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We (novel)

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Wikipedia article

'We' is a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921.Brown, p. xi, citing Shane, gives 1921. Russell, p. 3, dates the first draft to 1919. It was written in response to the author's personal experiences during the Russian revolution of 1905, the Russian revolution of 1917, his life in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, and his work in the Tyne shipyards during the First World War. It was on Tyneside that he observed the rationalization of labour on a large scale. Zamyatin was a trained marine engineer, hence his dispatch to Newcastle to oversee ice-breaker construction for the Imperial Russian Navy. The novel was first published in 1924 by E.P. Dutton in New York in an English translation.


'We' is set in the future. D-503 lives in the One State,The Ginsburg and Randall translations use the phrasing "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: ).
an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily. The structure of the state is analogous to the prison design concept developed by Jeremy Bentham commonly referred to as the Panopticon. Furthermore, life is organized to promote maximum productive efficiency along the lines of the system advocated by the hugely influential F.W. Taylor. People march in step with each other and wear identical clothing. There is no way of referring to people save by their given numbers. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants, females have even numbers prefixed by vowels.


One thousand years after the One State's conquest of the entire world, the spaceship 'Integral' is being built in order to invade and conquer extraterrestrial planets. Meanwhile, the project's chief engineer, D-503, begins a journal which he intends to be carried upon the completed 'Integral'.

Like all other citizens of the One State, D-503 lives in a glass apartment building and is carefully watched by the secret police, or Bureau of Guardians. D-503's lover, who has been assigned by the One State to visit him on certain nights, is O-90. O-90, who is considered too short to bear children, is deeply grieved by her state in life.

O-90's other lover and D-503's best friend, is R-13, a State poet who reads his verse at public executions.

While on an assigned walk with O-90, D-503 meets a woman named I-330. I-330 smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, and shamelessly flirts with D-503 instead of applying for an impersonal sex visit. All of these are highly illegal according to the laws of the One State.

Both repelled and fascinated, D-503 struggles to overcome his attraction to I-330. I-330 invites him to visit the Ancient House, notable for being the only opaque building in the One State, except for windows. Objects of aesthetic and historical importance, dug up from around the city, are stored there. There, I-330 offers him the services of a corrupt doctor in order to explain his absence from work. Leaving in horror, D-503 vows to denounce her to the Bureau of Guardians, but finds that he cannot.

He begins to have dreams at night, which disturbs him, as dreams are thought to be a symptom of mental illness. Slowly, I-330 reveals to D-503 that she is involved with the MEPHI, an organization plotting to bring down the One State. She takes him through secret tunnels inside the Ancient House to the world outside the Green Wall which surrounds the city-state. There, D-503 meets the inhabitants of the outside world: humans whose bodies are covered with animal fur. The aims of the MEPHI are to destroy the Green Wall and reunite the citizens of the One State with the outside world.

Despite the recent rift between them, O-90 pleads with D-503 to impregnate her illegally. After O-90 insists that she will obey the law by turning over their child to be raised by the One State, D-503 obliges. However, as her pregnancy progresses, O-90 realizes that she cannot bear to be parted from her baby under any circumstances. At D-503's request, I-330 arranges for O-90 to be smuggled outside of the Green Wall.

In his last journal entry, D-503 indifferently relates that he has been forcibly tied to a table and subjected to the "Great Operation" (similar to a lobotomy),Erich Fromm's afterword to 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. which has recently been mandated for all citizens of the One State. This operation removes the imagination and emotions by targeting parts of the brain with x-rays. After this operation, D-503 willingly informed the Benefactor about the inner workings of the MEPHI. However, D-503 expresses surprise that even torture could not induce I-330 to denounce her comrades. Despite her refusal, I-330 and those arrested with her are sentenced to death, "under the Benefactor's Machine."

Meanwhile, the MEPHI uprising gathers strength; parts of the Green Wall have been destroyed, birds are repopulating the city, and people start committing acts of social rebellion. Although D-503 expresses hope that the Benefactor shall restore "reason," the novel ends with the One State's authority in doubt. A repeated mantra in the novel is that there is no final revolution.

Major themes

Dystopian society

The dystopian society depicted in 'We' is presided over by the BenefactorGinsburg trans. This term is also translated as "Well-Doer". 'Benefactor' translates 'Blagodetel' (Russian: ). and is surrounded by a giant Green Wall to separate the citizens from primitive untamed nature. All citizens are known as "numbers".Ginsburg trans. This is also translated as "cyphers". 'Numbers' translates 'nomera' (Russian: ).

