We (novel)

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We
WeCover.jpg
Cover of the Penguin Classics translation of We
Author Yevgeny Zamyatin
Original title Мы
Translator Various; See here for a list.
Cover artist Georgii Petrusov, Caricature of Aleksander Rodchenko (1933–1934)
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Genre Dystopian novel, science fiction
Publisher Avon Books
Publication date
1920–1921 (written); 1988 (pub'd in USSR); 1993 (Penguin ed.)
Published in English
1924
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 226
ISBN 0-14-018585-2
OCLC 27105637
891.73/42 20
LC Class PG3476.Z34 M913 1993

We (Russian: Мы) is a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921.[1] It was written in response to the author's personal experiences during the Russian revolution of 1905, the Russian revolution of 1917, his life in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, and his work in the Tyne shipyards during the First World War.[citation needed] It was on Tyneside that he observed the collectivization of labour on a large scale. Zamyatin was a trained marine engineer, hence his dispatch to Newcastle to oversee ice-breaker construction for the Imperial Russian Navy. The novel was first published in 1924 by E. P. Dutton in New York in an English translation.

Setting[edit]

We is set in the future. D-503 lives in the One State,[2] an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which allows the secret police/spies to inform on and supervise the public more easily. The structure of the state is analogous to the prison design concept developed by Jeremy Bentham commonly referred to as the Panopticon. Furthermore, life is organized to promote maximum productive efficiency along the lines of the system advocated by the hugely influential F. W. Taylor. People march in step with each other and wear identical clothing. There is no way of referring to people save by their given numbers. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants; females have even numbers prefixed by vowels.

Plot[edit]

One thousand years after the One State's conquest of the entire world, the spaceship Integral is being built in order to invade and conquer extraterrestrial planets. Meanwhile, the project's chief engineer, D-503, begins a journal that he intends to be carried upon the completed spaceship.

Like all other citizens of One State, D-503 lives in a glass apartment building and is carefully watched by the secret police, or Bureau of Guardians. D-503's lover, O-90, has been assigned by One State to visit him on certain nights. She is considered too short to bear children and is deeply grieved by her state in life.

O-90's other lover and D-503's best friend is R-13, a State poet who reads his verse at public executions.

While on an assigned walk with O-90, D-503 meets a woman named I-330. I-330 smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, and shamelessly flirts with D-503 instead of applying for an impersonal sex visit. All of these are highly illegal according to the laws of One State.

Both repelled and fascinated, D-503 struggles to overcome his attraction to I-330. I-330 invites him to visit the Ancient House, notable for being the only opaque building in One State, except for windows. Objects of aesthetic and historical importance dug up from around the city are stored there. There, I-330 offers him the services of a corrupt doctor to explain his absence from work. Leaving in horror D-503 vows to denounce her to the Bureau of Guardians, but finds that he cannot.

He begins to have night dreams, which disturbs him, as dreams are thought to be a symptom of mental illness. Slowly, I-330 reveals to D-503 that she is involved with the MEPHI, an organization plotting to bring down the One State. She takes him through secret tunnels inside the Ancient House to the world outside the Green Wall, which surrounds the city-state. There, D-503 meets the inhabitants of the outside world: humans whose bodies are covered with animal fur. The aims of the MEPHI are to destroy the Green Wall and reunite the citizens of One State with the outside world.

Despite the recent rift between them, O-90 pleads with D-503 to impregnate her illegally. After O-90 insists that she will obey the law by turning over their child to be raised by the One State, D-503 obliges. However, as her pregnancy progresses, O-90 realizes that she cannot bear to be parted from her baby under any circumstances. At D-503's request, I-330 arranges for O-90 to be smuggled outside of the Green Wall.

In his last journal entry, D-503 indifferently relates that he has been forcibly tied to a table and subjected to the "Great Operation", which has recently been mandated for all citizens of One State in order to prevent possible riots;[3] having been psycho-surgically refashioned into a state of mechanical "reliability", they would now function as "tractors in human form".[4] This operation removes the imagination and emotions by targeting parts of the brain with X-rays. After this operation, D-503 willingly informed the Benefactor about the inner workings of the MEPHI. However, D-503 expresses surprise that even torture could not induce I-330 to denounce her comrades. Despite her refusal, I-330 and those arrested with her have been sentenced to death, "under the Benefactor's Machine."

