by Eugene Zamiatin
Essay by David H. Kessel
The United State is a technologically advanced society encased within a glass covering. Outside the city...outside The Green Wall, lies nature as people once knew it. Some people still live there...the "savages." Inside...the "healthy" people doubt of nothing...they have "everything" because they are "free" from their passion and sexual being...as well as from their "own foolish will." This is a closed society which desires to spread their "rationality" to other planets in order to "rescue" others from the plague of their freedom. In order to do so, the United State is constructing a spaceship called the Integral. It is the designer of this ship, D-503, who is the main character of We...along with I-330, a beautiful woman and...rebel! The novel itself consists of D-503's diary entries. He called his diary "We" because his original intention was to use it to describe how "we" think to the beings on other planets. However, his diary becomes the vehicle of his own "sickness" as I-330 reawakens within him an awareness of his own flesh and blood.
The story begins with D-503 being a well adjusted and happy "Number" within the organic machine. The Integral is just about complete. D-503 has a regular sexual partner, O-90...but he feels vaguely unsatisfied. This vagueness becomes transparent when he meets I-330 and has an unauthorized sexual affair with her...complete with forbidden feelings of love. He slowly but surely realizes that his "D-503 self" isn't his only self. He begins to doubt the authority (and goodness) of the Well-Doer. He finally finds out about the existence of rebels...living outside The Green Wall and who are infiltrators of the United State within the walls. He discovers I-330 and her mission...to get him to sabotage the Integral so the rebels can use it against the United State. He does this...but the rebellion is discovered by the Guardians and is squashed.
D-503 is then subjected to The Operation...a technological lobotomy which renders him incapable of independent thought and...creativeness. The Operation is the planned "final solution" by the Well-Doer for the total population. The rebellion prompts the acceleration of this "solution." After "curing" D-503, the Well-Doer has him watch the terrible torture and vaporization of I-330 under The Bell...a kind of test of The Operation. D-503 "passes" with flying colors...he doesn't even remember who she was...all the while looking straight into her eyes...D-503 is now totally "free."
This is a pessimistic novel...there's little hope at the end. But...that's its very point...its yet another warning about how we might just end up. Zamiatin affirms man's whole being and warns of the limits of "rational" and "scientific" dominance...coupled with mathematical efficiency. While at least partially a critique of the Soviet Union of Lenin's day (the Well-Doer represents Lenin), Zamiatin's scathing critique has a broader target...all authoritarian control, especially the type done in the "name" of the "people." That means its about us (we?), too, right?