The Overarching Utopian Litotes: An Examination of the Relationships Between the Two Parts of Utopia and Their Greater Rhetorical Significance
"sometimes a word is put down with a sign of negation, when as much is signified as if we had spoken it affirmatively, if not more" John Smith (225)
Thomas More's Utopia is a work that embodies and embraces ambiguity. In fact almost every aspect of the book is instilled with a range of interpretable and unclear meaning, from the intricacies of its language (such as the alternate meanings of its title, which suggests both "good place" and "no place") to the presentation of seemingly paradoxical ideas with a range of middle ground in between. One of the most frequently used techniques employed by More in putting forth ambiguous statements and ideas is the inclusion of litotes, or double negatives. Perhaps the most conspicuous example is in the phrase "no less beneficial than entertaining" (3) that is used to describe the book's purpose in the opening statement. Many similar examples are scattered throughout the book, such as in the description of the thief whose sentence is "no less" severe for theft than it is for murder (228), and in the Utopian idea that there is "no less" provision for those who are now helpless but once worked than for those who are still working (228). In these cases More is twisting language in order to...
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