Friday, April 13, 2012

De-Individualization in Zamyatin's WE

We, like most dystopian novels, produces a large variety of responses in the reader. The response that the novel elicited most strongly in me was a deep reflection on individuality. The United States is a society that places a great deal of importance on the individual. All citizens are supposed to be responsible for themselves, and individual success or failure is attributed to the amount of effort one expends. We live in a meritocracy in which everyone is theoretically able to pull themselves up by their boot straps and live the American Dream. This contrasts dramatically with the society the One State strives for, in which all citizens are ultimately de-individualized and restricted in everything they do.

This de-individualization is quite remarkable. The One State dictates its citizens' schedules as well as their work, their sex lives, and eventually even their personalities and moods. I find this complete de-individualization terrifying, as I think Zamyatin does as well. Could any of us honestly imagine what life would be like in a world where everything - and I mean everything - is centrally planned? What life would be like in a world where even your own thoughts and desires are purposefully eliminated so as to make you a better worker and a better citizen? Where your "imagination" is surgically excised via state decree? I can hardly think of a more terrifying society in which to live.

Zamyatin is quite critical of the Soviet experiment in this novel, and he reaches the reader on a very personal level. It is as if he is cautioning Soviet society about the potential pitfalls of communism and state control, while also reminding that same society of the individuality of human nature - an aspect of life in which the state should not attempt to interfere.


  1. I think it's interesting that you mention how the One State tries to not only control the citizens' daily actions but also their thoughts and beliefs. I see this as a reflection of the propaganda and censorship that was used during the 1920s and Stalin's reign.

    1. You're probably right. I wish I knew more about the early politics of the USSR, and Stalin's regime in particular!

  2. Your post reminded me of a book my roommate read for behavior analysis. The very basic premise of the book was that we would be happier if we had less decisions to make since presumably there wouldn't be regret (e.g. you can't regret buying the wrong poptarts or investing in the wrong stocks if you didn't have a choice)! I could see how this is true, but I've also wondered about how there'd be any motivation to work in a controlled society like We since what's the point of working hard if you can't move up in the world?

    I don't really know if there's a question in this... just something to think about!