“Why is the dance beautiful? Answer: because it is nonfree movement, because all of the fundamental significance of the dance lies precisely in its aesthetic subjection, its ideal nonfreedom."
As a loyal, indoctrinated citizen of OneState, D-503 believes that happiness comes from complete subjugation to a greater power. D-503 holds that freedom and the uncertainty it brings lead to fear and frustration. The only answer is to allow one's self to be controlled. When he sees machines working, he admires their perfect subjection to a pre-planned motion. Machines, by definition, have no free will: they simply complete the actions they are programmed to perform. D-503 dreams of a day that humans can achieve the same total subjection. At the end of We scientists finally convert humans into living machines by developing a surgery that can remove the imagination. After undergoing the operation, D-503 is content, functioning as a cog in the state machine.
"But I don’t know—something about her eyes or brows, some kind of odd irritating X that I couldn’t get at all, a thing I couldn’t express with numbers."
A proponent of regimentation and mechanization, D-503 looks to mathematics to precisely explain the world. In his mind, everything can be calculated and reduced to a formula. When he meets I-330 he is troubled by something he cannot quantify, something he refers to as 'X'. In mathematics X is often used to represent a variable, or the unknown, inconstant quantity in a formula. I-330 functions as an X in the formula that is D-503's life. His irrational passion for I-330 consumes him, derailing his stable life as a citizen of OneState. In the novel, X, like I-330, represents the irrational. The government has attempted to eradicate the irrational from human nature, but it insists on reappearing. Zamyatin holds that man is a dual being: both rational and irrational.
“That irrational root grew in me like some alien thing, strange and terrifying, and it was eating me, and you couldn’t make any sense of it or neutralize it because it was completely beyond ratio."
As a child D-503 panics when presented with the concept of √-1. No number, when one multiplies it by itself, produces a negative integer; thus, √-1 is an imaginary number, one that does not exist in nature. When confronted with this irrational mathematical idea, D-503 is filled with fear that the orderly world will collapse. He relies on mathematics to explain life in a rational way, so the appearance of the irrational in his trusted subject moves D-503 to tears. He panics not only because the root exists, but also because he is afraid that the root is inside him. Throughout We, D-503 fears the irrational part of his personality. When his love for I-330 prompts him to act in irrational ways, he writes as if he witnessed a stranger commit the irrational behavior. He will not or cannot recognize himself.
“The highest thing in Man in his reason, and what the work of reason comes down to is the continual limitation of infinity, dividing infinity up into convenient, easily digestible portions: differentiation."
Like √-1, the concept of infinity scares D-503. Infinity is unmanageable; it cannot be divided, multiplied or truly understood in the typical ways. The only way one can feel in control of the universe is to limit the universe. D-503 worships the ability of "reason" to turn the mystery of life into "easily digestible" instructions. OneState uses logic to limit infinity both physically and symbolically. Instead of presiding over the entire universe, the government covers a small piece of land with a glass cage and ignores everything beyond it. Instead of managing a never-ending spectrum of life-style options, OneState dictates a regimented schedule of meals, walks and work. Instead of debating many conceptions of happiness, the Benefactor enforces one particular understanding. Unfortunately for the state and D-503, infinity cannot be reduced in this way.
"You’re in bad shape. It looks like you’re developing a soul."
S-4711 escorts D-503 to the Medical Bureau in order to be examined. The doctor explains to the D-503 that he is indeed ill: he has developed a soul. In OneState the irrational, including emotions and imagination, are repressed. D-503's love for I-330 has unleashed a wave of emotions; he burns for I-330, he pities O-90, he rages at U, he dissociates from his own body. In short, he is fully human, as opposed to a soulless machine. His soul prevents him from functioning as a model citizen. He fails to report I-330's treason, agrees to steal the INTEGRAL, and arranges for O-90 to be smuggled beyond the wall. In order to control D-503, OneState seeks to remove his soul. They finally succeed when D-503 is forced to undergo a procedure to remove his imagination. At the end of the novel, D-503 is little more than a machine.
“But it’s only the eye with a lash in it, the swollen finger, the infected tooth that feels itself, is conscious of its own individual being. The healthy eye or finger or tooth doesn’t seem to exist. So it’s clear, isn’t it? Self-consciousness is just a disease."