Meanwhile, the MEPHI uprising gathers strength; parts of the Green Wall have been destroyed, birds are repopulating the city, and people start committing acts of social rebellion. Although D-503 expresses hope that the Benefactor shall restore "reason," the novel ends with One State's survival in doubt. I-330's mantra is that, just as there is no highest number, there can be no final revolution.

Major themes[edit]

Dystopian society[edit]

The dystopian society depicted in We is presided over by the Benefactor[5] and is surrounded by a giant Green Wall to separate the citizens from primitive untamed nature. All citizens are known as "numbers".[6] Every hour in one's life is directed by "The Table".

The action of We is set at some time after the Two Hundred Years' War, which has wiped out all but "0.2 of the earth's population".[7] The war was over a rare substance never mentioned in the book, but it could be about petroleum, as all knowledge of the war comes from biblical metaphors; the substance was called "bread" as the "Christians gladiated over it"—as in countries fighting conventional wars. However, it is also revealed that the war only ended after the use of weapons of mass destruction, so that the One State is surrounded with a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Allusions and references[edit]

Many of the names and numbers in We are allusions to personal experiences of Zamyatin or to culture and literature. For example, "Auditorium 112" refers to cell number 112, where Zamyatin was twice imprisoned,[8] and the name of S-4711 is a reference to the Eau de Cologne number 4711.[9]

The St. Alexander Nevsky, which was renamed Lenin after the Russian Revolution

Zamyatin, who worked as a naval architect,[10] refers to the specifications of the icebreaker St. Alexander Nevsky.

The numbers [. . .] of the chief characters in WE are taken directly from the specifications of Zamyatin's favourite icebreaker, the Saint Alexander Nevsky, yard no. A/W 905, round tonnage 3300, where O–90 and I-330 appropriately divide the hapless D-503 [. . .] Yu-10 could easily derive from the Swan Hunter yard numbers of no fewer than three of Zamyatin's major icebreakers – 1012, 1020, 1021 [. . .]. R-13 can be found here too, as well as in the yard number of Sviatogor A/W 904.[11][12]

Many comparisons to The Bible exist in We. There are similarities between Genesis Chapters 1–4 and We, where the One State is considered Paradise, D-503 is Adam, and I-330 is Eve. The snake in this piece is S-4711, who is described as having a bent and twisted form, with a "double-curved body" (he is a double agent). References to Mephistopheles (in the Mephi) are seen as allusions to Satan and his rebellion against Heaven in the Bible.[citation needed] The novel itself could be considered a criticism of organised religion given this interpretation.[13] However, Zamyatin, influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov,[13] made the novel a criticism of the excesses of a militantly atheistic society.[14]

The novel uses mathematical concepts symbolically. The spaceship that D-503 is supervising the construction of is called the Integral, which he hopes will "integrate the grandiose cosmic equation". D-503 also mentions that he is profoundly disturbed by the concept of the square root of −1—which is the basis for imaginary numbers (imagination being deprecated by the One State). Zamyatin's point, probably in light of the increasingly dogmatic Soviet government of the time, would seem to be that it is impossible to remove all the rebels against a system. Zamyatin even says this through I-330: "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite."[15]

Literary significance and influences[edit]

Along with Jack London's The Iron Heel, We is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre. It takes the totalitarian and conformative aspects of modern industrial society to an extreme conclusion, depicting a state that believes that free will is the cause of unhappiness, and that citizens' lives should be controlled with mathematical precision based on the system of industrial efficiency created by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Christopher Collins in Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study finds the many intriguing literary aspects of We more interesting and relevant today than the political aspects:

  1. An examination of myth and symbol reveals that the work may be better understood as an internal drama of a conflicted modern man rather than as a representation of external reality in a failed utopia. The city is laid out as a mandala, populated with archetypes and subject to an archetypal conflict. One wonders if Zamyatin were familiar with the theories of his contemporary C. G. Jung or whether it is a case here of the common European zeitgeist.
  2. Much of the city scape and expressed ideas in the world of We are taken almost directly from the works of H. G. Wells, the (then) very popular apostle of scientific socialist utopia whose works Zamyatin had edited in Russian.
  3. In the use of color and other imagery Zamyatin shows he had breathed the same subjectivist air as had Kandinsky and other European Expressionist painters.

