We

Literary significance and influences

Along with Jack London's The Iron Heel, We is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre. It takes the totalitarian and conformative aspects of modern industrial society to an extreme conclusion, depicting a state that believes that free will is the cause of unhappiness, and that citizens' lives should be controlled with mathematical precision based on the system of industrial efficiency created by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Christopher Collins in Evgenij Zamjatin: An Interpretive Study finds the many intriguing literary aspects of We more interesting and relevant today than the political aspects:

  1. An examination of myth and symbol reveals that the work may be better understood as an internal drama of a conflicted modern man rather than as a representation of external reality in a failed utopia. The city is laid out as a mandala, populated with archetypes and subject to an archetypal conflict. One wonders if Zamyatin were familiar with the theories of his contemporary C. G. Jung or whether it is a case here of the common European zeitgeist.
  2. Much of the city scape and expressed ideas in the world of We are taken almost directly from the works of H. G. Wells, the (then) very popular apostle of scientific socialist utopia whose works Zamyatin had edited in Russian.
  3. In the use of color and other imagery Zamyatin shows he had breathed the same subjectivist air as had Kandinsky and other European Expressionist painters.

The little-known Russian dystopian novel Love in the Fog of the Future, published in 1924 by Andrei Marsov, has also been compared to We.[19]

George Orwell averred that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) must be partly derived from We.[20] However, in a letter to Christopher Collins in 1962, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H. G. Wells's utopias long before he had heard of We.[21] According to one translator of We, Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying.[22] Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952), he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."[23] Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has many significant similarities to We (detailed here), although it is stylistically and thematically different.[24] Vladimir Nabokov's novel Invitation to a Beheading contains a dystopian society with some similarities to Zamyatin's; Nabokov read We while writing Invitation to a Beheading.[25]

Orwell began Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) some eight months after he read We in a French translation and wrote a review of it.[26] Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."[27] Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, We "appears to have been the crucial literary experience."[28] Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute."[29] Robert Russell, in an overview of the criticism of We, concludes that "1984 shares so many features with We that there can be no doubt about its general debt to it," however there is a minority of critics who view the similarities between We and 1984 as "entirely superficial". Further, Russell finds "that Orwell's novel is both bleaker and more topical than Zamyatin's, lacking entirely that ironic humour that pervades the Russian work."[21]

In The Right Stuff (1979), Tom Wolfe describes We as a "marvelously morose novel of the future" featuring an "omnipotent spaceship" called the Integral whose "designer is known only as 'D-503, Builder of the Integral.' " Wolfe goes on to use the Integral as a metaphor for the Soviet launch vehicle, the Soviet space programme, or the Soviet Union.[30]

Jerome K. Jerome has been cited as an influence on Zamyatin’s novel.[31] Jerome’s short essay "The New Utopia" (1891)[32] describes a regimented future city, indeed world, of nightmarish egalitarianism, where men and women are barely distinguishable in their grey uniforms (Zamyatin's "unifs") and all have short black hair, natural or dyed. No one has names: women wear even numbers on their tunics, and men wear odd, just as in We. Equality is taken to such lengths that people with well-developed physique are liable to have lopped limbs. In Zamyatin, similarly, the equalisation of noses is earnestly proposed. Jerome has anyone with an overactive imagination subjected to a levelling-down operation—something of central importance in We. Even more significant is the appreciation on the part of both Jerome and Zamyatin that the individual, and by extension, familial love, is a disruptive and humanizing force.

Jerome's works were translated in Russia three times before 1917. Three Men in a Boat is a set book in Russian schools.

The song "We" by the progressive rock band Brazil references the Zamyatin novel on their 2004 album A Hostage and the Meaning of Life

The song "I-330" (2013) by Canadian heavy metal band Torture for Pleasure references one of the central characters in the book.


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