O-90: Can the maternal bond be broken?

We, a dystopian novel written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in the 1920s, explores the trials and tribulations of a cipher, named D-503. D-503 tells the story through journal entries (known as ‘records’), which he intends to have sent up on the Integral, a spaceship being built and scheduled to launch in the near future.

Schedules appear to dominate the ciphers: they are assigned times to walk, have sex, appear in auditoriums. It seems that nothing is done without the instruction of a higher power. D-503 is engaged in a sexual relationship with 0-90, a female cipher.

At the beginning of the novel, O-90 appears to follow every rule required of her by the One State. She engages in sexual activity only when permitted and presents herself as a law abiding citizen. As the story unfolds, however, it becomes evident that O-90 struggles to squash her maternal extinct. After becoming pregnant, O-90 must come to terms with the idea that her baby must be given to the State to be raised once it’s born.

It seems strange that the One State would tear mother and child apart, or even that a mother would feel fully conscionable in giving up her newborn. O-90, herself, struggles with this reality, ultimately deciding to flee the One State and live beyond the Green Wall.

O-90, however, is just one woman with one baby. How did the One State convince women to give up their children? Was the indoctrination so deep that these women believed it to be acceptable? Did they perhaps just see it as the only option in a world so completely transparent?

4 thoughts on “O-90: Can the maternal bond be broken?

  1. Just as I-330’s white teeth set her apart from others, D-503 often refers to the wrist creases of 0-90. He notes the “round, chubby creases around her wrists”, then compares these wrists to the wrists of children. Along with 0-90’s chubby, childlike wrists, D-503 also comments upon her blue, pure, “untainted” eyes whenever he sees her. These characteristics tie O-90 both to the body and the mind of a child. She is absolutely innocent, perhaps making her the most sympathetic character of the novel. While O-90 is heavy with child, she is hardly more than a child herself, making her the perfect sheep to go along with the desires of the One State. 0-90’s moment of maturity, and her realization that there may be another choice for her and her baby, occurs after the election, when there is dissonance in the voting for the Great Benefactor. In the panic that follows, O-90 presses herself against the wall and holds her arms protectively in front of her stomach, like a cross. Here 0-90 realizes that her personal will and her hopes for her child stand against the desires of the collective. She is an “I” set apart from the “We”.

  2. You bring up some very interesting questions regarding a person’s motives and the extent of a government’s control over its people. When discussing the indoctrination of governmental ideals among its citizens, it is important to think about concepts of nationalism and/or the general loyalty of a people to their state. Much of a state’s ideology is passed down through education systems. As the character U, the school teacher, illustrated, all children grow up as wards of the state without parents. Therefore, they believe it is the norm for parents to surrender their children to the One State as O-90 does at the beginning of her pregnancy. It is her independent will and her desire to raise her child that ultimately drives her to reject her association with the One State. Unlike D-503, O-90 is not forced to acknowledge her soul or her independence from the state. She freely chooses to accept them for her sake and the sake of her child, where as D-503 is almost coerced to follow I-333 and her plans to overthrow the One State because she and the MEPHI needed access to the Integral.

  3. I find it hard to believe that the One State could convince mothers to give up their children – one only has to look at U to see a natural maternal instinct that even the One State was not able to repress. In lieu of caring for her natural-born children, she attempts to protect D-503. If U, a cipher who had rarely even talked to D-503, has a maternal instinct towards him, then I find it extremely hard to believe that the One State was successful in convincing mothers to willingly give up their children.

  4. The persuasiveness of a certain power can lead to many decisions and can trick the human mind into thinking something is acceptable. These people had followed the same rules and guidelines of life for many years, this idea was instilled into their mind, they accepted it and continued with it. They were under a power that was higher than anyone else and they saw it as tradition.

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