Essay on We – Zamyatin

1 January 2017

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.

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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 v-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.

Surrealism is the art of the incomprehensible, and it is quite possible that not even D-503 can understand why he began to picture upside down buildings. Yet it was his own mind that created those words and experiences. Therefore D-503’s increasing use of surreal dream like imagery highlights the growth of a mysterious world within his own mind. As he experiences the growth of the surreal, the unknown within his mind, he begins to explore this world. One of the first opportunities for D-503 to gain knowledge of his inner world was during an intimate moment with I-330 when he envisioned himself “(becoming) glass” and “seeing myself, inside”.

Glass is valued in the One State for its clarity and transparency and just for that moment he could see his inner self with that clarity. During his awakening he views the whole world as “one immense woman, and we are in her very womb, we are not yet born, we are joyfully ripening”. Instead of reaching the “ultimate wisdom”, D-503 is still growing. He is still expanding his knowledge, knowledge of the mysterious inner world inside him. This explains why D-503 often pursues his surreal imagery, often letting it run inside his diary until it reaches his conclusion.

For example, he lets “it is foggy” turn to “crazy clouds…. Are getting closer” which turns to “and there is already no distinction between the earth and the sky” which plunges even deeper into the metaphor, turning into “everything is flying, melting, falling with nothing to catch onto”! By letting his surreal imagery continue in his diary he endeavours to understand its source and its implications. In using his diary to pursue his surreal imagery, however, he is forced to identify “I”, that is, he has to take into account the uniqueness and individuality of his inner world.

In the One State it is encouraged to “forget you are a gram, and feel as though you are a millionth of a ton”. In other words, you are defined not by yourself, the “Gram” but by your society the “ton”. As D-503 puts it “We” is divine and “I” is satanic. Yet because he is writing a diary he must use “I” often, much more often that “we”, even in earlier records like Records 1 & 3 because a diary is a story about yourself. It is not like a poem, where the poet’s personal life doesn’t even need a mention. In fact after the “we is divine” speech he does not use “we” again for the rest of the record only “I”.

In the records that employ a large amount of surreal imagery and self-reflections, such as records 13 and 18, the “I” to “We” use ratio becomes even more disproportionate. The importance D-503 places on the word “I” and it’s meaning gets larger and larger, until the end, when D-503 feels “above everyone, I was myself, a separate thing, a world : I stopped being a component, as I had been and I became the number one”. It is possibly because of the way D-503’s awakening has separated him from the One State and given him such radical new ideas about worlds not under the One State’s jurisdiction that he begins to develop a fear of his awakening.

Most noticeably he views it as a sickness. For example, he becomes aware of himself and the importance of “I” he also stresses that “the only things that are aware of themselves and conscious of their individuality are irritated eyes, cut fingers, sore teeth……. Isn’t it clear that individual consciousness is just sickness? ” Even I-330’s friend the doctor describes D-503’s awakening as “A most dangerous illness”. It is possibly because of this fear that D-503 that he tries to withdraw himself as far as possible from the awakening, creating a split in his own mind.

When he “became glass” he saw two D-503’s. “One me was the former, D-503, cipher D-503, but the other one…. Before he only just managed to stick his shaggy paws out of my shell”. He refers this “shaggy paws” D-503 as “him”, with “black eyebrows that…. (have) been struck through with a straight line; and a vertical wrinkle between them”. These two grooves make another X shape, another mystery for D-503. The “shaggy paws” D-503 is also “both here and infinitely far away at the same time”, like the “logical jungles” D-503 described later.

It is almost as if he is trying to store every aspect of the new mysterious world he has awakened to into another D-503. And in some ways the schism is caused by the “cipher D-503”, whenever D-503 is expressing his “shaggy paws” personality all references to his other self disappear, with only very few references to “his former self”. Therefore the schizophrenia in D-503 is caused by his “cipher” forms fearful reaction to the new awakening. The awakening of D-503 to a mysterious universe both outside and inside his psyche is a phenomenon carefully nurtured and detailed in We.

Over the course of the novel D-503 transforms from a loyal cipher, a “millionth of a ton”, living in a world where everything is finite, everything is simple, everything is calculable” to a “gram” aware of a dark and complex universe which transcends the world of mathematics and the One State with it and as the “gram” part of D-503 battles with the “millionth of a ton” part of D-503, he also uses his reflective diary format and surreal imagery to explore the uncharted depths of his inner consciousness, a world beyond mathematics and reason, a world which is ultimately taken away by the Great Operation of the gruesome conclusion of the novel.

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