Every hour in one's life is directed by "The Table," a precursor to 'Nineteen Eighty-Four's' telescreen. It is also prefigured by Vicar Dewley's 'Precepts of Assured Salvation' in Zamyatin's 1916 Newcastle novella 'Islanders'.

The action of 'We' is set at some time after the Two Hundred Years' War which has wiped out all but "0.2 of the earth's population".Fifth Entry (Ginsburg translation, p. 21). The War was over a rare substance never mentioned in the book but it could be about petroleum, as all knowledge of the war comes from biblical metaphors; the substance was 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 weapons of mass destruction, so that the One State is surrounded with a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Totalitarianism, communism, and empire

The Benefactor is the equivalent of Big Brother, but unlike his Orwellian equivalent, is actually confirmed to exist when D-503 is summoned to a meeting with him. D-503 incidentally gives his age here as 32, the age Zamyatin was in Newcastle. An "election" is held every year on Unanimity Day, but the Benefactor is unanimously re-elected each year. The vote is also public, so that everyone knows who is voting. This reflects the election practices in the USSR and the later Soviet Bloc nations.

The 'Integral', the One State's space ship, has been designed by D-503 to bring the authority of the One State to alien races. This is read as a satire of the tendency among the Bolsheviks to attempt to export communism by invading neighboring nations such as the Baltic countries (1919), Poland (1920) and Georgia (1923). These invasions were described in Soviet propaganda as campaigns to liberate the native working class from the local, "exploiter class."

This was, fundamentally, an outgrowth of historical materialism, which predicted the inevitable triumph of communism and which reduced the world to physical laws and processes which could be manipulated for "building socialism." This was a world view which Zamyatin came to despise, 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 (or "I") that always insisted on imagination, especially when established institutions seek conformity and concerted effort ("We") toward a defined goal. 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.Ginsburg, Introduction, p. xviii. 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."Ginsburg translation, "First Entry" These contributions would be loaded on the 'Integral' as its first cargo, exporting efficiency and un-freedom to the populations of the universe. D-503, before he becomes afflicted with a soul, records his "Reflections on Poetry" in which he praises the "majestic" Institute of State Poets and Writers.Ginsburg translation, "Twelfth Entry"

Literary significance and influences

Along with Jack London's 'The Iron Heel', 'We' is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre. 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.

Christopher Collins in 'Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study' finds the many intriguing literary aspects of 'We' more interesting and relevant today than the political aspects:

# An examination of myth and symbol reveals that the work may be better understood as an internal drama of a conflicted modern man rather than as a representation of external reality in a failed utopia. The city is laid out as a mandala, populated with archetypes and subject to an archetypal conflict. One wonders if Zamyatin were familiar with the theories of his contemporary C. G. Jung or whether it is a case here of the common European zeitgeist.

# Much of the city scape and expressed ideas in the world of 'We' are taken almost directly from the works of H. G. Wells, the (then) very popular apostle of scientific socialist utopia whose works Zamyatin had edited in Russian.

# In the use of color and other imagery Zamyatin shows he had breathed the same subjectivist air as had Kandinsky and other European Expressionist painters.

George Orwell averred that Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' (1932) must be partly derived from 'We'.Orwell (1946). However, in a 1962 letter to Christopher Collins, Huxley says that he wrote 'Brave New World' as a reaction to H.G. Wells' utopias long before he had heard of 'We'.Russell, p. 13. According to 'We' translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying. (radio interview with 'We' translator Natasha Randall)

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 Yevgeny Zamyatin's 'We'."Playboy [http://www.playboy.com/magazine/interview_archive/kurt-vonnegut/kurt-vonnegut.html interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.], July 1973.

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

George Orwell began 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (1949) some eight months after he read 'We' in a French translation and wrote a review of it.Orwell (1946). Russell, p. 13. Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."Bowker (p. 340) paraphrasing Rayner Heppenstall.
Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, 'We' "appears to have been 'the' crucial literary experience."Brown trans., Introduction, p. xvi. Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute".Shane, p. 140. 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."

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. "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.

