Essay on We - Zamyatin

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In many works of literature the main character is often exposed to a great awakening, epiphany or change in consciousness. We, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin, is a prime example of this phenomenon.

Throughout the book the main character D-503 is awakened, through the mysterious actions of the character I-330, to a mysterious, unquantifiable universe which not only transcends the One State’s mathematical world but also possesses a certain beauty through its mysteriousness. As he explores this new world he also begins to explore, through the use of his diary, his inner self. He sees in himself the same mysterious world he sees in I-330, and begins to expand his knowledge of himself.

In doing so, he is forced to identify himself as an individual and therefore deviates from the One State’s collectivist philosophy. However, he seems afraid of this awakening, and in his fear he retreats from his new awakened aspects of himself, creating a schism between his old self and his new, awakened self.

One of D503’s very first experiences with the unknown is through I-330. He sees evidence of a concealed, mysterious world in I330’s psyche that contrasts the honest openness expected by the One State. When D-503 first saw I-330 he described “a strange and irritating X” on her and that he “couldn’t give it any numerical expression”. In D-503’s mathematical universe x is the symbol for a variable, a value that can change, a value that cannot be determined at the start. Likewise D-503 finds it hard to determine I-330’s value, that is her inner thoughts and feelings. He agonises over “what is behind her blinds? (her eyes)” and complains that I-330’s behind “an ancient opaque wall….. I don’t know what is (behind) there.” It seems natural that D-503 would find I-330’s mysteriousness shocking in the One State ciphers are encouraged to act “openly and honestly” and “thievish mystery” is blasted as “cowardly”.

The mysterious world that D-503 sees in I-330 is not just confined to herself. When investigating √-1, a symbol of mysteriousness in the novel as there is no real quantity that describes it, D-503 drew the conclusion that “(It) must have (it’s) own, enormous world there, behind the surface”. This contradicts the One State doctrine that “everything is finite, everything is simple, everything is calculable” by stating that there is a whole world which is beyond calculation, behind, as D-503 describes it “a sort of thick glass (that was) infinitely vast and simultaneously infinitely small” that is it cannot be numerically defined either. D-503 laments on how this has caused his mathematics to “become detached….. floating, spinning”. This world is one which cannot be conquered by logic or mathematics.

Yet there is a certain beauty that emerges from this mysteriousness. Fog, an element of mystery and concealment, is loved by I-330 “because you can’t conquer it yourself. You see, you can only love the unconquerable” and D-503 agrees with her statement. Earlier on D-503 equated “conquered” to “organised and mathematicised” so in this respect the mysterious world that D-503 begins to become aware of is unconquerable as well, as it is beyond mathematics. Then it must possess the same lovable beauty that the morning fog possesses.

As D-503 becomes aware of the simultaneously irritating and beautiful world of mystery inside I-330 and elsewhere, he also gets awakened to a similar world within his own psyche. D-503 himself sees the same “four-pawed X” that he sees in I-330, and as this world gains influence inside him his diary descriptions become increasingly surreal. For example by Record Sixteen he begins viewing all the buildings as upside down, a mass of “overturned, sparkling walls, suspended upside down…. And I, too, am overturned, idiotically suspended upside down by my feet”. The foggy morning becomes “one immense woman”, D-503 becomes “an independent planet”, I-330’s lips become a “knife slit” and so on....
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