Emotion versus Reason

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a complex and revolutionary novel of Science fiction. D-503 is a mathematician living in the One State, journaling his daily life in order for future generations to learn about his society once the journal is put on the Integral (the spaceship D-503 is building). As a mathematician D-503 experiences the world in equations, from describing pleasing aesthetics to eventually emotions such as love with math (L=f(D): love is a function of death). ((Zamyatin, We 119)) Everything in the One State is measured and accounted for, using a Taylor system of time tables to block off the day. I-330 is the catalyst of all change in D-503’s life. Through the acquaintance of I-330, D-503 develops “an incurable… soul” and becomes aware of the confines of life within the One State. ((Zamyatin, We 79)) I-330 is a member of MEPHI (Mephisto), a rebellion group which stands for Anarchy, and who’s goal is to help the cave-man like creatures that live beyond the enclosing wall of the One State’s territory to break through and take down the current regime. ((Zamyatin, We 144)) Eventually D-503 is overcome with the events and turns himself in to the Bureau of Guardians, thusly turning over all of the rebels as well. The novel ends with a short entry from D-503 post-Opperation and devoid of human emotions. D-503 is only a shell of his former self as he watches without sympathy as I-330 is tortured for information, finally saying that “reason will win” and once again becoming a full supporter of the One State. ((Zamyatin, We 203))

We is a novel full of dichotomies, the most prevalent of which is reason versus emotion. The One State is obsessed with controlling it’s population, causing the people to become more machine than men. As D-503 states. “love and hunger are the masters of the world”; by regulating everything in life so closely even natural human emotions such as love become a designated hour of the day. ((Zamyatin, We 20)) Emotions have the power to effect change, which is one reason why I-330 is able to create a following of revolutionaries. One cause of the creation of the Operation is the rebellion, and the need to eliminate ‘dangerous’ qualities of people for the safety if the One State. The great struggle of the novel is increasing regulation over the daily life of citizens of the One State, with the inhabitants being as oblivious as possible, because once time doesn’t belong to themselves the only option left is to devote their entire lives to the good of the state.

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?



Picture from  www.gradesaver.com/we

“Things to Come” and the Quest for “Progress”

Things to Come is a seminal science fiction film released in 1936 that depicts a future of apocalyptic warfare that causes a zombifying plague called “the Wandering Sickness,” ultimately reducing Europe to its primordial stages of civilizational development.  Throughout the film, science and “progress” in general are polarizing topics amongst all levels of society from the common people to the highest governmental officials.  Some view scientists as “the last trustees of civilization,” while other characters embody the apprehension towards scientific research has been represented in countless other films and writings of the interwar period such as MetropolisThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Russell’s “Icarus, or, the Future of Science.”  The film concludes in the year 2036 with a space launch, ultimately made to represent man’s incessant need to ascend to “conquest beyond conquest.”

The thing that I found most interesting about this film was also the factor that differentiates it from the works above that discuss a fear of science: Things to Come does not definitively extol or denounce scientific progress.  Rather, it documents the existence and relative validity of each side of this argument.  In the midst of the centuries of warfare that grip Europe, science is consistently viewed as both the cause of society’s woes and the only thing that can solve them.  The high-tech planes that allowed warring nations to drop mustard gas caused immense destruction, and yet the inhabitants of Everytown still believe that the only way to truly end the war is to repair those planes and finish obliterating their enemies.  In the film, new civilizations are created only by the destruction of their predecessors.  Because scientific “progress” is the only means of accomplishing this, Things to Come simultaneously depicts science as the best and worst tool for societal development.  However, war, plague, science, and every other major element in this development is a slave to the attitude of “manifest destiny” that is portrayed as intrinsic to the human psyche.

Do you think that the constant quest for petrol in Everytown is merely a plot device, or do you think that H.G. Wells was using this fixation to predict that oil would become the center of future armed conflicts?

“The Mediator Between Head & Hands”

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a 1927 German science fiction film displaying the heavy influence of the impressionist movement.  The film portrays a dystopian future society (the eponymous “Metropolis”) in which the laborers that maintain the mechanical operations of the city are relegated to an underground living space while the upper classes enjoy a comparative utopia above.  The city’s leader, Joh Fredersen, attempts to augment his power by using the newly invented Machine-Man, who is made to look like the prophetic character Maria, to incite a rebellion in the working class which will simultaneously cripple their underworld home and justify any further punitive measures that he wishes to take against the laborers.  Upon realizing that his son Freder has posited himself amongst the working class and is thus endangered by the rebellion, Joh realizes the error of his ways and begins a policy of symbiotic cooperation with the labor force, due largely to Freder’s impassioned diplomatic efforts between the two.

Thematically, the film is centered around the opening epigram “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!”  This epithet is invoked both explicitly and implicitly at numerous points throughout the film. One of the more subtle examples of this exultation of emotional literacy occurs approximately halfway through the film when Freder confronts the incarnation of the grim reaper that stands among the seven deadly sins.  Freder admits to the reaper that his death would have meant little to him up to this point in his life.  However, after having discovered his love for Maria, he defiantly warns that death must “stay away from me and my beloved.”  In this manner, Thea van Harbou makes a strong case for the value of the heart; it is so essential that human life without it is not only impossible, but meaningless.

Do you feel that the role of the “mediator” described in the film is as important as Lang and Harbou portray it to be?  In modern society, what offices/positions fill that role?