Sir Thomas More, much like the utopian writers who followed him, wrote Utopia as a response to the prevailing social, economic, and political systems of the period. Writing during the reign of Henry VIII, a monarch known for his tight control on society and on politics, More builds his utopian system in many ways as a response to Henry's method of rule. The geography of Utopia is that of an island of different cities. The fact Utopia is an island speaks to the isolated nature of the society and its distance from the influence of other societies.
The nature of the government in Utopia reflects this kind of response. Rather than having political power collected in the hands of an all-powerful monarch, More adopts a more socialist system, in which the people play an important role in governing the society. Within the economic system, each member of society serves a specific function, taking up a particular trade, which serves as their contribution to the economy. On a rotational basis, people from the cities go to the countryside to live in households where they learn trades, so that they can be productive individuals. If someone does not contribute, he or she does not reap the benefits of the economy's success, which instills work ethic in the population.
The cities play a vital role in the society of Utopia. While Utopians only work a six-hour day, much of the rest of their time is spent in other pursuits, particularly those involving learning. Learning refers not only to the academic education but also moral education. This idea is built on the very nature of humanism, a prominent philosophical outlook in the sixteenth century. Concerning religion, a number of religious views are present in Utopia, and religious dogmatism has been outlawed, so More presents a form of religious toleration in this society, which is certainly a reaction of Henry VIII's own religious views. In terms of law, the legal system in Utopia is also founded on a sense of tolerance. While there are punishments for a variety of crimes, they tend to be more just and more relative to the charges against an individual. This allows for the punishment to be more fitting to the crime.
The fundamental idea of Utopia is that to improve society, individuals must improve. More's view of humanity and human nature is essentially one of hope. There is hope for humanity, and human nature is essentially good. What prevents people from reaching their potential are certain human characteristics, particularly pride. More spends the last part of Utopia discussing this sin and how to address it.
As far as whether such a society can exist, the meaning of the world "Utopia" seems to suggest that it cannot. The word, which More coined, derives from "ou-topia," meaning "no place," and from "eu-topia," or "good place." The former meaning suggests that such a place is not real. Combining it with the second definition, such a good place is not real. In a larger sense, many have attempted to construct utopian communities with varying degrees of success. In the long run, however, none have succeeded in this sense. When seeking the ideal, it is far too easy for reality to creep into the picture.