Jerome K. Jerome has been cited as an influence on Zamyatins novel.Stenbock-Fermor. Jeromes short essay "The New Utopia" (1891)Published in 'Diary of a Pilgrimage (and Six Essays)'.[http://books.google.com/books?id=8gklAAAAMAAJ (full text)] describes a regimented future city, indeed world, of nightmarish egalitarianism, where men and women are barely distinguishable in their grey uniforms (Zamyatins "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 operationsomething 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. 'Three Men in a Boat' is a set book in Russian schools.

Publication history

'We' was the first work banned by Goskomizdat, the new Soviet censorship bureau, in 1921, though the initial draft dates to 1919. 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 by E.P. Dutton in New York in a translation by Gregory Zilboorg,In a translation by Zilboorg, but its first publication in the Soviet Union had to wait until 1988,Brown translation, p. xiv. Tall notes that glasnost resulted in many other literary classics being published in the USSR during 1988-1989. when glasnost resulted in it appearing alongside George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. A year later 'We' and 'Brave New World' were published together in a combined edition.Tall, footnote 1.

In 1994, the novel received a Prometheus Award in the "Hall of Fame" category.

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 imprisonedRandall, p. xvii. and the name of S-4711 is a reference to the Eau de Cologne number 4711.Ermolaev.

', which was renamed 'Lenin' after the Russian Revolution.

Zamyatin, who worked as a naval architect,Shane, p 12. 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.Myers."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 Nevskynow 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]))

There are literary allusions to Dostoyevsky, particularly 'Notes from Underground' and 'The Brothers Karamazov', and to The Bible.Gregg.

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 as having a bent and twisted form, with a "double-curved body" (he is a double agent). References to Mephistopheles (in the Mephi) are seen as allusions to Satan and his rebellion against Heaven in the Bible. The novel itself could be considered a criticism of organised religion given this interpretation. However, Zamyatin, apparently in line with Dostoyevsky, made the novel a criticism of the excesses of a deterministic, atheistic (Godless) society.

The novel uses mathematical concepts symbolically. The spaceship which D-503 is supervising the construction of 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 it is impossible to remove all the rebels against a system, and he even says this through I-330: "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite."Ginsburg, Introduction, p. v. The Thirtieth Entry has a similar passage.



The German TV network ZDF adapted the novel for a TV movie in the 1980s, under the German title 'Wir.'


Montreal company Thtre Deuxime Ralit produced an adaptation of the novel in 1996, adapted and directed by Alexandre Marine, under the title 'Nous Autres.'[http://www.erudit.org/culture/jeu1060667/jeu1072106/27651ac.pdf Article on Thtre Deuxime Ralit and its early productions]




* [http://catalog.loc.gov/]

* [http://www.nkp.cz/_en/]

* [http://ccfr.bnf.fr/accdis/accdis.htm]










* [http://books.google.com/books?id=bLMwJEPaYmEC (preview)]

* (author photo on cover)




Russian language editions

* [http://orbis.uoregon.edu/record=b2166163 (bibrec)] [http://www.nlr.ru/e-case/expand_bme.php?id=45668&cn=43 (bibrec )]

: The first complete Russian language edition of 'We' was published in New York in 1952. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)


* [http://orbis.uoregon.edu/record=b1791001 (bibrec)] [http://www.nlr.ru/e-case/expand_bme.php?id=45668&cn=3 (bibrec )]

: 'We' was first published in the USSR in this collection of Zamyatin's works. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)

* (also cited as 'Zamyatin: We', Duckworth, 2006)

: Edited with Introduction and Notes by Andrew Barratt. Plain Russian text, with English introduction, bibliography and notes.

Online works

* [http://az.lib.ru/z/zamjatin_e_i/text_0050.shtml The full text of 'We']

* [http://mises.org/books/we_zamiatin.pdf The full text of 'We']

* [http://www.audiobooksforfree.com/download/default.asp?refnum=1000365 Audio recording of 'We' translated by Zilboorg] (A low-quality MP3 version can be downloaded free after registration.)


* Sally Feller, [http://www.lostwriters.net/archive_popup.php?c=czozOiIzODkiOw== Your Daily Dystopian History Lesson From Yevgeny Zamyatin: A Review of We]


* John J. Miller: [http://www.opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110008704 'The Novel Moscow Feared'], OpinionJournal.com, July 26, 2006.






Journal articles







* (updates articles by Myers published in 'The Slavonic and East European Review')





: English: 'My wives, icebreakers and Russia'. Russian: ' , '.

: 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, 19701988, four vols.) II, pp. 23440.

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