Sir Thomas More

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Utopia makes teaching easy.

Utopia: Genre 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

Utopia, as the name suggests, is a genre-defining novel. Though More was not the first to speculate about the creation of ideal societies—Plato, whom More references frequently in the novel, was similarly interested in the concept—More was the first to use the now-ubiquitous term utopia as a descriptor. Many narrative elements associated with classical utopian fiction have their origins in More's novel: principally, themes of exploration, discovery, and latent imperialism. More, acting as both author and narrator, hears stories of Raphael's wonderful adventures in the as of yet predominantly unexplored "New World." In utopian novels written in later centuries, the protagonist will either directly or indirectly explore some equivalent "New World," whether it's under the Earth's crust or on an alien planet. This protagonist serves as the reader's entry point into the utopian world: as he or she learns more about rules, customs, and key scientific or technological advances, so does the reader.

Utopias are further used as vehicles for social criticism. By juxtaposing the fictionalized, ideal society with reality, the author is able to propose solutions for various social ills and inequalities. Dystopian fiction invites the same kind of juxtaposition, displaying a fictional society where social ills have been exacerbated instead of cured. In Book One, Raphael describes the problem with capital punishment as a solution to thievery in England; he then provides a better Utopian alternative. This conversation sheds light on a a problem that More and his contemporaries were likely looking to solve.