ESSENCE OF WE & 1984
To Orwell Today,
re: previous discussion about "We" and "1984"
See below for "We" Review. Hope you enjoy! I'll have the answers to those "We" questions by the end of the week. Thanks for everything and again, great site.
All the best,
“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin
review by Mateja Lekic
It’s been a few days since I finished “We”, and I still think about the meaning behind it all. I have read reviews, comments, and critics, all to which I respect and take into account. “We”, a dystopian (anti-utopian novel/the first) that deals with a future where man seeks no freedom and lives in paradise with a perfect society that always brings him/her happiness.
The world is comprised of the One State and everything is made of glass so that the guardians (police) can keep an eye on everyone. The main characters are D-503, a mathematician/philosopher and he is the builder of the spaceship Integral; I-330, a leader of a secret resistant or rebel group who is having an affair with D-503; and 0-90, a woman in love with D-503, and a very orderly individual that abides to all the standards of the One State. She is a primary example of how human beings can be manipulated. There are others (R, U, S, doctor, etc.), but we won't talk much about them, however that doesn’t mean they are not important.
One can notice that everyone is given numbers instead of names, and that the ship Integral is about to make its first flight into space. The novel is written through D-503 perspectives on everything. D-503 (builder of the Integral) is writing a diary, or more of a study, of what he is going through before the flight into space. When they leave this planet, the goal is to find other life on different planets and place them under the rule of the Benefactor (the Big Brother of “We”) and bring happiness to them all. The whole world is inside a glass box (surrounded by glass wall) and on the outside is an uncivilized free world that animals, plants, and even humans (though not completely evolved) from the past live on.
D-503 is changed from being a brainwashed human being into a real philosophical person who begins to really observe, think, and question about the society he lives in. He falls in love with I-330 (she is the reason he begins to change) and he joins her resistance group. From the time he meets her to the second to last entry in his diary (book is compromised of 40 entries which he discusses everything that has happened before he heads to the cosmos) he resides with her, but then ultimately gives in and submits under the One State, revealing everything to them about I-330 and her followers.
O-90, who was once with D-503, leaves the One State with her baby (D-503 baby as well) with the help of I-330 after D-503 directs her to I-330. This is of course before he resubmits to the One State. Although in the end, he returns to his normal self and becomes almost machine-like, listening to whatever the One State and Benefactor tells him (sound familiar, “1984”?), he did go through a change, but couldn’t withstand to stay like that.
In this novel, a revolution begins to live and the indestructible One State doesn’t seem invincible anymore but rather destructible. Even though in the end, D-503 returns himself to the One State and becomes a pawn in their system, there is still a sign of hope. The wall has been breached, people are revolting, and the One State's overwhelming insecurity factors can exemplify this. I don’t want to completely summarize the novel since there is much more but that is the basic drift of it. This novel being written way before “1984” (over 25 years), and some 10 years before “Brave New World,” shows and warns one about the future that may come if the individual ceases to exist. I felt that “We” constructed “Brave New World” and “1984” and that those novels copied much from Zamyatin. I don’t want to go into much detail to compare all three (maybe another time) but I would like to show similarities between Orwell (since it is an Orwell site) and Zamyatin. The main topics I wanted to discuss are freedom and happiness, paradise in human consciousness, and ignorance of the individual.
Freedom and happiness, two topics that are very important in both “1984,” and “We” are factors foreshadowing the present and future. Orwell for instance discusses about freedom and happiness quite a bit near the end of the book. Zamyatin puts a very big point in the novel that shows that freedom and happiness cannot go together in this society because people can’t be both. Well let’s restate that, people can't find the ability to use them both. Freedom shows the ability to think, feel, love, cry, and happiness (in the novels) shows blindness, deception, no thought, and no feelings. When one is free, they can think, feel, ponder on questions, they exist. However, I am becoming more and more convinced that people in today’s world are not interested in thinking. Sure they say they want freedom, yet they listen to everything that is told to them by the media and government. People are becoming more and more dependent on that Benefactor or Big Brother than themselves. They don’t want to read, think, reflect, research, and observe the world they live in. This is why Zamyatin and Orwell put a huge effort to show that people want happiness and to be controlled more then to think and live in true freedom. I'm not trying to say that we all want to be controlled but that many don’t even realize that they are being controlled. Happiness is overall easier and is bound to a schedule (like the society in “We”) that never throws anything awkward or different at the individual.
