What is the central aim behind the writing and inclusion of the introductory letters in Utopia?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The introductory section of this famous work of literature that posits what an ideal society would look like is one that does not include the famous description of Utopia itself, and merely focuses on a meeting between the various characters, including the sailor Hythloday, who is used by More to criticise various aspects of society in the author's own day that are less than ideal and in need of reform. This is why in the introductory section Hythloday talks about the various ills of England, such as the importance placed on luxury items:

Luxury likewise breaks in apace upon you, to set forward your poverty and misery; there is an excessive vanity in apparel, and great cost in diet; and that not only in noblemen's families, but even among tradesmen, among the farmers themselves, and among all ranks of persons.

Hythloday goes on to suggest various measures that could be taken to counter these evils, suich as the prevention of gambling, removing the death penalty for theft and no longer using mercenary soldiers. What is interesting is that a lawyer rejects these proposals strongly, saying they would not be supported by anybody who knows the history and culture of England. The importance of this section thus lies in the criticism that More makes of England, but also the way that he suggests only an outsider can truly see what needs to be changed. In the character of the lawyer More identifies those who were opposed to reform for the wrong reasons. Tradition and heritage is never a good enough reason to not change things that are not working well, this section suggests. This section is therefore important in order to prepare the reader for this idea before presenting the ideal society in the form of utopia itself. Hopefully, having considered that tradition is not a sufficient argument for maintaining stasis, the reader will be prepared to consider carefully the utopian ideal and how that could be applied to England.

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