We (novel)

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Cover of the Penguin Classics translation of We
Author Yevgeny Zamyatin
Original title Мы
Translator Clarence Brown
Cover artist Georgii Petrusov, Caricature of Aleksander Rodchenko (1933–1934)
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Genre(s) Dystopian novel Science fiction
Publisher Penguin Books
Publication date 1920–1921 (written); 1988 (pub'd in USSR); 1993 (Penguin ed.)
Published in
Media type print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 226
ISBN 0-14-018585-2

We (Russian: Мы)[1] is a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921.[2]

It was written in response to the author's personal experiences with Russian revolution of 1905, the Russian Revolution of 1917, his life in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, and work in the Tyne shipyards at nearby Wallsend during the First World War. It was on Tyneside that he observed the rationalization of labour on a large scale. His education and work as an engineer also probably influenced the book in several ways.

The first English translation of We was published in 1924.


[edit] Plot summary

The story is told by the protagonist, "D-503", in his diary, which details both his work as a mathematician and his misadventures with a resistance group called the Mephi, who take their name from Mephistopheles[citation needed].

D-503 lives in the OneState,[3] an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, where everything is organized according to primitive mathematics. Sleep times are measured out for each day. A ‘“Lex Sexualis was proclaimed: "Each number has a right to any other number, as to a sexual commodity (Zamyatin, We).”’ All intercourse occurring in this novel is heterosexual in nature; any individual may file a requisition for sex with any other individual, and assignations are scheduled by the “Sexual Department” after an extensive study of an individuals' sexual hormonal levels to achieve the 'correct' number of 'Sexual Days' for that person (Zamyatin, We).

People march in-step with each other and wear identical clothing. There is no way to differentiate between different people save by their given numbers. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants, females have even numbers prefixed by vowels.

D-503 spends most of his time with O-90 and R-13, referring to their relationship as a “triangle.” He falls in love with I-330 and the problems begin. He starts a diary as a testament to the happiness that the One State has discovered. He hopes to present it to the extraterrestrial civilizations he will visit in the spaceship he designed.

As the novel progresses, D-503’s infatuation with I-330, a rebellious woman in league with Mephi, starts to take over his life. He starts to lose his initial dedication to the One State, and his ability to differentiate between reality and dreams starts to fade. He is permitted to take off work at one point to overcome his illness, but cannot seem to shake the strange and alien sensations he is experiencing.

At the end of his story, D-503 has almost been driven to madness by inner conflicts between himself and his society, or imagination and mathematic truths. D-503 is arrested and brought in for the Great Operation (similar to a lobotomy),[4] where his imagination is removed and he no longer loves, falling back into his previous existence. In addition, other members of the One State have fallen prey to higher math and various forms of chaos begin to occur. The “Green Wall” that separates their world from the outside is destroyed, birds begin to populate the glass city, people start having intercourse with the blinds up without using coupons, and the Great Benefactor has to create a special field to keep out the Mephi and their followers.

[edit] Major themes

[edit] Dystopian society

The dystopian society depicted in We is called the One State,[3] a glass city led by the Benefactor[5] and surrounded by a giant Green Wall to separate the citizens from nature. Citizens are all given names based on a combination of letters and numbers, with the vowels being assigned to women and the consonants to men. All citizens are known as "numbers".[6]

The story takes place after the Two Hundred Years War, a war that wiped out all but "0.2 of the earth's population".[7] The 200 Years War was a war over a rare substance never mentioned in the book, as all knowledge of the war comes from biblical metaphors; the objective of the war was a rare substance called "bread" as the "Christians gladiated over it"—as in countries fighting conventional wars. However, it is also revealed that the war only ended after the use of superweapons, after which came a time when grass grew over old streets and buildings crumbled.

[edit] Efficiency and mathematics

All human activities are reduced to mathematical equations, or at least attempted to. For sexual intercourse, numbers (people) receive a booklet of pink coupons which they fill out with the other number they'd like to use on a certain day. Intercourse is the only time shades are allowed to be lowered. It's believed pink coupons eliminate envy.

