By Yevgeny Zamyatin
Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin (1884-1937) was a Russian author, who wrote science fiction and political satire.
Zamyatin is best known for his novel We, set in a dystopian future police state. In 1921, We became the first
work banned by the Soviet Union’s censorship board; Zamyatin managed to have his work smuggled to the West
and later lived out the rest of his life in exile. This novel is thought to have inspired the books Brave New World
and 1984. As you read, take notes on Zamyatin’s depiction of this future society, its values, and how it differs
from modern society.
The Wisest of Lines
This is merely a copy, word for word, of what was
published this morning in the State newspaper:
“In another hundred and twenty days the
building of the Integral will be completed. The
great historic hour is near, when the first
Integral will rise into the limitless space of the universe. One thousand years ago your heroic ancestors
subjected the whole earth to the power of the United State.2
A still more glorious task is before you: the
integration of the indefinite equation of the Cosmos by the use of the glass, electric, fire-breathing
Integral. Your mission is to subjugate3
to the grateful yoke4
of reason the unknown beings who live on
other planets, and who are perhaps still in the primitive state of freedom. If they will not understand that
we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy.
But before we take up arms, we shall try the power of words.
- At the beginning of each chapter, the narrator and “author” includes a set of keywords, which he thinks are
important to the bulk of the entry.
- Most translations use the term “One State.”
- Subjugate (verb) to bring under control; to make submissive
- A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or
cart that they are to pull. Here, it is used to mean “servitude.”
“In the name of the Well-Doer,5
the following is announced herewith to all Numbers of the United State:
“Whoever feels capable must consider it his duty to write treatises, poems, manifestoes, odes, and other
compositions on the greatness and the beauty of the United State.
“This will be the first cargo which the Integral will carry.
“Long live the United State! Long live the Numbers!
“Long live the Well-Doer!!!”
I feel my cheeks burn as I write this. To integrate the colossal, universal equation! To unbend the wild curve, to
straighten it out to a tangent—to a straight line! For the United State is a straight line, a great, divine, precise,
wise line, the wisest of lines!
I, D-503, the builder of the Integral, I am only one of the many mathematicians of the United State. My pen,
which is accustomed to figures, is unable to express the march and rhythm of consonance;6
therefore I shall try
to record only the things I see, the things I think, or, to be more exact, the things we think. Yes, “we”; that is
exactly what I mean, and We, therefore, shall be the title of my records. But this will only be a derivative7
life, of our mathematical, perfect life in the United State. If this be so, will not this derivative be a poem in itself,
despite any limitations? It will. I believe it, I know it.
My cheeks still burn as I write this. I feel something similar to what a woman probably feels when for the first
time she senses within herself the pulse of a tiny, blind human being. It is I, and at the same time it is not I. And
for many long months it will be necessary to feed it with my life, with my blood, and then with a pain at my
heart, to tear it from myself and lay it at the feet of the United State.
Yet I am ready, as everyone, or nearly everyone of us, is. I am ready.
- Most translations use the term “the Benefactor,” the head of the United or One State.
- Consonance (noun) harmony or agreement among components
- Derivative (noun) something that is based on another source and is often lesser in quality than the original
I looked over all that I wrote down yesterday and I find that my descriptions are not sufficiently clear. That is,
everything would undoubtedly be clear to one of us, but who knows to whom my Integral will someday bring
these records? Perhaps you, like our ancestors, have read the great book of civilization only up to the page of
nine hundred years ago. Perhaps you don’t know even such elementary8
things as the Hour Tables, Personal
Hours, Maternal Norm, Green Wall, Well-Doer. It seems droll to me, and at the same time it is very difficult to
explain these things. It is as though, let us say, a writer of the twentieth century should start to explain in his
novel such words as coat, apartment, wife. Yet if his novel had been translated for primitive races, how could he
have avoided explaining what a coat meant? I am sure that the primitive man would look at a coat and think,
“What is this for? It is only a burden, an unnecessary burden.” I am sure that you will feel the same, if I tell you
that not one of us has ever stepped beyond the Green Wall since the Two Hundred Years’ War.
But, dear readers, you must think, at least a little. It helps.
It is clear that the history of mankind, as far as our knowledge goes, is a history of the transition from nomadic
forms to more sedentary9
ones. Does it not follow that the most sedentary form of life (ours) is at the same
time the most perfect one? There was a time when people rushed from one end of the earth to another, but
this was the prehistoric time when such things as nations, wars, commerce, different discoveries of different
Americas still existed. Who has need of these things now?
I admit that humanity acquired this habit of a sedentary form of life not without difficulty and not all at once.
When the Two Hundred Years’ War had destroyed all the roads, which later were overgrown with grass, it was
probably very difficult at first. It must have seemed uncomfortable to live in cities which were cut off from each
other by green debris. But what of it? Man soon after he lost his tail probably did not learn at once how to chase
away flies without its help. I am almost sure that at first he was even lonesome without his tail; but now, can
you imagine yourself with a tail? Or can you imagine yourself walking in the street naked, without clothes? (It is
possible you go without clothes still.) Here we have the same case. I cannot imagine a city which is not
surrounded by a Green Wall; I cannot imagine a life which is not surrounded by the figures of our Tables.
Tables…. Now even, purple figures look at me austerely10 yet kindly from the golden background of the wall.
