Creative Project -Commentary

‘Utopia’, coined by Sir Thomas More (1516) is the terminology used to describe the belief or interest in the design of a “perfect imaginary world” (The British Library 2021). By writing three individual diary entries, this creative project encompasses economical harmony, ecological balance and the evolution of a flawless human race, the core features of a utopian society. Using chief influences from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921) and William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), these dairy entries aim to explore the relationship between humanity and nature, the theme of morality and the idea of the individual.

The relationship between humanity and nature is established in the first diary entry with the speaker describing humanity’s adaption and conformity to nature and its existence based on the seasons. Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890) depicts a socialist utopian world where machinery and industrialisation no longer exist and society’s embracement of nature will improve their way of living and attitude to life. The utopia’s depiction of humanity’s coexistence with nature is heavily influenced from Morris’ own fascination and appreciation for nature, particularly reflected through the Kelmscott Press Edition of the novel, featuring decorative illustrations of flowers around the boarders of the page. Morris’ own publication company intentionally illustrate the boarders to emphasise the literature’s exploration of beauty and nature as critical elements of a utopian society. Similarly, the diary entries explore the embracement of nature by using it as a model to schedule and control how society operates with human and animal mating seasons aligning and hibernation being undergone by humans as well.
Alongside the embracement of nature, Morris’ novel rejects technology and industrialisation and glorifies the celebration of people’s craftsmanship. In News from Nowhere, people worked for a sense of pleasure and individual satisfaction whilst in the diary entries, working provides people with a sense of purpose and enables them to be a pragmatic cog in the cycle of society. Since there is no monetary value assigned to each profession, society work to ensure the successful social coexistence and functioning of society, mirroring the way of the ecosystem. The diary entries highlights humanity’s past obsession with industrial advancement as catalysing its downfall and preventing the peaceful coexistence between humanity and nature. The absence of the capitalist value of financial domination eradicates the concept of corruption enables society to practice a “comfortable, materialistic, moralistic” lifestyle that can encompass all members of society instead of a selective few (Kumar 1993:138). By rejecting industrialisation for the embracement of nature, the utopia depicted in the diary entries mirrors Morris’ socialistic pro-nature News from Nowhere whilst presenting society as self-destructive unless willing to embrace the saviour that is nature and the functioning of the ecosystem.

The theme of morality is prominent in the second diary entry with the speaker debating whether the concept of morality is understood throughout the ecosystem. In Plato’s Republic (c. 375BCE) to achieve an absolute state of justice, morality and the creation of an ideal state are intertwined allowing morality and ethics to be a primary concern of a utopian society. However, in Zamyatin’s We (1921)all aspects of society are determined by numerical calculations therefore the society’s judicial system is based upon the “unalterable and everlasting … four rules of arithmetic” and D-503 believes that a “moral system built on the four rules will prevail as great” (Zamyatin 1921:100). Both D-503’s initial beliefs about the moral system and the first dairy entry suggest that even though morality is not centralised, society can still function efficiently as society’s focus is on functional pragmatics rather than emotional intentions, ultimately still being a utopic society. As the diary entries progress the speaker begins to realise that although society benefits from its submission to the ways of nature, the absence of an authoritative and dependable justice system will result in society’s inevitable decline. Similar to Plato’s Republic, morality is centralised and the speaker realises that without the concept of morality, society’s selfish desires and actions will go unpunished resulting in an unjust and dystopic lifestyle. In Zamyatin’s We, the concept of morality is centralised as D-503 begins to realise that the “justification of a government reducing individuals to a number implies moral error” (Dennis and McGiveron 2000).

The theme of morality closely intertwines with the idea of the individual as D-503 realises the immorality of reducing individuals to a numerical identity. Contrastingly in the third diary entry the speaker realises that without a moral compass the conformity to nature is futile and that being bound to the cycle of nature is an oppressive take on society, stripping it of freedom and individualism. In We, D-503’s internal struggle between his ‘old-self’ of machine-like logic and his ‘new-self’ of primitive passion and human emotion (Dennis and McGiveron 2000) is mirrored in the diary entries. As the entries progress, the speaker becomes more uncertain whether the conformity to nature is the most beneficial way for society to progress and she suffers her own internal conflict after realising the importance of morality in society and the absence of it in nature. The exploration of the idea of the individual is crucial to a utopic society as it provides readers with an intricate understanding of the psychological understanding of the utopia’s human race.
Finally, the entries reflect a similar sectioned structure to Morris’ News from Nowhere with the first section outlining the different functioning aspects of society whilst the second and third section discuss the effect of the clockwork upon society. The entries also encompass a formalised tone which depletes into a despairing and overly confused one as the entries progress which is similar to the writing tone and character construction Zamyatin uses in We.

In conclusion, although the entries predominantly reflect a utopic society like Morris’, they highlight the individual’s psychological decline and epiphanic realisation that regardless the intention of the restriction, any degree of restriction is synonymic to a dystopic society. In my opinion, any form of restriction upon society can result in the society to be perceived as dystopic rather than utopic as it prevents individuals from having complete and unhindered freedom of choice and morality.

List of References:

Dennis, B.J. and McGiveron, R.O. (2000) ‘Zamyatin’s We’ The Explicator [online] 58 (4), 211-213. available from < file:///C:/Users/Diya%20Chopra/Downloads/Zamyatin’s_We%20Explicator%20(1).pdf> [3 July 2021]

Kumar, K. (1993) ‘News From Nowhere: the Renewal of Utopia’.  History of Political Thought [online] 14 (1), 133-143. Available from <> [4 July 2021]

The British Library (2021) Thomas More’s Utopia [online] available from <> [2 July 2021]

Zamyatin, Y. (1921) We. [online] trans. Clarence Brown. London: Penguin Books Ltd. available from <> [4 July 2021]

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