The little-known Russian dystopian novel Love in the Fog of the Future, published in 1924 by Andrei Marsov, has also been compared to We.[16]

George Orwell averred that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) must be partly derived from We.[17] However, in a letter to Christopher Collins in 1962, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H. G. Wells's utopias long before he had heard of We.[18] According to one translator of We, Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying.[19] Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952), he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."[20] Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has many significant similarities to We (detailed here), although it is stylistically and thematically different.[21] Vladimir Nabokov's novel Invitation to a Beheading contains a dystopian society with some similarities to Zamyatin's; Nabokov read We while writing Invitation to a Beheading.[22]

Orwell began Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) some eight months after he read We in a French translation and wrote a review of it.[23] Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."[24] Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, We "appears to have been the crucial literary experience."[25] Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute."[26] Robert Russell, in an overview of the criticism of We, concludes that "1984 shares so many features with We that there can be no doubt about its general debt to it," however there is a minority of critics who view the similarities between We and 1984 as "entirely superficial". Further, Russell finds "that Orwell's novel is both bleaker and more topical than Zamyatin's, lacking entirely that ironic humour that pervades the Russian work."[18]

In The Right Stuff (1979), Tom Wolfe describes We as a "marvelously morose novel of the future" featuring an "omnipotent spaceship" called the Integral whose "designer is known only as 'D-503, Builder of the Integral.' " Wolfe goes on to use the Integral as a metaphor for the Soviet launch vehicle, the Soviet space programme, or the Soviet Union.[27]

Jerome K. Jerome has been cited as an influence on Zamyatin’s novel.[28] Jerome’s short essay "The New Utopia" (1891)[29] describes a regimented future city, indeed world, of nightmarish egalitarianism, where men and women are barely distinguishable in their grey uniforms (Zamyatin's "unifs") and all have short black hair, natural or dyed. No one has names: women wear even numbers on their tunics, and men wear odd, just as in We. Equality is taken to such lengths that people with well-developed physique are liable to have lopped limbs. In Zamyatin, similarly, the equalisation of noses is earnestly proposed. Jerome has anyone with an overactive imagination subjected to a levelling-down operation—something of central importance in We. Even more significant is the appreciation on the part of both Jerome and Zamyatin that individual, and by extension, familial love, is a disruptive and humanizing force.

Jerome's works were translated in Russia three times before 1917. Three Men in a Boat is a set book in Russian schools.

The song "We" by the progressive rock band Brazil references the Zamyatin novel on their 2004 album A Hostage and the Meaning of Life

The song "I-330" (2013) by Canadian heavy metal band Torture for Pleasure references one of the central characters in the book.

Publication history[edit]

We was the first work banned by Goskomizdat, the new Soviet censorship bureau, in 1921, though the initial draft dates to 1919.[citation needed] Zamyatin's literary position deteriorated throughout the 1920s, and he was eventually allowed to emigrate to Paris in 1931, probably after the intercession of Maxim Gorky.

The novel was first published in English in 1924 by E. P. Dutton in New York in a translation by Gregory Zilboorg,[30] but its first publication in the Soviet Union had to wait until 1988,[31] when glasnost resulted in it appearing alongside George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. A year later, We and Brave New World were published together in a combined edition.[32]

In 1994, the novel received a Prometheus Award in the "Hall of Fame" category.[33]

First English edition dust jacket, Dutton, New York.

Since 11 March 2007, the original novel is no longer copyrighted under the Berne Convention.

Russian language editions[edit]

The first complete Russian language edition of We was published in New York in 1952. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1967). My. vstupitel'naya stat'ya Evgenii Zhiglevich, stat'ya posleslovie Vladimira Bondarenko. New York: Inter-Language Literary Associates. ISBN 5-7390-0346-6.  (Russian)
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1988). Selections. sostaviteli T.V. Gromova, M.O. Chudakova, avtor stati M.O. Chudakova, kommentarii Evg. Barabanova. Moskva: Kniga. ISBN 5-212-00084-X.  (Russian) (bibrec) (bibrec (Russian))
We was first published in the USSR in this collection of Zamyatin's works. (Brown, p. xiv, xxx)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny; Andrew Barratt (1998). Zamyatin: We. Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 1-85399-378-6.  (also cited as Zamyatin: We, Duckworth, 2006) (Russian) (English)
Edited with Introduction and Notes by Andrew Barratt. Plain Russian text, with English introduction, bibliography and notes.

