What are some of the conventional values of society portrayed in the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (translation by Natasha Randall)? How are they challenged in the novel? How are concepts of...

  • What are some of the conventional values of society portrayed in the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (translation by Natasha Randall)? How are they challenged in the novel?
  • How are concepts of good and bad as a matter of perception shown in the novel We?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one of the most dominant conventional values in One State's society is a lack of privacy.  The idea that the government is able to present itself in all aspects of an individual's life is a conventional social and political value.  It is seen in the regulation of individual life in accordance with external mandates and is evident in the glass construction, where individuals are able to be seen and controlled in everything they do and believe.  Personal freedom is seen as synonymous with destructive activity such as criminal deviance:  “The only means of ridding man of crime is ridding him of freedom.”  In this context, the conventional value of freedom is seen as something bad, or something that has to be controlled.

The characterization of D-503 is the book's way of challenging this conventional notion. His revelation causes him to recognize that personal freedom and expression are not acts of deviance. D-503's understanding of what it means to be human is a repudiation of the state's excessive control over human beings.  The emergence of freedom and individual action are confirmations of his definitive humanity. I-330 explains this condition as part of the dynamic of control and energy: “There are two forces in the world—entropy, which leads to happy equilibrium, and energy, which leads to destruction of equilibrium, to tormentingly endless movement.” D-503's transformation throughout the novel embraces "the other half" of his human condition. It is also one distinct way in which the novel challenges the conventional value of One State's society that personal freedom and expression are bad.

Another conventional value is affirmed in the social construction of progress. Progress, rationality, and efficiency are seen as intrinsic goods that supersede all else. The fact that citizens are reduced to "numbers" instead of names is one example of how rationality has permeated all conditions of being in One State. "The Table"s presence in the form of regulation of activities is another way in which the conventional value of progress has been placed above all else. The fact that the revolution of social rebellion still takes place and that O-90 has given birth beyond the grasp of One State are repudiations that the novel makes towards such a construction. The presence of energy in its most uncontrollable form shows how the conventional notion of progress is rejected at the novel's conclusion.

"Good" and "bad" are shown as a matter of perception.  Control is seen as a good element if based on the perception of those in the position of power.  It is seen as something bad when one is under its heel.  Freedom is seen as something bad on the part of those in the position of social and political power, while it is seen as good on the part of individual citizens who embrace "the other half" of their condition. As a result, the novel makes clear that the position of one's experience plays a major role in defining "good" and bad." 

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