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File:WeCover 4248.jpg

 And I'm convinced that in the end we will prevail. Because Reason must prevail.

One of the earliest known Dystopia novels, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921 and predating both Brave New World (1932) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which it directly inspired. It's also notable for being the first work banned by Goskomizdat, not published in the Soviet Union until 1988, and some parts of the description of the One State read as scaringly similar to Stalinism -- eight years before it began to take shape. (The Soviets especially didn't like the book's implication that theirs was not the final, destined-for-success revolution.)

The entire book is a fictional diary written by the protagonist, D-503, a citizen of the totalitarian One State [1] ruled by a Big Brother-like figure known as the Benefactor. People are called "numbers" and lead a highly math- and logic-centered (read: Straw Vulcan) existence. Everything is arranged via rigid timetables, down to sex -- and because sex is brought down to a purely logical activity, Eternal Sexual Freedom is the norm. "Every number", the Benefactor states, "belongs to every other number", and monogamy and irrational love are strongly discouraged as a result.

D-503 regularly has sex with O-90, a very sweet woman who delights in his presence. He shares her with his best friend, the state poet R-13. One day, D-503 is approached by another woman: I-330, a member of La Résistance called the Mephi, whom he falls madly in love with. He starts to realize that his sexual and intellectual connection to O-90 is dwindling quickly. And when R-13 starts secretly meeting the mysterious I-330 as well, D-503 begins to feel something he's never experienced before: jealousy, emotional love, a desire for monogamy and privacy, and a yearning for the unknown.

I-330 shows him the world outside the Green Wall encircling the city-state: beginning with "The Ancient House", a state museum, and eventually moving on to the lush wilderness outside the city dome. However, as the Mephi push towards the city and chaos erupts on the streets, D-503 is caught and subjected to the recently discovered "Great Operation": removal of the imagination, causing him to revert to his original calculating self, as he calmly writes about I-330 being executed in front of his eyes. The ending is ambiguous about the eventual fate of the One State itself: although D-503 and all of the State's citizens have been brainwashed irrevocably, the last of the Mephi and the feral humans outside the dome are still waiting for their chance to strike. And it is very firmly stated that no revolution is final.

Eight months after reading We, George Orwell sat down and started writing Nineteen Eighty-Four as a direct cultural translation of the story. Both Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut (who based Player Piano on We) have accused Aldous Huxley of stealing the plot of We for Brave New World, although Huxley always denied it. Ayn Rand's Anthem is uncannily similar to We, as is Eliezer Yudkowsky's online novel Three Worlds Collide, which also touches on the question "is happiness more important than freedom?". Last but not least, We heavily influenced Equilibrium in all its campy glory, so much that it could very well be considered an over-the-top We: The Movie.

Zamyatin himself was, in turn, influenced primarily by H. G. Wells, whose works he had previously edited in Russian.


Provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: U, to D.
  • After the End: D-503 states that the One State was established after a 200-year war caused by shortage of natural resources. (Bizarrely, it also makes food out of oil. Perhaps in Zamyatin's time, oil wasn't considered a resource that could ever come to shortage?)
  • Assimilation Plot: The Mephi call the state of the One State "entropy", making a reference to the concept of "heat death" in relation to everyone being basically a carbon copy of each other; and themselves they view as "energy", meant to revitalize society.
  • Bittersweet Ending or Bolivian Army Ending, depending on how you see the odds; D-503 is basically gone as a person, but La Résistance may well win after all.
  • City in a Bottle
  • Dystopia
  • Emotion Suppression: People of the One State are calculating, emotionless and strive only to follow only logic. In the end a way is discovered to truly erase an individual's ability to feel emotions by irradiating a certain spot of the brain with X-Rays and everyone is irreversibly brainwashed.
  • Free-Love Future: Well, "free" is pushing it, but "every number belongs to every other number."
  • Good People Have Good Sex: And emotionless people have emotionless sex.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: The Benefactor is actually a little lenient about this, because the 'numbers' of the One State all think alike anyway and so there's little danger of any real "traitorous" individualism catching on.
  • La Résistance: The Mephi.
  • Les Collaborateurs: D-503 becomes one at the end.
  • New Eden: The outside world.
  • Rage Within the Machine
  • Shout-Out: To Crime and Punishment, once D goes into delirium and tries to murder U.
  • The Spock: D-503 in the beginning; and he returns to this state in the end as well.
  • Straw Vulcan: The One State is apparently a Planet of Hats of Straw Vulcans; D-503 experiences a Logic Bomb in the form of the square root of -1, which he considers unfitting for a mathematically rigorous world.
    • One should also consider that the use of (-1)^0.5 is somewhat of a Did Not Do the Research when it comes to mathematics, though it will only be evident to (and matter for) people with at least a college education
    • Plus, as a mathematician, D-503 knows that if you multiply i by i, then you result in the completely rational integer -1. Probably explains his Character Development.
  • Trope Maker: As much as Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brazil have solidified the tropes, Zamyatin basically built the first novel-length totalitarian sci-fi society.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Not as much as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but still plentiful.
    • This troper's personal favorite: "By Pythagoras' pants!"
    • To explain the cultural context, "Pythagoras' pants" is part of a Russian mnemonic for memorizing his theorem. It is an image based on a visual representation of the theorem, a right triangle with squares constructed on its three sides, which indeed resembles shorts or briefs.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Benefactor is genuinely popular in this brainwashed society, but still sees fit to quell the very mild opposition and pretend that his support is completely unanimous instead of only almost unanimous.
  • You Are Number Six

Notes

  1. a more accurate translation from Russian would be "United State", "Unified State" or "Wholesome State"
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