When UTOPIA first appeared, many people thought More was relating an incident that had actually happened. To make the realistic framework of the story convincing, More includes himself as a character. He and his friend Peter Giles meet Raphael Hythloday, a Portuguese seaman who has been to the New World.
More, Giles, and Hythloday engage in a conversation concerning the value of entering a king’s service in order to promote the public good. This discussion leads to an analysis of the economic and social ills in the Europe of the 16th century.
Book II, actually written first by More, contains Hythloday’s description of the representative government, communistic economy, and religious toleration of the Utopians. Although individual Utopians are fallible, the Utopian state is organized upon rational and humanistic principles.
Much controversy concerning UTOPIA has arisen because the Utopians, whose imaginary state is described in Book II, have abolished private property. Marxist critics have claimed More as an early forerunner of Karl Marx, interpreting UTOPIA as a critique of bourgeois capitalism.
More was canonized as a Catholic saint in 1935. His canonization has intensified speculation about the orthodoxy of UTOPIA. Since the Utopians practice mercy killing and divorce, some critics have argued that More did not regard Utopia as a good place. Other critics have insisted that UTOPIA should not be taken seriously, that it is a witty joke.
Modeled in certain respects on Plato’s REPUBLIC, UTOPIA is an important touchstone for subsequent works which describe imaginary societies.
Ackroyd, Peter. The...
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