We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
We is the progenitor of almost all twentieth century dystopian sci-fi novels and movies. As an obvious sign of its influence, the novel’s themes and settings can be found in a number of related works: a woman causing a man to doubt (1984), a glass dome and wall keeping nature at bay (Aeon Flux), the elimination of arts and a single person who still has access (Equilibrium), crowds gathering to watch citizen vaporization (Logan’s Run), government overseen recreational sex (Brave New World), desiring reality as opposed to a machine like efficiency (The Matrix). Zamyatin’s novel wasn’t ahead of its time but timeless. Still being relevant today closing in on 100 years later. In other words, this is the Grand-pappy of the Dystopian Genera.
We takes place in the 26th Century after the 200 year war eliminates all but 0.2% of the world population. The last remnants of humanity seal themselves off from the post apocalyptic leftovers by constructing a powerful glass city surrounded by a glass dome wall. The city is ruled over by one man called The Benefactor in a totalitarian system. The citizens are known by numbers with the males indicated by a consonant, (D-503, R-13) and the females by vowels, (O-90, I-330). Though suppressed of any inclination of individuality the society gets along believing that their society, One State, is like one organism and that each person is only a working cell to continue the growth and production of One State. The word “happiness” is no longer a personal expression of the self but a term meaning whether a decision is logical. Promoting progress, balance, and production. Having created the perfect society One State sets out to build the Integral, a spaceship that will bring the “great flywheel of logic” to other planets and help the One State conquer the solar system, having already conquered the world.
The book is written as journal entries by the chief engineer of the Integral, D-503. His journal entries start out as a personal narrative describing life in the perfect society of One State. Being pleased with the productive nature and direction he writes fondly of the city, the walls, the Integral, and The Great Benefactor. Then one day, while out for a group walk he meets a woman, (I-330) and falls in love. The feelings conflict with his numerical logic causing him to feel defensive and aggravated towards the situation. Even believing he is sick. The more he focuses on these inner conflicts the more he feels outside of the normal productive community of One State. He finds himself to be an individual confronted with the power of decision. Tormented by his self discovered love for I-330 and his lifelong loyalty to a system that’s so comfortably controlled and guided his every previous action.
The writing is fantastic. There is zero filler in this 250 pager, and I enjoyed every page. I think the discovery of the individual is crucial no matter what century, or what form of oppression threatens to stifle one’s creative outlet. The nameless characters and blandly named oppressors of We allow a certain freedom and agelessness to the novel allowing it to still be relevant today. Writing a review for this book has been extremely difficult it being more the type of novel which themes would be better understood in discussion rather than summed up in a few paragraphs. That said I strongly encourage you all to read this fine piece of Russian Literature (translated the world over) and get back to me with your own thoughts and ideas.
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