First published in 1924 by Yevgeny Zamyatin, We is a dystopian story about a future totalitarian state. The main character in the story, D-530 is the main builder of a space ship, Integral. D-530 is a philosopher mathematician. He likes everything to be numerically set in order. The United State he lives in fits the bill.
The United State is a city surrounded by a Green Wall to keep out the surrounding life. After the two hundred war ended most life, the survivors settled in this city. Their every movement is watched and supervised. They all rise at the same moment and go to sleep at the same moment. They eat a specially designed diet of bland food and chew exactly fifty times for each bite, at the same time. Their spoons move in unison.
His regimented life is thrown into a tailspin when he meets the rebel, I-330. She convinces him to go against his beliefs and follow her. She wants to take Integral while destroying the Green Wall and causing wide scale chaos.
As D-530’s world enters into realms he has trouble grasping his dialogue becomes more and more disjointed. Then when he is “operated” on his dialogue smooths out. The more control I-330 exerts on him the further into madness he slips. He alternates between hating her and loving her, but is always afraid of her.
We was banned from the Soviet Union because of its politics. But it became the influence of many writers of science fiction including George Orwell, Ayn Rand and Aldous Huxley.
The space ship, Integral will be completed in one hundred and twenty days. It will bring the word of the United State into the universe. The Chief Engineer, D-503 is working on a journal to go on board the ship. It includes the mission of the exploration, to “subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets, and who are perhaps still in the primitive state of freedom.”
As one of the many mathematicians in United State D-503 wants to “Unbend the wild curve, to straighten it out to a tangent – to a straight line!”
At the appointed time O-90, D-503’s lover arrives for their afternoon personal hour and supplementary walk. He calls her “dear – O” and her body seems to be in the shape of an O. They walk with another couple unknown to him. They are a “she-Number and a he-Number.” As they all walk in step to a brass measure, D-503 notices the blue sky, the baby sun badges on each of their uniforms and “our faces unclouded by the insanity of thoughts.”
D-503’s mind begins to wander and he feels like he created the world they live in when his thoughts are broken by the voice of a woman he had not met. She tells him, “You looked about you like an inspired mythological god on the the seventh day of creation. You look as though you are sure that I, too, was created by you, by no one but you. It is very flattering.”
He notices her bright, sharp teeth and an X on her brow. She is slender and abrupt. He sees that her number is I-330. When he tells her he was thinking about the uniformity of everyone, she points out the differences. O-90 speaks up that he is registered in her name. D-503 notices that O-90 was rude but he excuses it because her tongue is not “correctly calculated” and works faster than her brain.
I-330 asks him to drop in auditorium 112 the day after tomorrow and he says that if he is scheduled he will be there. She assures him he will be. They part when the bell rings ending the personal time schedule. O-90 asks if she can come to him today and “pull down the curtains.” But, he thinks she is being funny because she knows their next sexual day is the day after tomorrow. They part and he kisses her three times on her eyes.
D-503 compares his world to the world of times past and sees the beauty of mathematical symmetry of his world. He understands that his race has become sedentary and does not travel pass the green walls surrounding them. But, the scheduled times allotted for the functions of life give him peace.
The wholesale killing of people in the old days, the sleeping at all hours and walking around at night, and the sex anytime doesn’t make sense to him. In his world buildings are made of glass so people can be viewed at all times. Twice a day at 17 o’clock and 21 to 22 o’clock is personal time. People can close their curtains during this time. But, D-503 would like a time when all 86,400 seconds of the day are accounted for.
Everyone wakes at the same time each day, spoons are raised to mouths at the same time, and go to bed at the same time. He considers the wild actions of years past to be “so droll,” and is afraid future readers will think he is joking. He never jokes, “for in every joke a lie has its hidden function.”
Before he goes to sleep, D-503 thinks about the man walking with I-330. The man had an double curved letter S and was a Guardian. The bell rings at twenty-two thirty and he goes to sleep.
D-503 was assigned to Auditorium 112 as I330 predicted. He sat listening to a lecture about a wild man and a barometer. Each day the wild man noticed that when the barometer said it would rain, it did. One day he made the barometer read rain thinking it had control. The audience laughed, but the speaker pointed out that the wild man saw a cause and effect and acted on it, while the person observing did nothing. That mad the wild man more intelligent.
