Women as anti-Rationality in Zamyatin’s “We”

In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We,” the protagonist D-503 introduces himself as a strong supporter of the State’s ideals of rationality and un-freedom. He proudly reiterates State mantras such as “nobody is ‘one’ but ‘one of'” (7) and believes wholeheartedly that the problem of happiness has been solved through absolute, precise reason. He willingly carries out predetermined practices such as filling out a pink slip for every time he wants to have sex with O-90 and “shares” her with his best friend, yet shows no signs of emotions such as jealousy or rage at this arrangement, mainly because he identifies with the norms of his community. This is evident in D-503 claims in his second entry that he “cannot imagine a city that is not clad in a Green Wall; I cannot imagine a life that is not regulated by the figures of our Table” (10). However, once D-503 meets I-330, a woman whose views and behavior stand in opposition to the State’s mandates and ideology, his life is never the same. The role of women in “We” symbolize a force of opposition, driving D-503 further away from ideals of rationality that are enforced by the State.

1-330 is an obvious character that influences D-503’s ‘corruption’ and distancing from State ideology. Her behavior is illegal – she openly flirts with D-503 (and goes as far as to seduce him in the Ancient House), smokes cigarettes and drinks. She challenges D-503 to report her to the Guardians (secret police) for her behavior, and when D-503 does not report her, he immediately becomes a criminal. I-330 eventually introduces him to the group of humans who live beyond the wall and familiarizes him with her fellow revolutionaries. O-9, although not as adamantly opposed to the regime as 1-330 is, also directs D-503 away from rationality. When she brings him a spray of lilies of the valley, D-503 is visibly upset and berates her for not following logic. O-9 is oppressed by the State – because she does not fulfill the State mandated Maternal Requirements and is thus not allowed to have children. Her function in society is to be a sexual commodity and this status brings her pain. When she convinces D-503 to impregnate her, she brings him further away from rationality. Just as 1-330 influences D-503 to be a criminal by not reporting her, O-9 influences D-503 to be a criminal once more by refusing to give up her child.

What is Zamyatin trying to communicate by placing these women characters at odds with State rational ideology? If “We” can be read as a critique of Soviet society in the 1920s, then the women’s roles as anti-rational and emotional forces show that suppressing these elements of human kind would be detrimental to society. This potential threat to a utopian society can be interpreted as a critique of the new Soviet identity that was developing in the 1920s.

One thought on “Women as anti-Rationality in Zamyatin’s “We”

  1. You bring up a good question, there is no doubt that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s representation of women is significant in some way. He empowers these women and sets them apart from other characters, he give them an attitude and personality that is unique to the circumstances of the time. The time brought much oppression to women, they were deprived of equality between men and deprived o certain rights, but a liberation had taken place that changed the lives women. Yevgeny Zamyatin portrays this “liberating” message through his work, he presents these two women as independent and looking for change where they can both happy, in turn this is telling the women of the time to do the same and to follow the footsteps of these two female characters and seek change.

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