Translations[edit]

  • Zamiatin, Eugene (1924). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). New York: Dutton. ISBN 0-88233-138-8.  [1]
  • Zamjatin, Jevgenij Ivanovič (1927). My. Václav Koenig (trans.). Prague (Praha): Štorch-Marien.  (Czech) [2]
  • Zamâtin, Evgenij Ivanovic (1929). Nous autres. B. Cauvet-Duhamel (trans.). Paris: Gallimard.  (French) [3]
  • Zamiatin, Eugene (1954). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). New York: Dutton. ISBN 84-460-2672-4. 
  • Zamjàtin, Evgenij (1955). Noi. Ettore Lo Gatto (trans.). Bergamo (Italy): Minerva Italica.  (Italian)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1960). We. Bernard Guilbert Guerney (trans.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0394707176. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1972 repr. 1999). We. Mirra Ginsburg (trans.). New York: Bantam. ISBN 0-552-67271-8. 
  • Zamjatin, Evgenij Ivanovič (1975). Mi. Drago Bajt (trans.). Ljubljana (Slovenia): Cankarjeva založba. 
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1987). We. S.D. Cioran (trans.). US: Ardis. ISBN 0-88233-821-8. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgenij (1988). BİZ. Füsun Tülek (trans.). İstanbul (Turkey): Ayrıntı.  (Turkish)
  • Zamjàtin, Evgenij (1990). Noi. Ettore Lo Gatto (trans.). Milano (Italy): Feltrinelli. ISBN 88-07-80412-3.  (Italian)
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1991). We. Alex Miller (trans.). Moscow: Raduga. ISBN 5-05-004845-1. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1993). We. Clarence Brown (trans.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-018585-2.  (preview)
  • Zamiatin, Eugene (2000). We. Gregory Zilboorg (trans.). US: Transaction Large Print. ISBN 1-56000-477-0.  (author photo on cover)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2006). We. Natasha Randall (trans.). New York: Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-7462-X. 
  • Zamjatyin, Jevgenyij (1990/2008). Mi. Pál Földeák (trans.). Budapest (Hungary): Cartaphilus. ISBN 978-963-266-038-7.  (Hungarian)
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2009). We. Hugh Aplin (trans.). London: Hesperus Press. ISBN 1843914468. 

Adaptations[edit]

Films[edit]

The German TV network ZDF adapted the novel for a TV movie in 1981, under the German title Wir.[34]

Theatre[edit]