Every single moment in one's life is directed by "The Table," a precursor to Nineteen Eighty-Four's telescreen. It is in every single residence, and directs their every waking instant. With it, every person eats the same way at the same time, wakes at the exact same time, goes to sleep at the exact same time, and works at the exact same time. The only exception are two required "Free Hours" in which a Number might go out and stroll down a street, or work, or write a diary or the like. According to D-503, he is proud to think that someday there will be a society in which the Free Hours have been eliminated, and every single moment is catalogued and choreographed.

[edit] Totalitarianism, Communism, and Empire

The Benefactor is the equivalent of Big Brother, but unlike his Orwellian equivalent, the Benefactor is actually confirmed to exist when D-503 has an encounter with him. An "election" is held every year on Unanimity Day, but the outcome is always known beforehand, with the Benefactor unanimously re-elected each year.

The Integral, the One State's space ship, has been designed by D-503 to bring efficiency of the One State to the rest of the universe. This is often seen as analogous to the ideal of a Global Communist State held by early Marxists and Trotskyists, but it can be more broadly read as a critique of all modernizing, industrial societies' tendency toward empire and colonization under the guise of civilizational development for "primitive peoples." While the Soviet state promoted the Revolution with almost evangelical zeal in Zamyatin's time, capitalist nation-states carried out their mission to serve as "Trustees" for colonized subjects with equal fervor. The common denominator between communist and capitalist apologies for expansion was their shared vision of progress through efficiency and technology, and, more fundamentally, a materialist view that reduces the world to physical laws and processes that can be understood and manipulated for utilitarian purposes. This was a world view that Zamyatin despised, and We dramatizes the conflict between nature/spirit and artifice/order. The role of the poet/writer, as Zamyatin saw it, was to be the heretical voice that always insisted on imagination, especially when established institutions seek conformity and concerted effort toward a defined goal (e.g. the promotion of the Communist party abroad or the maximization of the productive energies of the population). Zamyatin was disturbed by the way in which the Party viewed literature as a useful tool for realizing its goals, and he witnessed particularly troubling compromises from fellow writers who increasingly toed the party line through institutions like the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP) or the Writers Union, from which he resigned in 1929.[8] References to official efforts to co-opt literary talent cannot be missed in We. The story begins with D-503 deciding to answer the One State's call for all with literary talent to "compose tracts, odes, manifestos, poems, or other works extolling the beauty and grandeur of the One State."[9] These contributions would be loaded on the Integral as its first cargo, promoting efficiency and un-freedom to the populations of the universe beyond who may still be living in a benighted state of freedom. Later in the novel, D-503, before he becomes diseased with a soul, records his "Reflections on Poetry" in which he praises the "majestic" Institute of State Poets and Writers.[10]

[edit] Literary significance and influences

We is a futuristic dystopian satire, generally considered to be the grandfather of the genre (but see The Iron Heel). It takes the totalitarian and conformative aspects of modern industrial society to an extreme conclusion, depicting a state that believes that free will is the cause of unhappiness, and that citizens' lives should be controlled with mathematical precision based on the system of industrial efficiency created by Frederick Winslow Taylor. Among many other literary innovations, Zamyatin's futuristic vision includes houses, and indeed everything else, made of glass or other transparent materials, so that everyone is constantly visible. Although Zamyatin was a devoted Revolutionary, at times he said that the Bolsheviks were not revolutionary enough, he was at times critical of the Party and his work was repeatedly banned.

George Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) "must be partly derived from" We.[11] However, in a 1962 letter, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World long before he had heard of We.[12] According to We translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying.[13]

Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has several major similarities to We, although it is stylistically and thematically different.[14]

George Orwell began Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) some eight months after he read We in a French translation and wrote a review of it.[15] Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."[16] Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, We "appears to have been the crucial literary experience."[17] Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute".[18]Russell, in an overview of the criticism of We, concludes that "1984 shares so many features with We that there can be no doubt about its general debt to it", however there is a minority of critics who view the similarities between We and 1984 as "entirely superficial". Further, Russell finds "that Orwell's novel is both bleaker and more topical than Zamyatin's, lacking entirely that ironic humour that pervades the Russian work."[12]

Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952) he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Eugene Zamiatin's We."[19]

In The Right Stuff (1979), Tom Wolfe describes We as a "marvelously morose novel of the future" featuring an "omnipotent spaceship" called the Integral whose "designer is known only as 'D-503, Builder of the Integral.' " Wolfe goes on to use the Integral as a metaphor for the Soviet launch vehicle, the Soviet space program, or the Soviet Union.[20]

It should be mentioned that Jerome K. Jerome has been cited as an influence on Zamyatin’s novel.[21] Jerome’s short essay "The New Utopia" (1891)[22] describes a regimented future city, indeed world, of nightmarish egalitarianism, where men and women are barely distinguishable in their grey uniforms (Zamyatin’s "unifs") and all have short black hair, natural or dyed. No one has names: women wear even numbers on their tunics, men wear odd, just as in We. Equality is taken to such lengths that people with well-developed physique are liable to have lopped limbs. In Zamyatin, similarly, the equalisation of noses is earnestly proposed. Jerome has anyone with an over-active imagination subjected to a levelling-down operation—something of central importance in We. Even more significant is the appreciation on the part of both Jerome and Zamyatin that individual, and by extension, familial love, is a disruptive and humanising force.

Jerome's works were translated in Russia three times before 1917 and most educated people are well aware of him. Three Men in a Boat is a set book in Russian schools.

[edit] History

The novel was the first work banned by Glavlit, the new Soviet censorship bureau, in 1921, though the initial draft dates to 1919.[citation needed] In fact, a good deal of the basis of the novel is present in Zamyatin's novella 'Islanders', begun in Newcastle in 1916. Zamyatin's literary position deteriorated throughout the 1920s, and he was eventually allowed to emigrate to Paris in 1931, probably after the intercession of Maxim Gorky.

The novel was first published in English in 1924,[23] but its first publication in the Soviet Union had to wait until 1988,[24] when glasnost resulted in it appearing alongside George Orwell's 1984. A year later We and Brave New World were published together in a combined edition.[25]

[edit] Allusions and references

Many of the names and numbers in We are allusions to personal experiences of Zamyatin or to culture and literature. For example, "Auditorium 112" refers to cell number 112, where Zamyatin was twice imprisoned[26] and the name of S-4711 is a reference to the Eau de Cologne number 4711.[27]

The St. Alexander Nevsky, which was renamed Lenin after the Russian Revolution.

Zamyatin, who worked as a naval architect,[28] refers to the specifications of the icebreaker St. Alexander Nevsky.

The numbers [. . .] of the chief characters in WE are taken directly from the specifications of Zamyatin's favourite icebreaker, the Saint Alexander Nevsky, yard no. A/W 905, round tonnage 3300, where 0-90 and I-330 appropriately divide the hapless D-503 [. . .] Yu-10 could easily derive from the Swan Hunter yard numbers of no fewer than three of Zamyatin's major icebreakers - 1012, 1020, 1021 [. . .]. R-13 can be found here too, as well as in the yard number of Sviatogor A/W 904.[29][30]

There are literary allusions to Dostoevsky, particularly Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov, and to The Bible.[31]

Many comparisons to The Bible exist in We. There are similarities between Genesis Chapters 1-4 and We, where the One State is considered Paradise, D-503 is Adam, and I-330 is Eve. The snake in this piece is S-4711, who is described to have a bent and twisted form, with a "double-curved body". References to Mephistopheles (in the Mephi) are seen as allusions to Satan and his rebellion against Heaven in the Bible. The Mephi are rebels against what is considered to be a perfect society. The novel itself could also be considered a criticism of organised religion given this interpretation.[31]

