Deities of Derivatives

In Zamyatin’s bizarre and ingeniously sobering novel of “We”, ((Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. New York: Modern Library, 2006.)) rationality triumphs emotion as mathematics reigns as the supreme dogma of the individual’s life and mind. Of course, in this case, the term “individual” refers to the collective mass of workers known as ciphers who exist as mere figures in the long string of omnipotent code that is the dull and gray One State. Freedom is condemned as an uncouth crime while whimsical dreams and fits of inspiration are cruelly filed under the category of epileptic anomaly. The hero, and eventual martyr, of the story is D-503, a thirty-two-year-old cipher who is in charge of building the Integral, a marvelous product of modern science and technology purposefully constructed in order to integrate extraterrestrial societies into the blissful monotony of the One State. D-503 venerates mathematics and the exquisitely logical “Table” that dictates every hour of his daily life apart from his sexual, and even that is governed by the rules of “Paternal & Maternal Norms” and pink tickets. His life changes drastically as he is violently birthed into a world of vibrant color and independent thought propagated by a female cipher, I-330, who quite literally grasps him by his shaggy, primitive-like hands and pulls him out.

New, revolutionary ideologies spread within D-503 like a cancer, resulting in the proliferation of disinformation and disaggregation that are so dreadfully toxic to the prosperity of the One State. The cast-iron hands that of the Benefactor that seem to preside over all are defied, rejecting one of the core principles of the later Russian Revolution; the worship of industry and enthrallment of efficiency, as seen through the famed ideas of Taylor the economist that are so imbued within the novel. Zamyatin sees the dark side of the revolution, and generates an unsettling world that causes one to fear philosophies such as that of the poet Kirillov in his work The Iron Messiah. ((Kirillov, Iron Messiah)) The novel continuously examines the effects of antireligion, in which old, conservative traditions are ironically replaced with new progressive ideals embodied in the exaltation of mathematics and machinery. Through the terror of the guardians and vice-like grip of Communism, the people are forced to march along with eyes lowered and minds shut. Nonetheless, the subjugation by the One State of its people is not infinite; as per the existence of the irrational root of negative 1, there will always exist a number that rational governance is unable to enslave.

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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