of the One State’s arithmetical principles, is now willing to act irrationally due to love. According to the One State’s doctors, he starts developing a soul, which is totally against its values.
Once D-503 had been awakened to the true beauty of life, there was no way he could go back to his former existence. He initially laments the fact that he is changing, and believes that he is perishing, but he eventually seeks to find a compromise between his two worlds. He believes that a soul could be rational, or even useful.
There is no final one; revolutions are infinite!
It becomes clear that I-330 is a rebel to the One State after she opposes the re-election of the Well-Doer during a ceremony known as the “Day of Unanimity”. The Day of Unanimity provides the illusion of democracy by allowing Numbers to voice their opposition to the Well-Doer, but it an unspoken rule that nobody is to object to his governance. After the ensuing chaos, I-330 reveals to D-503 that she is the leader of a resistance group known as MEPHI, and she plans on hijacking the Integral with a group of people who are living beyond the Green Wall.
This plan ultimately fails, however, and D-503 along with all the other Numbers are forced to undergo an operation called a ‘fantasiectomy’, which strips them of all emotion, making them exactly like the machines they are intended to be. At the story’s end, D-503 reports I-330 to the Well-Doer, and he watches indifferently as she is tortured and then executed.
We is the archetypal tale about awakening to society’s ills. D-503 had no idea that he was living in an oppressive dystopia until I-330 came along and changed his entire perspective on life. However, when the novel ends, we know that D-503 is not truly happy, even though he appears to be. He is left to watch his former lover’s torture and execution without even a shred of emotion on his face, someone who used to literally be his entire world. We sends the message that all are doomed to forever be a mindless drone furthering the aims of the One State.
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We Ralph’s Wrap Up
Perhaps the most foreboding aspect of We is the imperialist sentiment behind the Integral. Compared to the spacecraft of the modern era, which symbolize human achievement and the pursuit of knowledge, the Integral served to take these things away from as many societies as possible. The One State’s ultimate goal was to expand its dystopian society into the far reaches of the universe. The following quote from the book sums up this sentiment perfectly:
“And we shall come to you, my unknown readers on another planet, we shall come to you to make your life as godlike, as rational, and as correct as our own.”WE
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this was actually a warning by Zamyatin of what could happen in the future. If you look in the right places, you’ll find that he was right.
Read More of Ralph’s Dystopian Reviews:
List of all Dystopian Novels Ever by Ralph K Jones:
- Dystopian Literature of the 19th Century
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1900 -1910
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century 1910 – 1920
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1920 -1930
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1930 -1940
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1940 -1950
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1950 -1960
- 20th Century Dystopia Literature 1960 – 1970
- 20th Century Dystopia Literature 1970 – 1980
- 20th Century Dystopia Literature 1980 – 1990
- Dystopian Literature 20th Century – 1990 -2000
- 21st Century Dystopia Literature 2000 – 2010
- Dystopian Literature 21st Century – 2010 -2020