The function of the setting on the Individual in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We to portray Revolution
In the novel ‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the author uses the function of the setting on the individual to achieve his goal of producing a satirical warning of the future if no action is taken in the present, offering revolution as the solution. The setting and its effects on the individuals in ‘We’ act as both a satire of Stalinist Russian society and a warning. Zamyatin shows how the setting of a dystopian state called the ‘OneState’ works to dehumanise its citizens or ‘ciphers’ by removing their basic human characteristics until they become like machines. Zamyatin uses these atrocities to illustrate his ideas of how revolution is necessary to life to combat dogma, and is the answer to preventing the dystopian society portrayed in ‘We’ from happening. In Zamyatin’s ‘We’, the setting of the OneState aims to have the maximum amount of control over its citizens to guarantee the desired behaviour of the population is upheld, as well as the ability to quash opposition should any arise. The OneState achieves this control by implementing and enforcing routines as well as surveillance. One routine that Zamyatin employs in the dystopian state is the regulation of sex through ‘the business of the pink ticket’1.
Individuals are monitored in the Bureau of Sex and given a specific timetable of when to make use of a sexual partner, as ‘each cipher has the right to any other cipher as sexual product.’ 2 This is an example of the complete control the OneState has over its citizens. The common mentality upheld by the OneState is that unhappiness stems from free will, meaning the elimination of free will is going to increase the happiness of the OneState. Another method of control employed by the OneState is surveillance. Zamyatin’s choice of surveillance in We is quite similar to most other dystopian states such as Hitler’s Germany and of course Stalinist Russia, as he implements a secret police force. The Guardians are group of citizens within the OneState whose identities are kept secret; however the knowledge that anyone could be a guardian is made aware to the public, creating an element of fear, which is also common among dystopian states. Another point of surveillance is the architecture of the city, which is entirely made up entirely of glass, meaning all actions are public, which reinforces the communist idea of the collective instead of the individual.
The citizens in the OneState are constantly in a state of worry because everyone around them is seen as a threat. This means the function of the setting here is to remove personal luxuries such as the choice to have sex, as well as privacy at home. The OneState also aims to derive the most efficiency out its citizens by removing the characteristics that make the ciphers human. The OneState believes that the need to eat and the significance placed on emotions such as love are the weaknesses of the human condition, and by removing these characteristics the divine workforce will be obtained for the betterment of the OneState. D-503 supports this idea, admitting that for once an ‘Ancient’ was right when he said ‘ Love and hunger are the masters of the world3’ This gave rise to the belief that if one could control love and hunger, then they could control the world. This is attempted through the ‘process of hardening,’4 or the crystallisation process, which D-503 states is not yet complete. The process aims to get to the ideal state ‘where nothing actually happens anymore, but meanwhile, there are still things that…’ 5This could refer to the removal of emotions, where the life of a cipher is stripped back to far that nothing happens apart from constantly working. The crystallisation process can be seen as removing the outer layer of a sphere. The process works to remove the shell of emotion, which according to the OneState is detrimental to the best scenario for the betterment of the OneState. The shell of emotion is seen as opaque, and the process works to remove this shell, revealing the crystal inside that can be used to further better the OneState.
Zamyatin presents the idea of having your emotions removed to reflect the stance of events in Stalinist Russia during the publication time of ‘We.’ Freedoms were removed, and Zamyatin over exaggerates this removal of freedom in We by the removal of emotions. This concept also serves as a warning to readers, that if nothing is done to stop the removal of freedom now, although unlikely, the removal of freedom could progress as far as the removal of emotions when technology permits it. The function of the setting in this scenario is the removal of emotions of the citizens in the OneState. The only way they can avoid this horror is to disobey what they are told, a revolutionary trait. The setting of the OneState turns humans into machines, effectively enslaving the citizens as they have so little control over their lives.
The minds of the ciphers are rewired into thinking completely differently, for example in the beginning of We, D-503 speaks without emotion, making numerous references to mathematics. A strong theme in We is mathematics, as it is logical and emotionless, which is fits the mind-set that emotions are evil. The OneState takes the Newtonian belief that one day mathematics will eliminate all mistakes. Another example of the rewired thinking process is during the execution of a criminal in the OneState. D-503 notes that the sacrificial cipher has ‘his hands bound with a purple ribbon’6 representing the chains or handcuffs that we use today. To the reader it seems strange that a prisoner is bound with nothing more than a ribbon. This is because the mind-set of the cipher has been changed so drastically that he believes he deserves the punishment, and will not try to escape. Zamyatin intends to get us to look at these behaviours and be challenged by the process through which the idea has emerged – could this happen in my society?
The OneState makes people into machines so that they follow instructions without making mistakes. These kinds of ciphers can be seen as live-dead people, as they produce dead things without mistakes. D-503 has called them ‘tractors in human form.’ Live-live people are seen as mistakes by the OneState. They create live things like searching questions and revolt. The setting of the OneState strives to remove such people through the removal of emotions, making ciphers into machines. Zamyatin believes revolution is the answer to the dogmatic belief system that has been set by the OneState. According to Zamyatin, revolution is of equal importance to the law of the conservation of energy or the law of the loss of energy. Originally in the time of the Ancients, progress was fuelled by change, but when the petroleum based fuel was introduced and the OneState came to life, change was eliminated; hence progress was eliminated also, replaced by dogma. Revolution is the answer to this problem. Zamyatin said that revolution should be seen in terms of construction and deconstruction. It is the melting of the solidified dogma by the fires of heresy.
It is like when a flaming, seething sphere grows cold, solidifying around the fiery molten rock with a hard, ossified, immovable crust, until one day a new heresy explodes and blows out the dogmas crust, along with the structures erected on this crust. It is heresy that set fire to these structures. The process makes the sphere or planet young again. Revolution is a radical discontinuity in the smooth narrative of dogma. The sphere is the earth and the dogma is the OneState. The exploding heresy can be seen as the MEPHI as well as I-330. Zamyatin also says that revolution is a cycle, there is never just one revolution. I-330 confirms this when she is used as a Zamyatin’s voice piece ‘There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.’ In Conclusion, the setting of the OneState has the effect of dehumanisation on the individual. The OneState believes love and hunger are the masters of the world, and so remove or regulate these basic rights for the ciphers. The OneState also holds the view that imagination and emotions are the key to unhappiness, and so goes about trying to regulate these concepts as much as possible until towards the end of the book when they are removed from the brain altogether. Humans are made into machines by these processes, unable to think for themselves, only doing what they are told, creating dead things. Zamyatin portrays the setting in this way as both a satire and a warning for Russian society between the Russian revolution of 1905 and 1921 when the book was completed. ‘We’ over exaggerates the aspects of society such as surveillance and control so that the horrors of dehumanisation scare the reader to take preventative action. The setting dehumanises the individual, until revolution takes place and new dogma is born. Word Count: 1509
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