Involuntarily I am reminded of the thing which was called by the ancients “Sainted Image,” and I feel a desire to
compose verses, or prayers, which are the same. Oh, why am I not a poet, so as to be able to glorify the Tables
properly, the heart and pulse of the United State!
All of us and perhaps all of you read in childhood, while in school, that greatest of all monuments of ancient
literature, the Official Railroad Guide. But if you compare this with the Tables, you will see side by side graphite
and diamonds. Both are the same, carbon. But how eternal, transparent, how shining the diamond! Who does
not lose his breath when he runs through the pages of the Guide? The Tables transformed each one of us,
actually, into a six-wheeled steel hero of a great poem. Every morning, with six-wheeled precision, at the same
hour, at the same minute, we wake up, millions of us at once. At the very same hour, millions like one, we begin
our work, and millions like one, we finish it. United into a single body with a million hands, at the very same
second, designated by the Tables, we carry the spoons to our mouths; at the same second we all go out to walk,
go to the auditorium, to the halls for the Taylor exercises,11 and then to bed.
- Elementary (adjective) relating to the simplest principles of something
- Sedentary (adjective) not migratory; settled down; unmoving
- Austere (adjective) stern and cold in appearance, often marked simply or unadorned
I shall be quite frank: even we have not attained the absolute, exact solution of the problem of happiness. Twice
a day, from sixteen to seventeen o’clock and from twenty-one to twenty-two, our powerful united organism
dissolves into separate cells; these are the personal hours designated by the Tables. During these hours you
would see the curtains discreetly drawn in the rooms of some; others march slowly over the pavement of the
main avenue or sit at their desks as I sit now. But I firmly believe, let them call me an idealist and a dreamer, I
believe that sooner or later we shall somehow find a place in the general formula even for these hours.
Somehow, all of the 86,400 seconds will be incorporated in the Tables of Hours.
I have had opportunity to read and hear many improbable things about those times when human beings still
lived in the state of freedom, that is, in an unorganized primitive state. One thing has always seemed to me
most improbable: how could a government, even a primitive government, permit people to live without
anything like our Tables—without compulsory walks, without precise regulation of the time to eat, for instance?
They would get up and go to bed whenever they liked. Some historians even say that in those days the streets
were lighted all night, and all night people went about the streets.
 That I cannot understand. True, their minds were rather limited in those days. Yet they should have
understood, should they not, that such a life was actually wholesale murder, although slow murder, day after
day? The State (humanitarianism)12 forbade in those days the murder of one person, but it did not forbid the
killing of millions slowly and by inches. To kill one person, that is, to reduce the individual span of human life by
fifty years, was considered criminal, but to reduce the general sum of human life by fifty million years was not
considered criminal! Isn’t it droll?13 Today this simple mathematical moral problem could easily be solved in
half a minute’s time by any ten-year-old Number, yet they couldn’t do it! All their Immanuel Kant’s14 together
couldn’t do it! It didn’t enter the heads of all their Kant’s to build a system of scientific ethics, that is, ethics
based on adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
Further, is it not absurd that their State (they called it a State!) left sexual life absolutely without control? On the
contrary, whenever and as much as they wanted… absolutely unscientific, like beasts! And like beasts they
blindly gave birth to children! Is it not strange to understand gardening, chicken farming, fishery (we have
definite knowledge that they were familiar with all these things), and not to be able to reach the last step in this
logical scale, namely, production of children—not to be able to discover such things as Maternal and Paternal
It is so droll, so improbable, that while I write this I am afraid lest you, my unknown future readers, should think
I am merely a poor jester. I feel almost as if you may think I want simply to mock you and with a very serious
face try to relate absolute nonsense to you. But first I am incapable of jesting, for in every joke a lie has its
hidden function. And second, the science of the United State contends that the life of the ancients was exactly
what I am describing, and the science of the United State does not make mistakes! Yet how could they have
State logic, since they lived in a condition of freedom like beasts, like apes, like herds? What could one expect of
them, since even in our day one hears from time to time, coming from the bottom, the primitive depths, the
echo of the apes?
- referring to mathematical theorem exercises
- the promotion of human welfare and social reform
- Droll (adjective) having a humorous or odd quality
- Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher who is considered a major figure of modern
Fortunately it happens only from time to time, very seldom. Happily, it is only a case of small parts breaking;
these may easily be repaired without stopping the eternal great march of the whole machine. And in order to
eliminate a broken peg we have the skillful heavy hand of the Well-Doer, we have the experienced eyes of the
By the way, I just thought of that Number whom I met yesterday, the double-curved one like the letter S;15 I
think I have seen him several times coming out of the Bureau of Guardians. Now I understand why I felt such an
instinctive respect for him and a kind of awkwardness when I saw that strange 1-330 at his side… I must confess
that, that I… they ring the bell, time to sleep, it is twenty-two-thirty. Till tomorrow, then.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924) is in the public domain.
Unless otherwise noted, this content is licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
- The narrator is referring to this person’s, or Number’s, posture, which is curving like an “S” shape.
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to share
your original ideas in a class discussion.
- In the context of this excerpt, what should the future look like? Is this excerpt an example of an
ideal future? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history
in your answer.
- What should the role of technology be in our future? What of the role of government? Cite evidence
from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.