Then I330 went on stage and played a piano while the speaker pointed out that in times past people used creativity which is a form of “epilepsy” to create music. Now the people use mathematics for a more harmonious sound. When she began to play discordant chords, D-503’s mind began to wander into what he thinks may have been an epileptic fit. “Yes, epilepsy, a mental disease, a pain. A slow, sweet pain, bite and it goes deeper and becomes sharper. And then, slowly, sunshine – not our sunshine, not crystalline, bluish, and soft, coming through the glass bricks. No, a wild sunshine, rushing and burning, tearing everything into small bits…” Then he is brought back to himself by the laughter of the man next to him.
Afterward, he leaves and goes home. He goes to the house office and hands the controller on duty his pink ticket. This allows him to close his curtains while O-90 is there. At twenty-two o’clock, he closes his curtains and O rushes in with her pink ticket. He tears off the stub.
By twenty-two fifteen they are finished and he shows her his journal. She listens but a tear falls on page seven, which he will have to replace. When asked what is wrong she laments about a child, or maybe something else.
D-503 quotes an ancient sage with saying “Love and Hunger rule the World.” Modern times has conquered hunger by developing a petroleum food substance, and is working on love. In times past only a select few were desired. Their answer was Lex Sexualis. A method devised to take love out of sex. “A Number may obtain a license to use any other Number as a sexual product.” After a blood test to find the content of sexual hormones in your blood, you are given a Table of sexual days. Next you file an application to enjoy the services of a certain Number and are given a pink checkbook.
D-503 gets a call from I330 to meet her. She takes him to a museum – like Old House. There she tries to get him to see the possibilities of change. But, he isn’t interested and leaves her alone and she calls for someone else to meet her there. D-503 doesn’t miss his scheduled lecture at the auditorium but goes to bed without reporting the change in schedule to the authorities.
That night D-503 had a nightmare. He dreamed flashes of the time he spent with I330 in the Ancient House. This worried him because dreaming was a sign of a mental disease.
The next morning he was comforted by the uniformity of his actions with others in their apartments. On the way to work he meets the man he saw with I-330 the first day he saw her. He tries to tell the man about the deviation to his schedule but the man just congratulates him on spending time with her. Still feeling unsettled he is short tempered when he sees O-90. She tries to give him some lily of the valley she gathered at the Botanical Garden. This enrages him more and she asks him if he is ill. Since it is his duty to stay healthy he goes to the doctor and stays until it is too late to report I-330.
That night O-90 visits him and they work on mathematical equations which relaxes him. After she leaves he is angered again to see she put lily of the valley in his bed without his knowing it
The next day D-503 finally convinces himself to stop procrastinating about talking to the Guardians. But instead of joining the line waiting to see the Guardians he hears his friend, R-13, the poet with O-90. He and R-13 chose O-90 for three years ago. When D-503 asks O to come home with him she informs him that R has her ticket today. They invite D-503 back to R-13’s home so they can visit. They discuss the preparations for the launch of the Integral.
Suddenly D-503 notices the time and realizes O and R only have thirty-five minutes left to use their pink check, and he says his goodbyes. D-503 is comfortable with the triangle family they have.
On this day a man is executed to great pomp and circumstance. Women throw flowers to the Well-Doer, or executioner. “Three cheers in honor of the Guardians, who all unseen were present among us.” The man was executed for writing “sacrilegious” poems about the Well-Doer.
The next morning D-503 is told he will receive a letter, but first it has to go through the Bureau of Guardians. The letter states that I-330 has had him assigned to her. When he brings the pink check to her she is writing a letter. Then she puts on the ancient yellow dress she wore in the ancient house. She pours a green drink for each of them and smokes a cigarette. He warns her about the punishments for poisoning you body with nicotine and alcohol. She knows he won’t report her because he hasn’t yet.
Suddenly D-503 seems to split into two people. He begins to yell at her and is jealous of her being with anyone else. Before they can have sex, she shows him the time and sanity returns. He cannot be on the streets after twenty-two thirty. He dashes out the door and arrives at his apartment with a minute to spare. He can’t sleep even though he knows that it is criminal not to sleep at night.
