While reading this, the predominant picture in my mind was a game of X's and O's.
O being the known variable here, X the great unknown, the missing figure – the mysterious woman.
Mathematical metaphors run heavy through We
, this predecessor to classic dystopian novels like 1984
and Brave New World
. Zamyatin presents the totalitarian OneState (United State in the English translation I read, Einziger Staat [Only State] in my German translation) through the eyes of unreliable narrator D-503, a state mathematician and builder of the spaceship Integral
. In expressionistic, emotional, often disjointed prose he gives us D-503's account written for unknown recipients somewhere in deep space.
When D-503 meets I-330 – the X in our equation – he falls in love, develops a soul, becomes self-aware: Before self-consciousness comes love and/or desire, with desire comes jealousy/possessiveness, a sense of „mine“, which develops into a sense of „I“.
This would have worked even better if the characters hadn't been using quite individualistic terms from the start. It might have been the translation(s), but for me it didn't seem all that consistent with the totalitarian, collectivist society D-503 is living in.
But that's a minor niggle. Above all, We
is a work of great stylistic grace, a stream-of-consciousness-like, disjointed diary of a man descending from order into chaos, from the collectivist „we“ into the madness that is the individualistic „I“, all the beautiful, confusing madness that is humanity.
The style might not be for everyone, but it reflects the protagonists mind with utter perfection.