Last Updated September 5, 2023.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a partially-epistolary novel set in the twenty-ninth century, in which a city controlled by an authoritarian regime, the One State, fortified itself from the outside world, with the latter considered as a wilderness occupied by primitives. Like other dystopian fiction, such as George Orwell's 1984, Zamyatin's novel is a blatant commentary on the totalitarian regimes that boomed during the twentieth century, particularly The Soviet Union and Mao's Republic of China.
The novel's narrative structure is framed by D-503's diary entries. The diary logs are meant to show D-503's progression towards intellectual and emotional liberation from the regime's strict control over human relationships and thoughts, but it also shows his regression to his original state of submissiveness and uniform thinking. However, his regression was due to systemic lobotomy carried out by the state.
Many of the One State's policies reflect real-world programs. For instance, the outlawing of marriages and acts of love are reminiscent of China's earlier policies of controlling human relationships, such as the One Child Policy.
The level of control the One State, headed by the Benefactor, applies on the citizenry illustrates how a system dehumanizes people. Marriage and love are outlawed, yet exclusively sexual-based relations are allowed through a regulatory system. This shows that the institution only recognizes primal, physical urges such as sex, but not the emotional elements that can accompany healthy sexual relationships. Thus, the citizens of the One State become similar to animals in a zoo or a breeding farm. They are allowed to reproduce, because it will increase the workforce population and strengthen the number of people loyal to the regime. In this sense, the One State is also similar to Sparta, in which a larger population meant a larger military.
The One State is also similar to a cult, or even an orthodox religious institution, by naming their dictator the Benefactor and the secret police the Guardians. It portrays the state as a divine father responsible for the welfare of the citizens. This is also illustrated by the fact that the One State is a walled city, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, and the outside world—where the last of humanity resides—is portrayed as the dangerous and dark wilderness. When D-503 falls in love with the revolutionary leader, I-330, he is intoxicated by temptation. In this vain, I-330 represents Lucifer, who in this context is the liberator of man from an authoritarian god's simulacrum.
When D-503 begins to feel emotions like love and passion, it is no coincidence that this is when he also first conceives of revolutionary ideas and feels the passion of rebellion. This gradual transformation back to the fundamental and innate characteristics of a human being illustrates that the Benefactor's power is greatly dependent on the control of human emotions. If the entire populace experienced the same awakening D-503 had, the Benefactor's empire would crumble.
After I-330 is tortured and executed by the state and D-503 is lobotomized, the only hope left in continuing the revolution is D-503's newborn child. Because the child is born outside in the wilderness, where humanity resides, there is hope that D-503's interrupted transition to normalcy will be continued and realized by the child. Additionally, the child symbolizes love, which the state may have outlawed but could not contain.