The next morning D-530 begins to see the world differently. R-13 visits and is still shaken from the execution. He wants to write something to be included in the Integral. “There are two in paradise and the choice was offered to them: happiness without freedom or freedom without happiness.” D-530 discovers R-13 knows I-330 also. He becomes jealous but keeps his emotions in check.
D-530 reads the book of poetry R-13 left him on his way to work on the train. It makes him think about spreading their beliefs to other planets.
D-530 wakes the next morning to fog. He is happy because O-90 is scheduled to visit that evening, the he gets a phone call from I-330. She tells him to meet her and skip work. She takes him to the Medical Bureau and talks the doctor into giving each of them passes due to illness. They take an aero to the ancient house. They have sex and then he goes home.
Expecting O-90 D-530 acquires a permission slip to close his curtains. Everyone begins to notice changes in him, including O-90 who says he is “no longer mine.” He is unable to have sex with her. She leaves in tears and D-530 blames I-330 of taking O-90 and R-13 from him. “yet, yet…nevertheless…”
The next day D-530 learns that while he was gone the day before a man without a number tried to enter the ship. He was captured and taken to the Operations Department, which had been compared to the Inquisition five hundred years ago.
It has been several days since D-530 wrote in the journal. He can’t stop thinking about I-330 and everything seems to be yellow. One of the nights she had a pink check on him, but did not show up. Thinking himself ill or mad, D-530 goes to the Medical Bureau. The doctor tells him that a “a soul has formed in you.” The cure is an operation to remove the “center for fancy.” Although D-530 is willing to undergo the surgery, it can’t be done because he is needed for the Integral.
D-530 rushes to the ancient house to find I-330. But S, a Guardian is there. D-530 hides from him. He finds a hidden passageway and finds himself in a long dark corridor. He suddenly sees the doctor. D-530 tells him he is looking for I-330 and the doctor gets her. She helps him and he wakes up in the courtyard of the ancient house.
After a fitful nights sleep full of dreams of I-330, D-530 wakes to begin his day. At breakfast he joins with everyone else for the required fifty chewing movements for each bite of food. Although he does everything like everyone else, D-530 still feels apart. That night he receives a letter from O-90 severing their relationship.
Finally the day arrives that D-530 is to meet I-330. She sends a man with a letter for him. The letter tells him to use the pink check, go into his room and close the curtains like she is with him. But, when he get back to his apartment O-90 is waiting. She wants to know if he received her letter and if he is in agreement. She says she will leave him but first she wants him to impregnate her even though she will go “under the machine of the Well-Doer.”
D-530 daydreams about the people on Venus or Uranus reading his journal and about O-90 receiving the death punishment for becoming pregnant as well as her naming him.
Record Twenty One
Again, on the required day, I-330 does not arrive but D-530 covers for her. After visiting the ancient house and finding it empty, D-530 notices a lot of aeros in the air. Rumors are traveling about that something will happen on the Day of Unanimity, but no one will tell D-530 what they are.
Record Twenty Two
D-530 thinks he sees I-330. But his frantic movements are stopped and declared to be ill and unable to regulate his emotions.
Record Twenty Three
The next evening D-530 goes into his apartment and finds I-330 waiting for him. He professes his devotion to her and she asks him if he wants to know everything. Then she asks about Integral and says she will tell him everything after the holiday.
Record Twenty Four
That evening everyone is given new unifs (uniforms) to wear for the celebration the next day. There will be an election of the Well-Doer.
Record Twenty Five
At the election D-530 sees I-330. She is with S and R-13. Everyone in favor of reelecting the current Well-Doer raise their hands. When they are asked to raise their hands if they are opposed, everyone sits quietly, until this time. I-330 raised her hand. This causes a riot. R-13 tries to carry I-330 to safety. She has been hurt. In a dash of jealousy D-530 stops R-13 and demands he put her down.
D-530 takes her in his arms.
Later at twenty-two o’clock. She is telling him about the joy of a tomorrow that is unpredictable. Then she tells him that if tomorrow doesn’t change, she will take him “there.” They are waiting in his apartment like everyone else.
