62 pages 2 hours read

Samuel Butler


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1872

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Moral Relativity and Individual Beliefs

Arguably, the main theme of Butler’s satire in Erewhon is that of morality and the idiosyncrasies of common beliefs. Upon his arrival in Erewhon, the narrator carries with him a series of beliefs and perspectives that English culture has ingrained in him, such as the need to punish criminals under the law, help the sick, believe in Christianity, and use technology as it develops. These all run counter to the beliefs and practices in Erewhon, and these contradictions fuel much of the discussion in the novel. The narrator dwells on the finer details of Erewhonian thought as though it is a strange and outlying system, when, through satire, Butler is really demonstrating how similar the supposedly “backward” Erewhonian beliefs are to the those of the Victorian English. Moral relativity denotes the idea that each culture develops a sense of morality individually, and there is no objective way to determine whether the morality of one culture is superior to that of another. Layered into this system are the differences between individuals, as the narrator finds diverse Erewhonian expressions of belief and allegiances across ideologies. The purpose of this theme is to encourage the reader to examine their own ingrained biases and beliefs, questioning them much as the narrator questions the Erewhonians’.