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Andrew Galloway

English 279

S. Covell

1 May 2006

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We

The Square Root of Negative One: A Study of the Unknown

“Since the number of numbers is infinite, how can there be a final one?”

“And how can there be a final revolution? There is no final one. The

number of revolutions is infinite” (Zamyatin 168).

The term “revolution” implies a circular motion, a circle, or some sort of elliptical

path in any given space. On any circular or elliptical path, no ends are evident, for they

do not exist. Revolution is never ending. Revolution is a constant. Where any sort of

governing power exists, there will always exist a force bent on that power’s collapse.

This is a constant, a truth regarding all existence. In our universe, conflict is absolute.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that “For every action, there is an equal and

opposite reaction.” This holds true throughout all of what we humans refer to as reality. If

the formation of a government of any kind is an action, then the opposite reaction is the

formation of a movement opposed to that government’s ways.

Revolution is inevitable in any society if that society is permitted to last long

enough for revolution to occur. It is the ultimate purpose of life to evolve, to move

forward in progress against all of life’s obstacles. It is the nature of anything with a

“soul” to long for better circumstances than it currently finds itself in. Governments, no

matter what their intentions may be, whether good or bad, will always be one of life’s
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obstacles. They will always be there to serve as a shield against that seemingly

unattainable goal, “true” freedom.

While true freedom is possible, it will never endure. When a society achieves true

freedom, chaos ensues, thus creating the need for order. It is human nature to argue over

everything, even the smallest of things. Arguments lead to conflicts. Conflicts require

settlements. Settlements require one who is a leader, one who is popular with the people

and who can persuade the conflicting parties to see things his or her way. Thus,

leadership is born anew, and, through the gathering of the leader’s followers in the name

of his or her cause, a government is created. For as long as free-thinking creatures roam

the universe, governments will exist. Therefore, freedom will always be suppressed.

Freedom in OneState, the government and society of the future as described in We, is

known simply as the chaos of the ancestors. Its suppression is backed by a noble cause, to

rid the people of the ability to commit wrongdoing. It is a disease, only to be sought after

by those with some sort of “mental sickness.” In Record 7 of D-503’s collective notes,

We, he says:

I hid behind the newspaper… and soon I read something that upset me so

much I forgot all about… everything. It was one short line: Reliable

sources report the discovery once again of signs pointing to an elusive

organization whose goal is liberation from the beneficent yoke of the

State.

He goes on to explain that:

Freedom and criminality are just as indissolubly linked as… the movement

of an aero[, a personal flying transportation vehicle, much like today’s


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airplanes, only more suited for personal commuting purposes] and its

velocity. When the velocity of an aero is reduced to 0, it is not in motion;

when a man’s freedom is reduced to zero, he commits no crimes… The

only means to rid man of crime is to rid him of freedom. (Zamyatin 36)

It is clear that this futuristic society invariably associates evil with freedom, which is

probably as accurate an assumption as they get. Consequently, freedom is all too

willingly given up by the people so that they may be rigidly controlled by OneState in

order to ensure that as little evil as possible will be committed at any one time by any one

of them.

This removal of freedom includes the systematic elimination of such basic human

items as imagination and love, among others. This provides the basis for life in OneState.

Every individual lives as a collective whole with the rest of OneState’s population.

Everyday life is carried out with mathematical precision, as mathematics is the one

undeviating truth of the universe that absolutely can not be corrupted by petty human

emotions or any other trifling matter. “[The people] are told what happiness is and then

are bound to it” (Covell). Because mathematics are the center of unwavering logic and

are contradictory to the meaningless evils spawned from the archaic abomination

OneState calls “imagination”, it is in the sanctity of mathematics that contentedness is

found.

Individuals in OneState do not have personal names, but instead are assigned a

number that serves as a means of distinguishing one individual from another. For

instance, the narrator of We, is known as D-503, and some of the Numbers he frequently

deals with throughout his narration include O-90, I-330, R-13, and S-4711. Daily
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schedules are assigned to individuals in the form of personal Tables of Hours.

Mathematical and scientific terminology is used to describe everyday items and events in

the most logical way possible. In Record 12 of We, D-503 symbolizes his unfamiliar

growing emotions as the irrational expression, √-1 (Zamyatin 39). In Record 2, he says,

"When [090] came in, my logical flywheel was still humming away inside me and the

inertia carried me on to start talking about the formula I’d just come up with––the one

containing us and the machines and the dance (Zamyatin 6).

Religion has been eradicated in OneState as part of the rationalization of their

world. D-503 describes the ancient Christian God as “irrational,” and “unknown,” as

opposed to OneState, “something rational and very precisely known.” The Benefactor is

the closest thing to divinity in OneState. He represents the perfection of logic and

everything else OneState stands for. In Record 9, D-503 explains during an execution

ceremony: “[The Christian] God gave them nothing but eternal tormented searching.

Their God couldn’t come up with any smarter idea than sacrificing yourself, never mind

why. But we, when we sacrifice to our God, OneState, we make a calm, rational, carefully

considered sacrifice” (Zamyatin 44). OneState and the Benefactor are Gods to the

populace in every sense that the Christian God wasn’t. They are physical and practical,

and they respond to the people’s needs, instead of hiding in shame behind a curtain of

false hopes and broken promises.

Such a fiercely systematic lifestyle slowly eats away at society’s tolerance for

monotony. In the dystopic world of OneState, the attempted perfection of life is doomed

to failure. The total suppression of passion and instinct of any kind is austerely absurd.

Emotions would have to grow so strong in someone at some point in time that he or she
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would be forced to question them. A certain amount of questioning would lead to new

levels of understanding, levels which are forbidden to be reached in OneState. Once

reached, however, these emotion driven levels would inevitably incite a need for

explanations. The means of attaining these explanations may eventually include a rising

against the institutions that withhold them. Others who have stumbled upon this thirst for

knowledge would find camaraderie in all those who shared their newfound way of

thinking. They would band together in a faction driven by the sole purpose of unearthing

the truth of things and beginning a new way of life, one unobscured by the pseudo-utopia

of OneState.

This very thing occurs to D-503 when I-330, one of the before mentioned

dissenters, seduces him and draws him into the rebellion that I-330 aligns herself with. D-

503 is thrust onto a whole new plane of perception. He begins to see, feel, and understand

irrational things. He accepts illogical happenings as normal, and soon finds himself

enjoying their presence. D allies himself with the rebellion and becomes a key factor in

the chaos that soon overwhelms OneState.

The allure of freedom, however savage it may be, is too powerful to allow it to slip

through society’s fingers. Revolution will bring the society away from the repetitive hell

of mathematical consistency, to the boundless bliss of freedom. That is, of course, until

the society remembers why it gave up freedom in the first place. Until then, √-1 will be

loved and taken for granted all around the world.


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Works Cited

Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We . New York: Penguin Group, 1993.

Covell, Scott. Class Lecture: We. English 279: Science Fiction and Futuristic Literature.

Antelope Valley College. Antelope Valley College, Lancaster, CA. 13 March 2006.

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