Record Twenty Six
The next day the paper says that the Well-Doer was reelected for the forty-eighth time. The celebration was disrupted by “the enemies of happiness.” Since they are no longer part of the United State their votes don’t count. This makes D-530 happy because he thinks they are “saved.”
On his way to work D-530 sees a note on a wall that says “MEPHI”. The city becomes papered with the signs. D-530 wonders what there will be like.
Record Twenty Seven
I-330 meets D-530 and takes him beyond the Green Wall. The sun is brighter, the trees are taller, he doesn’t understand walking on grass. I-330 leads him to a clearing where he sees a group of people that are very different from the people in the city. Their bodies are covered with hair. Most of them were nude. I-330 separates from him and climbs up on a rock to address the people. She calls for the walls to come down, and the plans to expand the walls with the voyage of Integral. When the people call for the destruction of the space craft she corrects them and says they need to commandeer it.
When she tells the people he is the builder and will give it to them. They cheer him. D-530 thinks he sees S but when he points it out to I-330 she assures him no one can find them.
Record Twenty Eight
U tries to stop I-330 from visiting D-530. She thinks he needs to be protected like a child. He shouts at U to leave. I-330 tells him that something is happening. All the Auditoriums are closed. When she looked inside she saw tables and medics. He fears what she will do and begs her to stay. She takes his hand and tells him that his hairy hands are because one of his ancestors fell in love with one of those beyond the wall. She wonders if that is why she is attracted to him.
She recounts their history to him. After the two hundred year war many people were driven into the city to escape a black cloud. The had to live with the strict laws. But some stayed beyond the Green Wall. They were naked and hair grew on their bodies to protect them. They learned to live with nature.
She is one of the Mephi, or Mephisto. She begins to explain it like entropy, a happy equilibrium and energy, a destruction of equilibrium. Their Christian ancestors worshiped entropy. When she begins to tell him what she worships, they are interrupted by a knock at the door.
It is the man who brought notes from her to D-530. He tells them that S and the Guardians are in the building. She leaves and D-530 sits down at his desk to work on his journal. But then he becomes worried about what is written and fearful lest they should read it. He decides to write a few pages quickly they will approve of.
They burst into his room, and U comes up to tell them who he is and that he is always writing at his desk. S is pleased with what he reads. The Guardians leave.
Record Twenty Nine
D-530 receives word to meet I-330 at the ancient house. He is stopped by O-90. She tells him she is happy with her pregnancy. He admonishes her by reminding her that she will be executed when her pregnancy is discovered. Then suddenly he has an idea to save her. But she refuses to ask I-330 for help.
At the ancient house I-330 tells him that in two days when the Integral is scheduled for its test flight, they will take possession. She tells him there are twenty Mephis and if any more days pass they will perish. She wants him to lock everyone in the cafeteria while they steal the ship. He is afraid because she is planning a revolution.
Record Thirty One
The next day there is an announcement in the paper calling everyone to the auditoriums so they can go through the operation to remove their Fancy which is in the frontal lobe.
D-530 tries to get I-330 to delay her revolution. He goes out onto the street and sees a line of people waiting at the auditoriums for their operations. When he gets to work he learns the trial flight is delayed due to the operations. He goes back to his apartment and finds U waiting for him. She congratulates him on the upcoming operation. She tells him that she led the school children to the operation and had to tie them up afterwards.
Later when I-330 comes over she tells him good by because he will get the operation and then be “cleansed” of her. He chooses her over the blissful happiness of the operation. They renew their plans to take the ship.
Record Thirty Two
D-530 begins to make plans. He has the Second Builder put more fuel than necessary in the ship. Later D-530 is out for his daily walk when he sees a half human half machine leaving the auditorium. These were heavy wheeled automatons seemingly bound in iron and moved by an invisible mechanism. Not people, but a sort of human-like tractor. Over their heads, floating in the air – a white banner with a golden sun embroidered on it, and the rays of the sun: “We are the first! We have been operated upon! Follow us, all of you!” Then they begin to herd the people into the auditoriums. When the people figure this out they begin to run.
