We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is considered the father of the dystopian novel. Protagonist D-503 lives in the country called OneState in 26 A.D. following the 200 Years War. The government has built a Wall to block the Numbers (citizens) from seeing or experiencing nature. The Benefactor runs not only the government but serves as the God of OneState, the entity everyone fears disappointing. D-503 represents a man completely loyal and trustworthy of the city created by OneState, but he slowly loses his sense of mental control after meeting I-330, a woman who questions the government and everything it stands for. Is his growing imagination an effect of the love he feels for I-330 or the discovery of individualism in a society where it has been eradicated?
Love, Lust, and the Sex in Between
D-503 falls in love with I-330 from their first encounter, but how can it be determined that what he feels is love, lust, or the desire to speak with someone about topics that are illegal? It’s difficult to argue that D-503 is driven by lust or sexual desire because OneState has made it acceptable and easy to request a sex partner via snail mail and pink tickets. All a number must do is send in the name he or she desires with a pink ticket, and if he or she is accepted then a date and time is allotted (usually twenty or thirty minutes) or, if rejection is the answer, then he or she moves on to another potential partner.
Not only that, but D-503 has been sexually and even emotionally linked to O-90, another female number, for many years, and satisfaction cannot be the only driving force when his needs are being met on a weekly basis. Could it be that I-330 is exceptionally great in bed? The novel points to this possibility throughout the story, and even when D-503 thinks of her, it is because he wants touch her and be one with her skin. This could simply nod to a woman who knows her way around a man, but D-503 had to have enough sense to know that sex was not worth death because his frequent visits to the doctor and skipping work would have labeled him as inefficient and in OneState, inefficiency is repaired with death.
The argument of love is also flawed because every sign D-503 exhibits are nothing more than “love at first sight” or Romeo syndrome and therefore not rooted in a connection other than physical attraction. I-330 never reveals her past or opens up emotionally, so there is no reason he should feel a need to display love. Furthermore, D-503 refers to O-90 as the woman he cares deeply for, and through his compassion and trustworthiness it is evident that he would view what he feels for O as love and what he feels for I-330 as lust. The novel does not differentiate between these two ideas possibly because in OneState these emotions are not explored. Love renders the person at the mercy of another, and the only person numbers should feel obligated to is the Benefactor.
Love and lust would improve D-503’s physical drive and could lead to fantasies and daydreams, but he composes a diary of his thoughts that he hides because it shows his individualism and this is what coerces him to delve into his imagination and uncover what it is he stands for, desires, and wants to change.
Individualism Creates Imagination
We provides a basis that dreams are signs of illness because if a person is provided with survival necessities and is directed in every aspect of their lives (except for one hour a day when they can do whatever they like in the comfort of their apartment) then they should have no need to “dream” of other things. The start of D-503’s dreams stem from his encounter with I-330, but contrary to what he believes throughout the novel, it is not a sexual or physical desire for her that leads him down this path; it is the discovery of individualism and the knowledge that it is not as destructive as OneState and the Benefactor make it out to be.
D-503 loses touch with reality because he finally sees his society as the all-powerful dictator that it is, but his troubles begin when he doesn’t realize he can do anything with his dawning and instead hides it within his pages. Imagination is the enemy of control. OneState focuses on destroying it because people, now reduced to numbers without names, will fight back if they know there are other options available. These citizens have lived under the direction of the Benefactor and have only heard the history written by it. Once D-503 learns that there are those who want something more, to be on the other side, it warps his thinking and he is torn between the safety and guaranteed protection of OneState and the possibility of speaking his mind without receiving consequences.
As the father of the dystopian novel (classic and modern), We introduces the society where imagination is destroyed. Love is still permitted. Creativity through the forms of art and poetry are still permitted. However, these themes are allowed only in the name of the Benefactor and the promotion of OneState. Allowing imagination to not only exist but thrive is what prevents governments around the world from controlling their citizens like robots. If people can imagine a better way of living, then they are more likely to fight it. A utopian society is created when choices are eliminated for the people, but because individualism is ingrained from the moment of birth, dystopian societies are created and lead to confusion, doubt, and inevitable revolutions.
Zamyatin’s We explores the idea of individualism in society and illustrates its necessity for people to thrive. While there are countless arguments that could and have been discussed over this novel, specifically the “infinite revolutions” ideology, the idea of masking D-503’s discovery of self-worth with his lust for I-330 is what drives the character forward, and for that reason was the greatest impression the novel left on me. For those who have yet to read the novel, you can find it here. It’s a fantastic evaluation of utopian vs. dystopian societies and why they will never work permanently.