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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

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.

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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.

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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.

The Plot

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote We in 1920 but could not find a Russian publisher, so in 1924 he had it published in translation in Great Britain. Russians came to know of We through readings by the author and through hand-typed copies that were circulated. The first Russian edition was published in Czechoslovakia; publication was blocked in Soviet Russia for six decades. The best English version for general readers is a translation by Bernard Guerney published in 1960 in An Anthology of Russian Literature in the Soviet Period from Gorki to Pasternak.

The novel consists of journal entries made by an engineer named D-503. He heads a project to build a spaceship named Integral, by which the superior social order of his land, the United State, will be spread throughout the universe. That order is based on the logic of the Book of Hours, a timetable that organizes every aspect of life, from getting up and marching off to work in the morning to eating lunch and taking the mandatory walk before returning to work. Even sleeping is considered a solemn duty. On designated evenings, a personal hour is allotted, during which numbers (people) engage in fifteen minutes of sex with a previously selected partner “so that work is performed more efficiently during day hours.”

D-503 by chance meets a female number, I-330, who introduces him to artifacts of Earth’s barbaric past: piano music, wood furniture, wine, and unsanctioned intimate personal contacts. Eventually, she leads him out beyond the Green Wall, a kind of force shield set up around their city to keep away bad weather, wild beasts, and the few remaining uncivilized humans. There, D-503 learns of a plot by a shadowy group, the Mephis, to destroy both the perfectly ordered society of the United State and its dictator, the Benefactor. Although he knows he is duty-bound as a “rational citizen” to report to the “medical authorities” anyone mad enough to think up such a desperate act, he realizes that his growing love for I-330 now competes with his sense of duty.

D-503 is frightened as much as he is intrigued by his “other self,” the one who knows love, jealousy, and even doubt. His painful self-reevaluation is interrupted by an unexpected announcement by the Guardians, the United State police. They have developed a cure for the disease standing in the way of the creation of a perfectly content society, an operation that removes from the brain all powers of fantasy. In his last journal entry, D-503 describes how he was picked up at random and subjected to the operation. Now, saved from his own imagination, he stands passively by as I-330 dies in a torture device called the Gas Jar for her refusal to reveal the names of other Mephis. Whether the revolution will succeed is not discussed, though in his present state, D-503 is unable to imagine (and so cannot report) anything but the certain victory of the State.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 44

Brown, Edward J. Brave New World: Essays in Criticism, 1976.

Collins, Christopher. Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study, 1973.

Richards, David John. Zamyatin, a Soviet Heretic, 1962.

Shane, Alex M. The Life and Works of Evgenij Zamjatin, 1968.

Struve, Gleb. “Zamyatin,” in Russian Literature Under Lenin and Stalin, 1917-1953, 1971.

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Critical Essays