The Awakening of the Soul in Society


Cover for We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Cover for We by Yevgeny Zamyatin  

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s science fiction dystopian novel, We, tells the story of the character D-503 in his futuristic world, the One State, where everyone runs on the same clock, where one needs permission to close the blinds in their otherwise glass rooms, where there is one God-like ruler, the Benefactor, who ironically is “elected” every year without competition. D-503’s life as an engineer and mathematician is perfectly controlled and rational, as this regime believes true happiness comes with total control and that individual freedom brings forth chaos, until the disruptive force of love and emotions compel his world upside down.

Zamyatin creates a futuristic world that feels very real but still retains its satirical message of the truths of collectivization. D-503’s characters exemplifies both these aspects given the change that develops within him throughout the book and his realistic portrayal. The reader is first introduced to this straight-laced “cipher” who is perfectly content with his structured lifestyle. But then he meets a woman who is different and he can’t stop thinking of her. He hates her, but he wants to be with her, which leads him to conclude that this is a type of sickness. The more time he spends with her, the more he feels a constant pain; he dreams for the first time and starts to question his motives. He’s taken to a doctor who tells him he’s developed a soul, which D-503 cannot comprehend since he’s not completely familiar with the word. ((Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. New York: Modern Library, 2006. P. 79))

His transformation into realizing his true feelings and positions is something nearly everyone can understand, so as a reader we see him struggle with his position in society like we all do. But as readers aware of the general failure of communism in practice, we recognize the world he lives in is completely different than our own. It’s difficult to understand how he feels as if the Guardians are “helping” when we see it as a mental conditioning. Zamyatin saw this type of communal living as a potential negative thing as the revolution and civil war was happening – in 1920 – and thus his goal of We could be to make readers question our own society and what we would do to achieve happiness, order, or freedom.

How does D-503’s development differ from that of other characters?
What is Zamyatin’s purpose by writing to the reader as if we are an alien species unaware of the past?



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3 thoughts on “The Awakening of the Soul in Society

  1. While reading the novel, I too understand the struggle to completely identify with D-503. Of course, like you stated, we experience with him the revelations of his emotions and his inability to really understand them. He grows from a machine-like shell of a man, just simply going the motions of life, to an actual person, feeling emotion and finding a soul. This means that we experience D-503 growing separate from the OneState, becoming an individual organism instead of just one of the cells to a larger one. Considering that he becomes an individual amongst many brain-washed machines, he sticks out to the reader. However, we must consider that he is the one writing the book, and everything we as readers understand is only because of what D-503 tells us. He may seem like an outcast because that is how he feels, which is completely understandable considering he has never experienced real, strong emotions before. When reading the novel I kept thinking to myself that there must be others having the same revalations as him, and that there must be people realizing how dystopian the OneState really is. As the question remains: can humanity, (emotions, feelings, and love) the thing that makes humans special, really be stripped from humans? And of course, we find out there are people realizing the dystopia, as there is a rebellion. So overall, I think D-503’s development throughout the novel is probably similar to others in the rebellion even though, as readers of his perspective, we see it as unique in comparison to the more or less identical machine-like lives of everyone else.

  2. I appreciate your analysis of the novel, especially of its dystopian elements. In regards to your questions, I will attempt to answer the second. Zamyatin originally tried to publish his book in Russia, only to have it banned. Following this, he requested exile from Russia, having the book smuggled and published in the United States in 1924. I think that by having characters who are on the wholesale unaware of their past demeans them. They are only led to believe that the future is the most important, and that past only matters so far as it got them where they were at present. In communism, all that matters is the next revolution, the gradual removal of classes in society, and spreading communism onward to other places. In the novel, Zamyatin presented this as leading to a dystopian future.

  3. I enjoyed reading about the powerful effects emotions have on our behavior and how they can interfere with our rationality. I can also relate them to my own life on many an occasion, but Zamyatin neglects to acknowledge the positive effects that emotions may have on our existence as well.

    I believe one of Zamyatin’s purposes for this book was to make readers aware of the power that emotions have in changing our thought process and how much it can interfere with what we perceive as “logic” or “rationality.” With as much in mind, D-503’s story is written in a way to convey emotion as an anomaly, so much so that it is dismissed as an illness that must be cured. What is not explained, however, is the passion that can be derived from emotion, and the motivation it can instill in an individual.

    Although emotions may have positive effects on our mental state, I do agree with Zamyatin that the negative effects outweigh the positive and decisions could be made much easier without the hindrance these emotions may have on our judgment.

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