The Divinely Rational


In 1917, Nicholas II, Emperor of All Russia, was toppled, leaving in his wake a slew of provisional governments which could be likened to anarchy. In the midst of a bloody three year civil war, Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote his dystopian novel We. The work presented a futuristic society in which people were identified by letter and numbers and worked mindlessly for the betterment of the “One State.” ((Yevgeny Zamyatin. We . Translated by Natasha S. Randall. New York: Random House, 2006.)) The main character, D-503 recounted his descent from a respected mathematician of good standing within the state, to the accomplice of a revolutionary looking to return society to its natural state. Zamyatin sharply satirized the utopian ideals of many of his contemporaries, specifically those pertaining to the glorification of machinery. Zamyatin often likened D-503 to a machine, at one point his hero explicitly stated “I am like a machine being driven to excessive rotations: the bearings are incandescing and, in a minute, melted metal will begin to drip and everything will turn to nothing. Quick: get cold water, logic.” ((Zamyatin, 119))

The concept of man as machine alludes to those in 1920 Russia who feverishly purported that mechanization was a savior; if the proletariat could be made into machines, Russia would infinitely prosper. After D-503’s revolutionary lover I-333 hatched a plot to steal the Integral space ship, the State Gazette, the newspaper of the “One State,” announced a forced procedure to remove all citizens’ imaginations. In this announcement, the benefits were described as “you will be perfect, you will be machine-equal.” ((Zamyatin, 158)) This desire for the automation of humanity, for a “divinely rational” ((Zamyatin, 61)) life culminated in the loss of all mortal values and joys; happiness became the absence of thought and arithmetic replaced all emotion. Zamyatin criticized both the ideas behind and the very revolution that had occurred in front of his eyes. D-503, in attempting to confine the world to the finite, spoke for a Bolshevik blinded by utopian ideals: “our revolution was the last. And there cannot be any more revolutions…everyone knows that…” ((Zamyatin, 153))

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The Guard

One of the most controversial characters from Zamyatin’s “We” is, probably, the Guard, called “S”.

While reading the first half of the book, I just did’t understand what his beliefs and purposes were.  He was a Guard, the basis of the State, he was a “spy”, as Guards were called in the beginning of the book, who’s work was mostly about finding individuals who turned to the “wrong” path and either help them to return back to “normal” life or to make them disappear for the good of the whole society.

He was always following the main character, D-503. At least D felt like this. S watched him, looked into his notes, noticed his strange behaviors and making him feel scared on the one hand. But on the other he was somehow connected to this strange and unknown (at least in the beginning) woman, I-330. He also “forgave” D-503 when he mistakenly tried to save the woman which stopped the march, he behaved as if he believed that D-503 wanted to catch that woman, not to help her. But he, of course, knew where that action came from and why D did that.

I was not sure about this character till the very moment when D-503 decided to go and tell everything about him and MEPHI. Even when they were there, in S’ office, it was not clear for me what’s going to happen. He knew everything D was telling him, he even helped him to find the words to tell everything. It was possible both if he was involved in this “criminal” activities and if he was just watching D-503’s life, following him everywhere.

This character was necessary in the book to show that even the most important parts of the mechanism – the Guards of the State – could go wrong. But at the same time, as “We” ends with the small victory of the regime, it’s made to show that certain people, even very influential, can’t break the new, ideal world, created for everybody’s happiness. That even in such case it will resist and protect the ones who realized their mistakes or didn’t make them at all (which, from my point of view, was the important idea of this book, that’s why we see this kind of ending).



The book We was written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921 in early Soviet Russia. Zamyatin became a Bolshevik in the early 1900’s, working with the Bolsheviks throughout the years leading up to the October Revolution and being exiled multiple times by the Russian government. Zamyatin was an Old Bolshevik and he truly believed that Russian society had to change, so he supported the October Revolution and was present in St. Petersburg when it took place. However, in the years following the October Revolution, the Communist Party began to become more oppressive, primarily regarding censorship. Zamyatin was an author, he’d been writing consistently for about ten years by 1921, and he became very critical of the Soviet Party as they became more oppressive and began to censor more works.

We was written during the post-Revolution period of increasing censorship and it was a blatant criticism of the society that the Soviet Party was looking to create. In We, Zamyatin creates a dystopian society to represent how far from the original revolutionary ideals the Soviet Party has gone. The society that he creates is ruled by a government called the “One State”, a government that micromanages the lives of every citizen. Zamyatin writes We in a way that makes the reader think that the Soviet Party will eventually make Russia like One State and attempt to control everything that they do. He uses language in the book that is very similar to the propaganda used by the Soviet Party during that time period and he uses analogies that the reader would easily associate with the Soviet Party.

Zamyatin was a very brave individual. We was censored by the Soviet government before he could publish it in Russia, but he made sure that the manuscript made the journey to America where it was published in 1924. Eventually, his open criticisms of the Soviet Party would get him exiled from Russia, but before that time he did everything that he could to protest the absolutism that Russia was headed towards.