Utopia

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Gold Symbol Icon

In Utopia, gold represents the goal and prize of human pride and domination. Rich men and women adorn themselves with it to prove their superiority to others; thieves and princes exploit others to get it; nations send men out to fight and die for it. And all this occurs despite the fact that gold is, practically speaking, useless. The Utopians, in contrast to their European counterparts, loathe gold, even though they don’t by any means lack it. The Utopians even fetter their slaves with gold to shame them, just as people in other societies symbolically fetter themselves to their own lust for gold. Ultimately More presents gold as a proud, idle metal: nothing useful comes of it, and it can’t be made into anything useful. We might think, as the Utopians no doubt do, that any society that considers gold to be valuable is a wicked society indeed. Raphael Hythloday, for one, would agree; he thinks that the principle condition which gives rise to gold-lust is the institution of private property, which in his account turns people into ravenous getters and debauched spenders. The Utopians, however, have killed pride and idleness by abolishing private property. When everyone has what they need, materially and spiritually, they have no need of vain superfluities like gold.

Gold Quotes in Utopia

The Utopia quotes below all refer to the symbol of Gold. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of Utopia published in 2009.
Book 2: Of the Travelling of the Utopians Quotes

Gold and silver, whereof money is made, they [the Utopians] do so use as none of them doth more esteem it than the very nature of the thing deserveth. And then who doth not plainly see how far it is under iron, as without the which men can no better live than without fire and water?

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In these lines, we learn about one of the most striking details of Utopian society: their disdain for gold and other precious metals and gems that European society so cherishes. Hythloday explains that their disdain is born out of practicality: you cannot do much with gold and silver other than make coins and jewelry. Both metals are seen as being infinitely inferior to "iron," which is as essential as "fire and water" to the Utopians.

The Utopians are attracted to gold, much like Europeans, but they fight their attraction by making only loathsome things out of the metal: chamber pots, fetters for slaves, and jewelry meant to shame wrong-doers. Similarly, Utopians gives precious stones and jewels to their children to play withso that the children will come to think of these things as immature and embarrassing when they are grown. These efforts on the part of the Utopians reveal that they have the same instinctual interest in gold and preciousstones, but unlike the Europeans who give into that instinct, the Utopians fight it in the name of a healthy society.

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They [the Utopians] marvel also that gold, which of its own nature is a thing so unprofitable, is now among all people in so high estimation, that man himself, by whom, yea, and for the use of whom, it is so much set by, is in much less estimation than the gold itself.

Related Characters: Raphael Hythloday (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

The Utopians are well-aware of the status that gold holds in other areas of the world, and they are confounded and disturbed by the fact that a man's life is considered less valuable than gold by many people in other countries. It is imminentlypractical, as well as humane, for the Utopians to value human life over gold.

Utopians are also disturbed by the fact that, in many societies, money seems to be a stand-in for virtue and intelligence. In Europe, an idiot will be well-respected if he is rich. This is a perversion of the Utopians' most cherished values of hard work and self-improvement. Instead of working hard and enriching their society, rich men and women are free to be idle and live off the work of others. Thus, introducing gold and money into a society is a poisonous practice as it enables people to avoid work and public service.

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Gold Symbol Timeline in Utopia

The timeline below shows where the symbol Gold appears in Utopia. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...rich Roman Crassus says, a prince who must maintain an army can never have enough gold, and a prince can never do an injustice, because all men are his already. Poverty,... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
...The Macarians do not permit their king to have more than a thousand pounds of gold or silver in his treasury, and by this measure they make sure that he enriches... (full context)
Book 2: Of the Travelling of the Utopians
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...is sold at a reasonable, low price. By this means, the Utopians bring back both gold and silver as well as those resources they lack, which is virtually only iron. (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Utopians value gold and silver far less than iron, because iron is useful and essential for life. People... (full context)
Travel, Discovery, and Place Theme Icon
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
...then, the three ambassadors, accompanied by a hundred servants, dressed in gorgeous silks and dazzling gold jewelry and precious stones—only for the Utopians to mistake the ambassadors’ servants for lords and... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
The Utopians wonder why anyone would be enamored of gold when they have the stars to gaze upon. They think it absurd that in many... (full context)
Book 2: Of Their Military Discipline
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
Property, Labor, and Utopian Society Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...fight “dirty” in war: they distribute pamphlets among their enemy’s population, promising substantial rewards of gold and land to anyone who kills or captures their enemy’s prince and other proclaimed adversaries—alive... (full context)
Bad Governance, Pride, and Idleness Theme Icon
The Public Good, Virtue, and Religion Theme Icon
Ideals and Practicality Theme Icon
The Ambiguities of Utopia Theme Icon
...that they aren’t deployed in war unless the need arises. Instead, the Utopians store up gold, silver, and debt abroad for virtually one purpose alone: to avoid war altogether, or to... (full context)