Montreal company Théâtre Deuxième Réalité produced an adaptation of the novel in 1996, adapted and directed by Alexandre Marine, under the title Nous Autres.[35]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, p. xi, citing Shane, gives 1921. Russell, p. 3, dates the first draft to 1919.
  2. ^ The Ginsburg and Randall translations use the phrasing "One State". Guerney uses "The One State"—each word is capitalized. Brown uses the single word "OneState", which he calls "ugly" (p. xxv). Zilboorg uses "United State".
    All of these are translations of the phrase Yedinoye Gosudarstvo (Russian: Единое Государство).
  3. ^ Serdyukova, O.I. [О.И. Сердюкова] (2011). "Проблема свободы личности в романе Э. Берджесса "Механический апельсин"" [The problem of the individual freedom in E. Burgess’s novel "A Clockwork Orange"]. Вісник Харківського національного університету імені В. Н. Каразіна. Серія: Філологія [The Herald of the Karazin Kharkiv National University. Series: Philology] (in Russian) (Kharkiv) 936 (61): 144–146. 
  4. ^ Hughes, Jon (2006). Facing Modernity: Fragmentation, Culture and Identity in Joseph Roth's Writing in 1920s. London: Maney Publishing for the Modern Humanities Research Association. p. 127. ISBN 1904350372. 
  5. ^ Ginsburg trans. This term is also translated as "Well-Doer".[citation needed] Benefactor translates Blagodetel (Russian: Благодетель).
  6. ^ Ginsburg trans. This is also translated as "cyphers".[citation needed] Numbers translates nomera (Russian: номера).
  7. ^ Fifth Entry (Ginsburg translation, p. 21).
  8. ^ Randall, p. xvii.
  9. ^ Ermolaev.
  10. ^ Shane, p 12.
  11. ^ Myers.
  12. ^ "All these icebreakers were constructed in England, in Newcastle and yards nearby; there are traces of my work in every one of them, especially the Alexander Nevsky—now the Lenin;I did the preliminary design, and after that none of the vessel's drawings arrived in the workshop without having been checked and signed:
    'Chief surveyor of Russian Icebreakers' Building E.Zamiatin." [The signature is written in English.] (Zamyatin ([1962]))
  13. ^ a b Gregg.
  14. ^ Constantin V. Ponomareff; Kenneth A. Bryson. The Curve of the Sacred: An Exploration of Human Spirituality. Editions Rodopi BV. ISBN 978-90-420-2031-3. 
  15. ^ Ginsburg, Introduction, p. v. The Thirtieth Entry has a similar passage.
  16. ^ "Марсов, Андрей". Academic.ru. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  17. ^ Orwell (1946).
  18. ^ a b Russell, p. 13.
  19. ^ "Leonard Lopate Show". WNYC. 18 August 2006.  (radio interview with We translator Natasha Randall)
  20. ^ Playboy interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., July 1973.
  21. ^ Gimpelevich, Zina (1997). "‘We’ and ‘I’ in Zamyatin's We and Rand's Anthem". Germano-Slavica 10 (1): 13–23. 
  22. ^ "...Nabokov's book clearly echoes Zamyatin's We, (a book Nabokov had recently read when he was writing Invitation to a Beheading "). M. Keith Booker, The Post-utopian Imagination: American Culture in the Long 1950s. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002 ISBN 0313321655, (p. 50).
  23. ^ Orwell (1946). Russell, p. 13.
  24. ^ Bowker (p. 340) paraphrasing Rayner Heppenstall.
    Bowker, Gordon (2003). Inside George Orwell: A Biography. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-23841-X. 
  25. ^ Brown trans., Introduction, p. xvi.
  26. ^ Shane, p. 140.
  27. ^ Wolfe, Tom (2001). The Right Stuff. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-38135-0.  "D-503": p. 55, 236. "it looked hopeless to try to catch up with the mighty Integral in anything that involved flights in earth orbit.": p. 215. Wolfe uses the Integral in several other passages.
  28. ^ Stenbock-Fermor.
  29. ^ Published in Diary of a Pilgrimage (and Six Essays).(full text)
  30. ^ In a translation by Zilboorg,
  31. ^ Brown translation, p. xiv. Tall notes that glasnost resulted in many other literary classics being published in the USSR during 1988–1989.
  32. ^ Tall, footnote 1.
  33. ^ "Libertarian Futurist Society: Prometheus Awards". Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  34. ^ Wir on the Internet Movie Database
  35. ^ Article on Théâtre Deuxième Réalité and its early productions

References[edit]

Reviews[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Russell, Robert (1999). Zamiatin's We. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 978-1-85399-393-0. 
  • Shane, Alex M. (1968). The life and works of Evgenij Zamjatin. Berkeley: University of California Press. OCLC 441082. 
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1992). A Soviet Heretic: Essays. Mirra Ginsburg (editor and translator). Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-1091-5. 
  • Collins, Christopher (1973). Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study. The Hague: Mouton & Co. 

Journal articles[edit]

English: My wives, icebreakers and Russia. Russian: О моих женах, о ледоколах и о России.
The original date and location of publication are unknown, although he mentions the 1928 rescue of the Nobile expedition by the Krasin, the renamed Svyatogor.
The article is reprinted in E. I. Zamiatin, 'O moikh zhenakh, o ledokolakh i o Rossii', Sochineniia (Munich, 1970–1988, four vols.) II, pp. 234–40. (Russian)

External links[edit]