D-530 stops for breath at the door of his building. A terrified O-90 runs up to him. She agrees to go to I-330 for help. As he is leading her to I-330 he realizes S is following them. Not wanting to lead him to I-330 he takes O-90 to his house. He gives her a note to take to I-330 and stays. He doesn’t think S will follow her.
Record Thirty Three
The next morning the paper says that any who do not come to be operated on today will go to the machine of the Well-Doer. D-530 plans to leave in the Integral.
Record Thirty Four
D-530 arrives to a full crew waiting to take off. He delivers orders and calls for the ship to go up forty five degrees. They broke through the atmosphere. He rushes to the saloon where he sees the Mephi. He asks for I-330 and learns she is on the radio. She tells him that O-90 came to her and she sent her to safety.
When he returns to the command deck he tells them to go back closer to Earth. They eagerly look at the ground and see ruins of cities. They see horses galloping with riders. D-530 refuses to allow I-330 to take the ship. He is taken into the saloon with everyone else. The Second Builder knocks him out.
Record Thirty Five
He wakes up with a bandaged head and a desire to kill U because she betrayed him. He puts his manuscript in a metal tube and goes to find her. Finally she comes to his room where he has pulled the curtains. He tries to hit her with his pipe but she misunderstands and thinks he is there to rape her. He begins to laugh so hard that he drops the pipe. The phone rings and it is the Well-Doer ordering him to come. Before he goes D-530 asks U if she gave I-330’s name to the Guardians. She didn’t because she was afraid he would stop loving her.
Record Thirty Six
The Well-Doer confronts him and tells D-530 how disappointed he is. The Well-Doer compares himself to the men who hung Christ on the Cross. Then he asks D-530 if he ever wondered if they only chose him because he was the builder of the Integral. D-530 runs away and falls down at the base of the Machine.
Record Thirty Seven
While D-530 is in the refectory eating there is an explosion and birds fly over head. The Green Wall has been blown up. They destroyed the Machine. D-530 stops a Mephi and asks where I-330 is. He runs to her apartment and finds it trashed. Pink checks with his number on them cover the floor. Unable to find her, D-530 goes home and sleeps.
Record Thirty Eight
The next morning D-530 wakes to find I-330 sitting on a chair. When he tries to explain what happened she tells him not to bother. Then she lowers the curtains so they can have sex one last time. When he asks if she only came to find out what he said to the Well-Doer, she just looks at him. Then she leaves.
Record Thirty Nine
The next morning D-530 decides on a suicide mission. The streets are almost deserted. He stumble across the corpse of R-13. He runs in to the Bureau of Guardians where he finds a slow moving line of Numbers. Then he asks S to speak to him in his office. D-530 finally wants to talk about I-330 to a Guardian. After telling S the whole story, S tells him that he already knew it. He was there when she introduced D-530 to the Mephi.
D-530 dashes out of the office and finds himself in the bathroom of the Underground Railroad. There is an old man sitting next to him who tells him that he has discovered there is no infinity. All things are finite.
D-530 asks for some paper so he can write the last of these notebooks. Then he suddenly turns to the old man and asks, “where your finite universe ends, what is there?” The man had no time to answer because they heard footsteps.
D-530 wakes to supreme happiness. He has had the operation and then told the Well-Doer everything he knew about the “enemies of happiness.” I-330 was brought in for questioning but D-530 did not recognize her. After torture she did not reveal anything. Others did and the next day they are scheduled for execution.
The city is still in chaos, but D-530 is sure it is almost over because “Reason must prevail.”
One State – a character within itself. The government is totalitarian. A police state that regiments the life of all its citizens down to the smallest degree. They live in glass apartments so they can be viewed at all times. They rise at the same time, eat their food at the same time (fifty chews per bite) Their spoons rise at the same time in every apartment. They wear uniforms with their numbers on badges. They participate in daily walks for exercise at the same time and in groups of four. Every step is in sync. There is no love or emotion. Sex is between a man and woman and the only time the curtains can be closed, for exactly fifteen minutes. They use tickets for each encounter with a preapproved partner.
