Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

A world supposedly based entirely on logic and rationality is not satisfying to the human spirit. The novel shows that turning all of society into an efficiently run "factory" is a problem. As we read of living in glass boxes of apartments that are under constant police surveillance, wearing uniforms, being assigned sex partners without a say in the choice, having every hour of your life pre-planned, and being reprogrammed through torture and X-ray brain surgery if you fail to conform, we quickly realize this is not a place we would want to live. It is a nightmare, not a paradise. What's important to remember, however, is that Zamyatin is not criticizing communist totalitarianism: this novel was written in 1921, long before Stalin took over and before the communist experiment had had time to go bad. Instead, the book is a critique of the tendency across cultures to regulate life and make it more uniform and conformist. Zamyatin is critiquing the mindset of efficiency and the factory model rather than any particular political system. That being said, the early Soviet Union was obsessed with the factory model as it pushed hard to very quickly modernize the country. Zamyatin is very probably critiquing that urge within Leninist communism.

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A state without freedom is an unhappy place. Although the One State is premised, as is the World State in Brave New World, on the principle that freedom and happiness are not compatible, the book illustrates that lack of freedom and happiness are also not compatible. Too much power in one set of hands, such as the Benefactor's, leads to misery. The novel therefore raises the question of what happiness is and suggests it might have something to do with letting a little nature (chaos) into life, as is the case beyond the Green Wall.

In the end, the attempt to build a completely rational world is irrational. The novel shows that it is impossible to create a perfectly rational world. People like D-503, although an engineer and a conformist, will have dreams at night, whether it is forbidden or not. Humans may be given numbers rather than names, but they will nevertheless develop individual personalities because they are not machines. O-90, for example, even though an obedient, conformist woman, wants a baby. Rationally, because she is too short, she shouldn't have that wish. But she is passionate, not rational, in her desire: "I want, I must have a child!" She also doesn't want to give it to the state to raise. These human desires will aways, the novel argues, work against the mechanized state—and in the novel, the Mephi rebels are numerous. The human desire for autonomy and the freedom to do the irrational will always rise up.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

The symbolic title “We” suggests the main theme of the novel: the struggle to preserve the individual “I” against the pressures to conform represented by the collective “We.” I-330 is the major character affirming individuality in the novel. She personifies the revolutionary principle of energy, which Zamyatin regards as a positive force, since it represents change. As I-330 ex-plains to D-503: “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.” In I-330’s view, the One State personifies entropic thought and must be destroyed. She regards revolution as inevitable, since there is no final revolution (just as there is no final number). Zamyatin develops similar ideas in his essay “O literature, revolyutsii, entropii i o prochem” (“On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and...

(The entire section contains 890 words.)

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