The novel uses mathematical concepts symbolically. The spaceship of which D-503 is supervising the construction is called the Integral, which he hopes will "integrate the grandiose cosmic equation". D-503 also mentions that he is profoundly disturbed by the concept of the square root of -1 -- which is the basis for imaginary numbers (imagination being deprecated by the One State). Zamyatin's point, probably in light of the increasingly dogmatic Soviet government of the time, would seem to be that is that it is impossible to remove all the rebels against a system and he even says this through (ironically) I-330: "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite."[32]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ The title Мы (IPA[mɨ]) is the Russian first person plural personal pronoun. It is usually romanized as My by transliterating the Russian letter ы (Yery) as the English letter y. However, the romanization My is not a translation or a pronunciation and should not be confused with the English word my.
  2. ^ Brown, p. xi, citing Shane, gives 1921. Russell, p. 3, dates the first draft to 1919.
  3. ^ a b Ginsburg and Randall use "One State". Guerney uses "The One State"—each word is capitalized. Brown uses the single word "OneState", which he calls "ugly" (p. xxv). Zilboorg uses "United State".
    All of these are translations of the phrase Yedinoye Gosudarstvo (Russian: Единое Государство).
  4. ^ Erich Fromm's afterword to 1984.
  5. ^ Ginsburg trans. This is also translated as "Well-Doer".[citation needed] Benefactor translates Blagodetel (Russian: Благодетель).
  6. ^ Ginsburg trans. This is also translated as "cyphers".[citation needed] Numbers translates nomera (Russian: номера).
  7. ^ Fifth Entry (Ginsburg translation, p. 21).
  8. ^ Ginsburg, Introduction, p. xviii.
  9. ^ Ginsburg translation, "First Entry"
  10. ^ Ginsburg translation, "Twelfth Entry"
  11. ^ Orwell (1946).
  12. ^ a b Russell, p. 13.
  13. ^ "Leonard Lopate Show". WNYC. August 18, 2006. http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2006/08/18.  (radio interview with We translator Natasha Randall)
  14. ^ Gimpelevich, Zina (1997). "‘We’ and ‘I’ in Zamyatin's We and Rand's Anthem". Germano-Slavica 10 (1): 13–23. 
  15. ^ Orwell (1946). Russell, p. 13.
  16. ^ Bowker (p. 340) paraphrasing Rayner Heppenstall.
    Bowker, Gordon (2003). Inside George Orwell: A Biography. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 031223841X. 
  17. ^ Brown trans., Introduction, p. xvi.
  18. ^ Shane, p. 140.
  19. ^ Playboy interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., July 1973.
  20. ^ Wolfe, Tom (2001). The Right Stuff. Bantam. ISBN 0553381350.  "D-503": p. 55, 236. "it looked hopeless to try to catch up with the mighty Integral in anything that involved flights in earth orbit.": p. 215. Wolfe uses the Integral in several other passages.
  21. ^ Stenbock-Fermor.
  22. ^ Published in Diary of a Pilgrimage (and Six Essays).(full text)
  23. ^ In a translation by Zilboorg.
  24. ^ Brown translation, p. xiv. Tall notes that glasnost resulted in many other literary classics being published in the USSR during 1988-1989.
  25. ^ Tall, footnote 1.
  26. ^ Randall, p. xvii.
  27. ^ Ermolaev.
  28. ^ Shane, p 12.
  29. ^ Myers.
  30. ^ "All these icebreakers were constructed in England, in Newcastle and yards nearby; there are traces of my work in every one of them, especially the Alexander Nevsky—now the Lenin;I did the preliminary design, and after that none of the vessel's drawings arrived in the workshop without having been checked and signed:
    'Chief surveyor of Russian Icebreakers' Building E.Zamiatin." [The signature is written in English.] (Zamyatin ([1962]))
  31. ^ a b Gregg.
  32. ^ Ginsburg, Introduction, p. v. The Thirtieth Entry has a similar passage.
  33. ^ "Such an impoverishing, necessitarian mode of thought can only be .... machine and a veritable cult of efficiency (effectively parodied in Zamyatin's We)."Ecology and carnival: Traces of a “green” social theory in the writings of M. M. Bakhtin" Volume 22, Number 6 / December, 1993 http://www.springerlink.com/content/x6793139v4466423/?p=eceddce32e7b4c899ffb8aed2e6e0824& pi=0
  34. ^ "Zamyatin was apparently leaning toward a negative technological determinism" Forms of Hatred: the Troubled Imagination in Modern Philosophy and Literature pg110 By Leonidas Donskis ISBN 9042010665 http://books.google.com/books?id=M7Tdl6vgbmUC&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq= Zamyatin+Determinism+&source=web&ots=cZRfENUx45&sig=4bcrEDNWlIhkGLoMeRXP3xuG434

