Last Updated September 5, 2023.
We is a 1921 dystopian science fiction novel by the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. Reportedly the inspiration for both 1984 and Brave New World, it is set 1000 years after what the narrator, D-503, calls the Two Hundred Years' War. Now the Earth is controlled by the One State, a totalitarian regime who offer happiness in exchange for freedom.
There were two in paradise and the choice was offered to them: happiness without freedom or freedom without happiness.
At the beginning of the novel the narrator describes himself as follows:
I, D-503, the builder of the Integral, I am only one of the many mathematicians of the One State.
And for the benefit of the One State, he will
try to record only the things I see, the things I think, or, to be more exact, the things we think. Yes, “we”; that is exactly what I mean, and We, therefore, shall be the title of my records.
The One State are using what the narrator calls the Integral to take their ideology to other parts of the galaxy. As the following quote from a news report suggests, if the other lifeforms refuse take on their way of life, they will will force it upon them.
The great historic hour is near, when the first Integral will rise into the limitless space of the universe. One thousand years ago your heroic ancestors subjected the whole earth to the power of the United State. A still more glorious task is before you: the integration of the indefinite equation of the Cosmos by the use of the glass, electric, fire-breathing Integral. Your mission is to subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets, and are still in the primitive state of freedom If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be force them to be happy. But before we take up arms, we shall try the power of words.
Part of their ideology is that everything and everybody is the same. They even live behind a green wall that separates them from wildlife and real weather.
From behind the Green Wall . . . the sky is blue. Its limpidness is not marred by a single cloud. I love, I am sure it will not be an error if I say we love, only such a sky—a sterile faultless sky.
At one point the narrator describes the working of the builders on the integral as a beautiful dance.
Why is the dance beautiful? Answer: because it is an unfree movement. Because the deep meaning of the dance is contained in its absolute, ecstatic submission, in the ideal non-freedom. If it is true that ancestors would abandon themselves in dancing . . . then it only means one thing: the instinct of non-freedom has been characteristic of human nature from ancient times.
The narrator routinely dismisses any old ways of doing things, often comparing their methods to mental illness.
What difficulties our predecessors had in making music! They were able to compose only by bringing themselves to attacks of inspiration, an extinct form of epilepsy.
The narrator doesn't start questioning his way of life until he falls for the revolutionary I-330, and she takes him beyond the Green Wall.
The sun—it was no longer our light evenly diffused over the mirror surface of the pavements; it seemed an accumulation of living fragments, of incessantly oscillating, dizzy spots which blinded the eyes. And the trees! Like candles rising into the very sky, or like, or like spiders...
(This entire section contains 711 words.)
that squatted the earth. . . . I was unable to take a step because under my foot there was not an even plane, but something disgustingly oft, yielding, living, springy, green!
Eventually, she manages to persuade him of the benefits of a revolution.
“It is absurd! Is it not clear to you that what you are planning is a revolution? Absurd, because a revolution is impossible! Because our—I speak for myself and for you—our revolution was the last one.”
“My dear, you are a mathematician, are you not? . . . Name the last number.”
“Since the numbers is infinite, how can there be a last one?”
“And why then do you think there is a last revolution . . . their number is infinite.”