We Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Compare and contrast I-330 and O-90.

    I-330 and O-90 are different representations of femininity. I-330 is empowered and independent, leading rebel movements and using her sexuality to secure access to the spaceship INTEGRAL. O-90 is a sensitive and maternal figure; above all she loves D-503 and yearns to have his child. These differences are even manifested physically: I-330 has a sharp figure and biting smile, whereas O-90 is plump and rosy.

  2. 2

    How does the novel treat Christianity and religion in general?

    We critiques the totalitarian nature of religion. The Benefactor explains that in Christianity God has total control over man and employs cruel punishments, such as burning in hell. Zamyatin paints the Benefactor as a secular God, with OneState as his Garden of Eden. In paradise, as in OneState, knowledge is guarded from the child-like occupants, who are completely subordinated to a higher power.

  3. 3

    How does the architecture in OneState facilitate control of the population?

    In OneState all buildings and furniture are made of glass, allowing for continual surveillance. Every action is observed not only by the government Guardians, but also by one's neighbors. The difficulty of counter-regime action in such a scenario is obvious; in one scene D-503 panics as Guardians approach, realizing that he cannot effectively hide his treasonous papers in his glass desk (160).

  4. 4

    Why does D-503 participate in the rebellion?

    Throughout We, D-503 makes his support for the supposedly rational OneState system clear, praising order and control. His decision to join the rebellion is powered by his irrational desire for I-330. It is not that he accepts any of the political or biological arguments posed by the Mephi; he simply wants to be in I-330's presence. Ironically, his capitulation to the irrational proves many of the points made by I-330 about the duality of human nature.

  5. 5

    How does mathematics function as a motif in We?

    Mathematics is a constant reference point in the novel, not only for D-503, but also for I-330. D-503 relies on older and Euclidean mathematics to help bound the known universe. Alternately, I-330 uses more irrational mathematical concepts like infinity to argue for a more chaotic view. Radical concepts like the square root of a negative number or infinity were being explored in Zamyatin's time, successfully upending what had once been a conservative discipline.

  6. 6

    How does the author use color in the novel?

    Zamyatin uses color to illustrate D-503's emotional state. Before he meets I-330, D-503 lives in a world with little color: everything is composed of clear glass. While he is in love, a golden-pink fog descends on the city. When I-330 refuses to meet with him, everything has a sickly, yellow hue. As he despairs, the protagonist sees gray faces and uniforms. Color marks D-503's shifting emotions.

  7. 7

    Is D-503 a reliable narrator?

    D-503 is an unreliable narrator throughout We. His upbringing in OneState has left him brainwashed; he is loathe to question the justifications and claims asserted by the government, even when they are absurd. Later he falls in love with I-330 and his entire world revolves around being near her. D-503 misses clear signals, such seeing S-4711 beyond the wall, because he is lost in the cloud of his infatuation. In the end, D-503 is effectively lobotomized, converted into a mouthpiece for OneState.

  8. 8

    What contemporary ideologies was Zamyatin critiquing in We?

    Writing his novel in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, Zamyatin was criticizing the Utopian vision of the revolutionaries in charge. The USSR censored artistic works and crushed dissidents who threatened their view of a perfect state, much like the Benefactor. Yet Zamyatin was also criticizing England, where he spent time as an engineer. He was distrustful of the mechanization of Britain's post-industrial society and found the English emotionally repressed, much like the citizens of OneState.

  9. 9

    Explain the role of irrationality in the novel.

    We depicts irrationality as an essential part of the human experience. Both rationality and irrationality are innately human; in order to be fully developed individuals require both. In OneState the wild tribes beyond the wall represent this irrational "half" (157). Even in a society where emotions and imagination are repressed, citizens fall in love, fight for unlikely causes and sacrifice themselves. I-330 is strongly associated with this irrational impulse.