We Literary Elements


Dystopian Novel

Setting and Context

OneState, a future totalitarian dictatorship

Narrator and Point of View

D-503, the primary protagonist, narrates the novel, which is a journal documenting life under OneState. The journal is intended to glorify the government and convince unconquered populations to submit to its will. Given his purpose in writing the piece, D-503 is an unreliable narrator; he has been, in essence, brainwashed. Ironically, his journal ultimately documents the injustice of OneState, as well as D-503's participation in a rebellion.

Tone and Mood

We is a satirical novel that criticizes the notion of planning a perfect society. Though occasionally ludicrous or amusing, the novel is primarily dark and engenders feelings of horror.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: D-503; Antagonist: The Benefactor

Major Conflict

D-503 falls in love with I-330, a leader in a rebellion against OneState. His perfectly ordered world falls apart as he pursues her.


While confessing his sins to the Guardian who continuously shadows him, D-503 realizes that S-4711 is a part of the resistance. D-503 flees madly, blacking out and awakening to find himself in a subway bathroom. There, he meets a neighbor who explains how he has mathematically disproven infinity. D-503 wildly asks what lies beyond the infinite universe.


Zamyatin included several instances of foreshadowing. In his dreams, D-503 imagines a “cruel flashing blade” of light lingering on I-330’s neck, suggesting her eventual death. Though D-503 believes him to be a loyal Guardian, S-4711’s behavior—bringing D-503 to the Medical Bureau and saving him from arrest (123)—hints at his true identity as a member of the resistance. Additionally, in the record preceding Unanimity Day, I-330 inquires about the INTEGRAL when thinking of her plans, revealing that the spaceship will be an important part of the rebels’ designs.


N/A; D-503 is very hyperbolic in his narration.


Zamyatin references F. W. Taylor, the pioneer of work-time studies, throughout the text. Taylor reduced labor to small, mechanical actions, so that workers could be easily integrated into assembly lines. Instead of building an entire chair, individual workers would perform limited duties, like sanding chair legs, tens of thousands of times. Several allusions are made to the Christian religion and the Garden of Eden. In the Biblical version, Adam and Eve are evicted from Paradise after tasting the fruit of forbidden knowledge. OneState has attempted to reverse this narrative, stripping citizens of freedom and knowledge in order to take them back to a state of innocence. As the woman tempting D-503 with knowledge, I-330 represents Eve; D-503 is We’s allegorical Adam. In one sense, Zamyatin is re-telling the story of the Fall from a different perspective: one that questions whether paradise is possible.


Much of Zamyatin's imagery refers to mechanization of society. Throughout the novel, OneState citizens are compared to machines, or components of machines. As D-503's world become increasingly disordered, the language of the journal changes to reflect this reality.


D-503 finds his desire for I-330 paradoxical: he asks, "But why do those two exist side by side in me: I don't want and I wan't?" (131.) He yearns for I-330, yet senses that uniting with her will lead to his death. D-503 both fears and desires I-330; he both wants and does not want her.



Metonymy and Synecdoche

We is full of synecdoche. In describing other characters, D-503 often focuses on a particular trait, returning to that trait repeatedly. In many instances, the highlighted body-parts stand for the entire person within the narrative. D-503 does not spy S-4711, but rather on a pair of "ear-wings" (153); likewise, he does not see U, only her "gills" (161). Characters are reduced to their most memorable feature.


When describing the antiquities found in the Ancient House, D-503 refers to them as "wild" (27), disordered, and chaotic. The protagonist ascribes the qualities he associates with ancient people's to the objects they owned.