Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sir Thomas More's Utopia. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
- Full Title: Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae deque nova insula Utopia (A truly golden little book, no less beneficial than entertaining, of a republic’s best state and of the new island Utopia)
- When Written: 1515-1516
- Where Written: The Netherlands; England
- When Published: 1516
- Literary Period: Renaissance humanism
- Genre: Early “utopian fiction”; philosophical dialogue; satire
- Setting: Antwerp; England; the fictional island of Utopia
- Antagonist: Bad governance, pride, and idleness
- Point of View: First-person limited
The Utopian Genre. More’s Utopia is generally credited with establishing the utopian genre—but what characterizes the works that belong to this genre? The critic J.C. Davis advances an influential account in his Utopia and the Ideal Society (1981). He argues that, unlike other ideal world narratives, utopias idealize neither people nor nature; that is, people who appear in utopian works can be good or bad, just like in the real world, and nature can be both fruitful and hostile, just like in the real world. Utopias instead idealize “social attitude and structure,” and hold that people can devise political institutions capable of optimally organizing vice and nature in the service of human health and happiness. Whether this is the case, of course, has yet to be seen.
Utopia in the World and in Us. The critic Northrop Frye has two interrelated ideas about how a utopia manifests in the world. He thinks, for one thing, that the idea of “a limited Utopia in a restricted or enclosed space is an empty fantasy.” Rather, “Utopia must be a world-wide transformation of the whole social order or it is nothing.” How such a transformation might be effected is the subject of Frye’s second idea: “The real Utopia,” he writes, “is an individual goal, of which the disciplined society is an allegory.” It would seem that, for Frye, Utopia will be nothing more than an empty fantasy until we all build utopias in ourselves through education.