Though he participates in the Mephi rebellion, D-503 is radically conservative. Like OneState, he treats human self-consciousness as a disease that can be eradicated. Reasoning that one doesn't pay attention to a toe until it is stubbed, D-503 decides that awareness of the self only occurs when the self is wounded or diseased. D-503 didn't truly reflect on the meaning of and limitations on his life until he began experiencing feelings. The resulting thoughts have festered in his heads like a lash in an eye. At the end of the novel, when he undergoes the state procedure to remove his imagination, D-503 feels rejuvenated. He writes that it is as if the doctors "extracted a kind of splinter from [his] head" (224). His emotions, imaginations and self-consciousness were merely splinters preventing the smooth functioning of a machine.
"And how can there be a final revolution? There is no final one. The number of revolutions is infinite.”
When I-330 requests D-503 help steal the INTEGRAL, he expresses disbelief, exclaiming that OneState cannot and should not be overthrown. I-330 asks him to name the final number; he cannot. She explains that just as there is no final number, there is no final revolution. OneState will be succeeded by another state just as one preceded it. For I-330, change is the only constant, and revolution is inherently valuable. Anything that remains indefinitely becomes stagnant and oppressive. I-330 revolts against OneState not only because she disagrees with the government's polices, but because she objects to the concept of a "final" anything. Just as D-503 embraces and advocates stability, I-330 embraces and advocates change.
“What a mistake, what a stupid prejudice it’s been all these years to put a plus sign in front of happiness. Absolute happiness should of course have a minus sign, a divine minus."
The Benefactor explains to D-503 that the goal of OneState is to maximize happiness. He considers happiness to be the absence of want: complete satiety. Thus the state mechanically fulfills those desires it can and suppresses those it cannot, in the hopes of making the population happy. I-330 reflects that the goal of the state should not be to maximize the happiness of the people. Happiness is but a small part of the range of human emotions and experiences that compose life. Absolute happiness as understood by OneState necessitates the suppression of equally important things like love, freedom and individuality. For I-330 managing fear, frustration and the unexpected are a worthwhile price for the ability to nurture, explore, articulate and fulfill her unique desires. Ultimately, D-503 disagrees, embracing the totalitarian happiness offered by OneState.
"I understood. This was the truth. The stupid, ridiculous human truth!"
When she is interrogated, U admits that she refrained from revealing I-330's name to the government for fear that D-503 would no longer love her, were she to do so. This confession triggers an epiphany for D-503: he realizes the inherent irrationality of human beings. Even U, who diligently embraces the government worldview and happily reports traitors, risks her life for unrequited love. D-503 has given her no real indication that he cares for her, yet U cultivates the delusion that he does and lies to the government to maintain that delusion. Nothing could be less rational. For a brief moment, D-503 realizes that the task of converting humans into perfectly rational beings is impossible. Later the government solves this dilemma by makings its citizens less than human. D-503 himself refers to those who underwent the operation as “tractors in human form” (182).
“And this same Christian, all-merciful God—the one who slowly roasts in the fires of Hell all those who rebel against him—is he not to be called executioner?"
Summoning D-503 to his office, the Benefactor justifies the cruelties of OneState by comparing himself to an Old Testament God. Just as God condemns sinners to be tortured in hell, the Benefactor condemns those who sin against the state. He boasts that he embraces his title as an executioner, since God himself is one. Zamyatin uses religious imagery and comparisons throughout the novel to insinuate that religions, and Christianity in particular, are totalitarian belief systems. In these systems, as in OneState, a supreme ruler sets laws that govern the lives of men. Furthermore, innocence and complete subordination are prized qualities. Like the Benefactor, God punishes those who criticize and disobey and praises those who follow. Finally, the Benefactor, like God, claims that his actions, while inexplicable are for the good of mankind.
We Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for We is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Extripating the fancy is an operation remove the soul. No one had a soul... D503 did, though he didn't understand it. The one thing he did know, was that he didn't want anyone performing an operation while he was working on the rocket ship.
During the Day of Unanimity, which features elections, D-503 describes the power of being watched, which supports the theme of surveillance; he writes, "I see how everybody votes for the Benefactor and everybody sees how I vote for the Benefactor"...