Discuss the soundness of the marriage and family customs outlined in Sir Thomas More's Utopia.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The second book of Sir Thomas More's Utopia recounts the perfection of an island called Utopia (which means "no where" or "no place") which is the answer to all the problems England has (which More outlines in Book One of Utopia). The central social, economic, and political structure of Utopia is the family; since that is the case, it is in the best interest of the state to regulate family and marriage matters.

On the island of Utopia, the women all leave their family homes when they get married; "but all the males, both children and grandchildren, live still in the same house, in great obedience to their common parent." No city is allowed to exceed a population of more than six thousand, and no family is allowed to have fewer than ten or more than sixteen people. In an ironic understatement, More suggests that 

[t]his rule is easily observed, by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them.

Within each family, the oldest male is the "governor. Wives serve their husbands, and children their parents, and always the younger serves the elder." 

Women have to be eighteen and men have to be twenty-two before they are allowed to marry. While marrying for love is perfectly acceptable in Utopia, selecting a life partner is a serious and weighty undertaking.

Utopia, of course, does not exist, and More is not particularly suggesting that it should. Many times what seems to be perfect and perfectly equal in utopian fiction is anything but equal. In this case, More seems to be offering suggestions (albeit tongue-in-cheek) about how England can begin to solve some of its problems.

In the broadest sense, some of More's ideas have actually been successfully put into practice. For example, it is a generally accepted belief in the Western world that marrying too young is not a good idea. Though More's Utopia does not exist, some of the principles he suggests are exaggerations of ideals that may be worth considering.