Free thought is though of as a disease and treated as epilepsy. Punishment for crimes of free thought are punishable by death. The government develops and operation that turns people into obedient puppets and some of them into people-tractors.
D-503 – the builder of the space craft, Integral. At the beginning of the book he is living in blissful harmony. As a philosopher-mathematician he is given the task of writing a journal to be included in Integral so other planets can learn about the smoothly running totalitarian society he lives in. He is happy with his supremely regimented life.
After he meets I-330 his life begins to change. He becomes deeply in love and his sentences begin to fragment. His thoughts are jumbled. Although he wants to be with her and stand by her ideas of free thought, he still yearns for the control of the Well-Doer. He is both attracted and repelled by I-330. He is terrified of her also. For the first time in his life he has dreams at night. When he tries to report it to the doctor he is told he must not have the operation until the space craft is finished. After he is brought in for the operation he betrays her because he has no feelings for her at all. He is back to his blissful ignorance.
I-330 – a rebel. She is tall and thin with sharp teeth. She is the leader of the Melphi who are trying to bring down the One State and open the city up to the outside world. Her plan is to get control of the Integral and fly away. Also stop One State from spreading propaganda across the universe. She smokes and drinks. When D-530 doesn’t turn her in to the Guardians, she decides to use him for the revolution. The text sometimes thinks she is in love with him and sometimes thinks she is just using him.
In the end she is captured because D-530 turns her in after he goes through the operation to erase his thoughts of “Fancy.” She is tortured but never speaks. Then she is executed.
O-90 – D-530’s lover at the first of the story. She wants to become pregnant even though she knows the punishment is death if she is discovered. D-530 impregnates her and then asks I-330 to get her out of the city and to safety.
Well-Doer – the leader of the One State and the Guardians. He is on his forty-eighth term in office and is cruel. He manipulates the people. He executes people personally who commit any infraction. Especially disparaging words toward him. He thinks he is God.
Yevgeny Zamyatin Biography
Born in Lebedyan, Russia in 1884, Yevgeny Zamyatin was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest and a musician. He didn’t have any friends and spent his time with books. He would lay under the piano while his mother played and read books.
From the years 1902 to 1908 he studied naval engineering. While in school he joined the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks were a Social Democratic Party that advocated the removal of power from the proletariat. For this reason he was arrested during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and sent to Siberia.
After escaping he went to Saint Petersburg and then to Finland where he finished his studies. In 1916 he was sent to the United Kingdom where he supervised the building of the icebreaker ships used to break through ice in the colder climates.
He returned to Russia in time for the October Revolution in 1917. During this time he wrote The Islanders and A Fisher of Men. Both of these satirized English life. He also edited journals and translated books by Jack London, H. G. Wells and others into Russian.
In 1911 he was arrested again for his writing. He was allowed amnesty in 1913. He wrote A Provincial Tale in 1913 that brought him some fame. But the next year he wrote At World’s End which made the Russian Military look bad and he was sent to court. He also wrote quite a few articles for the Marxist newspapers. He also wrote short stories in the form of a fairy tale. The stories were used to put across a satirical criticism of Communisim.
When Zamyatin wrote We it met with a vast amount of controversy because of the censorship laws in place in Russia. He smuggled it out to a New York publisher. Where it met with acclaim. He also smuggled the original manuscript to Prague. The book received the Prometheus Award in 1994 in the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame.
Yevgeny Zamyatin requested permission to leave the Soviet Union and become exiled from Joseph Stalin. Because he had antagonized so much of the Party and the Union of Soviet Writers, his exile request was granted. He wanted to flee the constrictions to writing and what he saw as a death sentence. He and his wife settled in Paris.
This was in 1931. Six years later in 1937 he died of a heart attack in poverty. There were only a small number of friends to mourn him at his grave. He was buried in Cimetiere de Thiais in South Paris.
Although his work was banned in his native country, Zamyatin was a great influence on future writers. H. G. Wells, Carl Jung, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Kurt Vonnegut to name a few.
Because so much of his writings were so critical of the Russian government and Communism, he was marked as one of the first Soviet Dissidents. Since he was a Bolshevik, Zamyatin was greatly troubled by the CPSU, or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.