We Summary

Yevgeny Zamyatin


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We Summary

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We, by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin, is a science-fiction novel set in a dystopian future totalitarian society. Published originally in the U.S. in 1924, this novel is considered the originator of the dystopian future fiction genre. We was the first novel banned by the Soviets’ censorship bureau; consequently, it was not published in Russia until 1988. However, We spawned some of the most famous dystopian future fiction writing in English, including George Orwell’s 1984, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. Widely seen as a direct criticism of the Soviet socialist utopia, Zamyatin also intended to indict all governments who act to preserve stability at the cost of human freedom, in any form, and he reportedly based his One State society on a visit to England.

One thousand years after the revolution that brought the One State into being world-wide, each person is assigned only a number, which operates as that person’s name. The One State exists within a post-apocalyptic landscape, when most of the world’s population was destroyed. The narrator, D-503, works as a spacecraft engineer, and he lives in his assigned housing unit, as everyone else does, which is made entirely of clear glass: an eerie Panopticon, similar to Jeremy Bentham’s prison design. Literally everything that anyone does is under the observation of the state, in the form of the Bureau of Guardians, or secret police, while all activities are proscribed by the Table of Hours. All emotion and free will have been replaced by logic, certainty, and the physical abundance and comfort provided by the state. Zamyatin’s theme, of course, is that physical comfort and material prosperity are not a fair exchange for freedom and individual will.

As D-503 works on the spacecraft, named Integral, that will take the message and organization of the One State to the rest of the galaxy, he privately begins to keep a diary. D-503’s diary begins as a simple exercise in recording his daily activities, which he intends to place on board the Integral, but it soon becomes a seditious act, as he writes down his feelings and questions the infallibility of the One State to know what is best for him.

D-503’s lover, O-90, has been assigned to him by the state as well. She is deeply unhappy because she has been deemed too short to be allowed to have a child. She is also the assigned lover of R-13, D-503’s best friend and a poet who reads his poetry at executions. On an assigned outing with O-90, D-503 meets a woman, I-330, who shamelessly flirts with D-503, while drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes: all of these activities are highly illegal. D-503 is simultaneously repelled and fascinated, and he does not report her to the authorities.

He begins to have dreams, which are considered a sign of mental illness, and meets with I-330, who takes him on a visit outside the Green Wall that is the boundary of the city-state. He discovers that there are people outside the wall, covered with fur, and that I-330 is working with a subversive group, the Mephi, to bring down the One State and reunite the people within and outside the wall.

O-90 convinces D-503 to impregnate her, illegally, after she promises to turn over the baby to the state to be raised. As her pregnancy advances, O-90 decides that she cannot give up her child to the state, and I-330 helps smuggle her outside the city.

D-503’s last entry is an emotionless account of his being subjected to the Great Operation, which removed all free will, emotion, and imagination. Many of the citizens of One State have been forced to have the same procedure, deemed appropriate by the Benefactor, the ruler of One State, to prevent riots. Once he underwent the operation, D-503 confessed all he knew about the Mephi. He marvels that even under torture that I-330 refused to name anyone else involved in the rebel group. She was executed with the other members of Mephi.

Despite these executions, the survival of the One State remains in doubt at the end of the novel, and the Mephi gains strength. People begin to act out in open rebellion against the state, parts of the Green Wall have fallen, and birds have returned to the city. D-503 hopes that the Benefactor will be able to restore reason soon.