In “We,” paradise is achieved. People are happy and the world is pretty much perfect. However, this doesn’t prove to be true when we meet I-330. Definitely not the same girl you meet everyday in the One State. I-330 awakens a different side to D-503 and makes him curious and wonder about everything. D-503 joins I-330 on the rebellion and even sees the world outside the One State. A very different world, one that is perhaps more primitive yet at the same time, even more advanced. Everything is wild and free and he doesn’t understand it. O-90, who he considered his girl (even though there is no marriage in the One State, O-90 always had sex with D-503 and his friend R) doesn’t seem to attract him anymore and he begins to care less about her. Although he does accept her request to give her a baby even though he knows and she knows that she will die soon (it is illegal to have marriage or babies so they will kill her after she has the baby). He even helps her escape the One State when the rebels break through the wall of the One State. She gains freedom and lives in peace with her new baby. However, she was hesitant about it first but then changes her mind and we see that ancient imagery (in respect to “We”), mother’s attachment and love toward her baby. So D-503 is in love with I-330 and they stay together until the end of the book. Nevertheless, to discuss about how consciousness of paradise plays in all this.
In “1984,” one can see that if the party gains control of your mind, they control how you look at life. If they say they can float, you will believe it. If they say 2 + 2 = 5, you will believe it. In “We,” one perceives life is perfect because they have never experienced anything different, just like in “1984” where the Ministry of Truth shows lies that people believe as truth. The truth is erased and rewritten in “1984” as opposed to “We,” where everything that occurs that is out of the ordinary is considered a disease. When the government gets inside you, you will not be in reality but paradise. Even though this may seem a bit extreme and funny, I find it the truth. One will have no need to think, feel, ponder, and all other emotions. You will be in heaven. This is exactly why it is so important to read, to search for the truth, no matter how painful it is. It is our job of the individual to seek and to question. I hope that society doesn’t forget this, although people are becoming more and more lazy. I fear what the world can turn into; still, I know hope exists and man will always beat the odds.
Ignorance, a word associated with many people in the world. In “We,” one can notice that D-503 is very ignorant at the beginning and then changes to being open, and eventually returns to be a more extreme ignorance - an ignorance of being machine-like (The Great Operation). “We” and “1984” are warnings for the totalitarian systems, losing yourself, and becoming a subunit in a system. Even though both are dark and hopeless, both show a shimmer of light. If the individual ceases to exist (which Zamyatin argues) he becomes mindless and empty. How important it is for people to recognize that they must read and search, no matter how painful it is. But why then do I bring ignorance into the equation, (As in “We” where much deals with equations and formulas)? Well, people live and feed off of their own ignorance. Not only are they not willing to listen, but they don’t want to even take into account or look at the pros and cons to a situation. Reading the lines and the pages designated to them is all they care about, not what is after the book or what is between the lines. The ignorance has a way of spreading and makes society in general good for manipulation and twisting. This can be dangerous and we see that in Zamyatin’s and Orwell’s worlds. This is another big highlight in “1984” and “We,” showing that when people forget about thought and heart, and become machine and ignorant, the world becomes much different (though not to them). Orwell and Zamyatin show us a world that seems almost impossible, yet we see it today. I see it at my university, my friends, my cousins; people are overall not that interested in what goes on. “I didn’t do it,” or “it doesn’t concern my life,” is what people generally say, but it does, and it will. Ignorance is a very bad habit/disease, one that is unfortunately incurable with drugs (sorry to “Brave New World” fans). I can’t change people and make them more thoughtful of what goes on, but I can share and try to open them to new thoughts. Yet, in the end, ignorance will probably stay solid and people will stay with their ideologies. Nevertheless, the hope that lies in changing all this resides in the few that tried to make a difference and lived for reading between the lines. Since I still stay firm that man will always stay human, even though machine will always be tempting. So to tie it all together with “We” and “1984”, hope is always there, though sometimes it may be small.
In conclusion, both novels have an overwhelming number of points of comparison. Even though both books can stand on its own, I wanted to show them both in the same light. In writing this I hope that many will read “We” and will see things in different ways, much like D-503 did when meeting I-330. A great example of our world can be illustrated by using what an ancient philosopher once stated. An old Greek philosopher by the name of Diogene was wandering the streets one sunny day with a lit lantern. People around him were confused. When a citizen came up to him and asked him why he was carrying it, he answered, “I’m looking for a real individual.” By that, he meant that he was looking for a person that was truly real. A person that didn’t conform, that searched for answers and looked beyond. He was searching for something that was hard to find, something that almost didn’t exist. When we look at people these days, we are not seeing truth, but a reflection of a form of society - a form that that person has joined and become. One must break this (not to say become a rebel in terms of fighting) and strive to learn what’s beyond and above. Books like “We” and “1984” really make this alive in one's soul and changes the way one perceives the world, even the universe. People will always be changing, clothes, cars, language, houses; but the principles of true freedom should not. One should be happy because one knows the truth and can then be truly free. “We” leaves an important message behind from all of these points, that message being that one should always fight to be an individual, and therefore fight to exist and be known. So I leave this essay with the words of Zamyatin, “I do not want anyone to want for me - I want to want for myself.”
October 24, 2006
Thank you for that magnificent piece of writing, which firstly summarizes the essence of "We" and secondly explains the essence of freedom and individuality.
All the best,
INTEGRAL POINT OF "WE" (Mateja answers reader's questions)
ORWELL ON ZAMYATIN'S "WE"
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