[edit] References

[edit] Translations

  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1924). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). New York: Dutton.  [1]
  • Zamjatin, Jevgenij Ivanovič (1927). My. Václav Koenig (trans.). Prague (Praha): Štorch-Marien.  (Czech) [2]
  • Zamâtin, Evgenij Ivanovic (1929). Nous autres. B. Cauvet-Duhamel (trans.). Paris: Gallimard.  (French) [3]
  • Zamjàtin, Evgenij (1955). Noi. Ettore Lo Gatto (trans.). Bergamo (Italy): Minerva Italica.  (Italian)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1972 repr. 1999). We. Mirra Ginsburg (trans.). New York: EOS HarperCollins. ISBN 0-380-63313-2. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1972). We. Bernard Guilbert Guerney (trans.). UK: Penguin Books. 
  • Zamjatin, Evgenij Ivanovič (1975). Mi. Drago Bajt (trans.). Ljubljana (Slovenia): Cankarjeva založba. 
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1987). We. S.D. Cioran (trans.). USA: Ardis. ISBN 0882338218. 
  • Zamjàtin, Evgenij (1990). Noi. Ettore Lo Gatto (trans.). Milano (Italy): Feltrinelli. ISBN 88-07-80412-3.  (Italian)
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1991). We. Alex Miller (trans.). Moscow: Raduga. ISBN 5-05-004845-1. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1993). We. Clarence Brown (trans.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-018585-2.  (preview)
  • Zamiatin, Eugene (2000). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). USA: Transaction Large Print. ISBN 1-56000-477-0.  (author photo on cover)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2006). We. Natasha Randall (trans.). Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-7462-X. 

[edit] Russian language editions

The first complete Russian language edition of We was published in New York in 1952. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1967). My. vstupitel'naya stat'ya Evgenii Zhiglevich, stat'ya posleslovie Vladimira Bondarenko. New York: Inter-Language Literary Associates.  (Russian)
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1988). Selections. sostaviteli T.V. Gromova, M.O. Chudakova, avtor stati M.O. Chudakova, kommentarii Evg. Barabanova. Moskva: Kniga. ISBN 5-212-00084-X.  (Russian) (bibrec) (bibrec (Russian))
We was first published in the USSR in this collection of Zamyatin's works. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny; Andrew Barratt (1998). Zamyatin: We. Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 1853993786.  (also cited as Zamyatin: We, Duckworth, 2006) (Russian) (English)
Edited with Introduction and Notes by Andrew Barratt. Plain Russian text, with English introduction, bibliography and notes.

[edit] Online works

[edit] Reviews

[edit] Books

  • Russell, Robert (1999). Zamiatin's We. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 978-1853993930. 
  • Shane, Alex M. (1968). The life and works of Evgenij Zamjatin. Berkeley: University of California Press. OCLC 441082. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1992). A Soviet Heretic: Essays. Mirra Ginsburg (editor and translator). Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0810110915. 

[edit] Journal articles

  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny ([1962]), "O moikh zhenakh, o ledokolakh i o Rossii", Mosty (Munich: Izd-vo Tsentralnogo obedineniia polit. emigrantov iz SSSR) IX: 25  (Russian)
English: My wives, icebreakers and Russia. Russian: О моих женах, о ледоколах и о России.
The original date and location of publication are unknown, although he mentions the 1928 rescue of the Nobile expedition by the Krasin, the renamed Svyatogor.
The article is reprinted in E. I. Zamiatin, 'O moikh zhenakh, o ledokolakh i o Rossii', Sochineniia (Munich, 1970–1988, four vols.) II, pp. 234–40. (Russian)
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