Saturday, February 13, 2010

Apparently, you've developed a soul

"When man's freedom equals zero, he commits no crimes. That is clear. The only means of ridding man of crime is ridding him of freedom."

We was written before 1984 and Brave New World and influenced both works. This is a futuristic society where people are referred to as numbers and where they work in unison for the One State, ruled by the Benefactor. In this society, the sum of all parts is greater than the individual; a single person is nothing without the whole. Personal freedoms are extremely limited and all must sing the praises of the One State. Guardians are among them, watching over them in case any should defy the laws. One State. D-503 is our narrator, he is writing notes to be put upon the Intergal, a space ship he is building to bring the One State's ways to other worlds.

In this society, everyone has the right to have sex with anyone else, all one need do is register for that person and receive a pink ticket to lower their blinds. This is one of the only instances of privacy they have, as the buildings are made of glass. The society is encased in a dome, the Green Wall keeping the outside world apart since the 200 Year War.

D-503 meets a woman, I-330, with whom he falls in love with. She is part of a group called Mephi, which is trying to organize an uprising against the One State. D-503 struggles to justify his actions with I-330 with the ideals that have been instilled in him. She challenges the rules and ideals of the One State, and while D-503 claims that he hates her, he cannot but do what she tells him to do.

"You are afraid of it because it is stronger than you; you hate it because you are afraid of it; you love it because you cannot subdue it to your will. Only the unsubduable can be loved."

What interested me a lot about the beginning of this book was D-503's interest in mathematics, and his fixation upon the square root of negative one. As an imaginary number in a very cut and dry world, D-503 cannot wrap his mind around this concept and even recalls throwing a fit in school when he learned of it. Imagination is not desirable in this society, and there is talk of an operation to remove it from the brain.

"Now I no longer live in our clear, rational world; I live in the ancient nightmare world, the world of square roots of minus one."

The appearance of math in dystopian literature is really interesting to me. I just finished reading Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground (I'll try to blog my thoughts on that soon) and one thing that stuck out there was the notion that 2+2=5 (this notion is not exclusive to Dostoevsky, but also connects to Tolstoy, Orwell, and Turgenev, among others - interesting wikipedia entry here). In Dostoevsky, he uses the equation to assert his free will over logic.

We has some great imagery in it. According to the Table of Hours, every number wakes at exactly the same moment, chews the same number of times in precision and marches down the streets in time with each other. The great Benefactor's machine deals with those who rebel by vaporizing them in front of a placid crowd. He is able to describe the women in the story almost exclusively by describing their mouths.

Obviously this novel has some deep allusions to communism, an issue that Zamyatin was dealing with in Russia. In the novel, private property isn't an option anymore, even children are considered property of the state. Nothing is private, even voting is done out in the open, in front of everyone.

To me, a dystopian novel can have but one ending, and that is not a happy one. This one is no different; and even though I could see where the book was heading, what fate lay in store for I-330 and for D-503, it did not lessen the impact.

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