We

by

Yevgeny Zamyatin

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The Variable X Symbol Analysis

The Variable X Symbol Icon

D-503 uses the mathematical variable “X” to convey unpredictability and unknowability throughout his records, and his choice to do so points to two crucial ideas. Firstly, it shows how heavily D-503 relies on math to quantify, relate to, and explain the world around him, especially things that are scary or unknown to him. Secondly, D-503 often relies on X when he cannot or will not find the words to explain what scares him. He seems almost unwilling to accept that there are unknowable or irrational things in the world that are beyond his ability to control. D-503 often associates X with I-330, whose intentions and internal thoughts are often a mystery to him. The first time D-503 encounters I-330, he observes “a kind of strange and irritating X to her, and [he] couldn’t pin it down, couldn’t give it any numerical expression.” I-330’s “X” irritates D-503 because, like irrational numbers in mathematics, it presents a problem that has no solution. Ultimately, I-330’s internal life is fully knowable only to herself and D-503 can only guess at what she is thinking and feeling. In this way, the possibilities of logic and rationality are limited in the face of the larger, unpredictable world.

The Variable X Quotes in We

The We quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Variable X. 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:
Individuality vs. Collectivism  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Modern Library edition of We published in 2006.
Record 2 Quotes

And I don’t know—perhaps it was somewhere in her eyes or eyebrows—there was a kind of strange and irritating X to her, and I couldn’t pin it down, couldn’t give it a numerical expression

Related Characters: D-503 (speaker), I-330, O-90
Related Symbols: The Variable X
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Record 5 Quotes

…Strange: I was writing today about the highest of heights in human history and all the while breathing the cleanest mountain air of thought, but, meanwhile, there were clouds and cobwebs and a cross, some kind of four-pawed X, inside me. Maybe it was my own paws, since they were in front of me on the table all this time—my shaggy paws. I don’t like talking about them and I don’t like them: they are evidence of the savage epoch. Could there actually be, within me—

Related Characters: D-503 (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Variable X Symbol Timeline in We

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Variable X appears in We. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Record 2
Individuality vs. Collectivism  Theme Icon
Fear of the Unknown  Theme Icon
...world. D-503 is annoyed by the woman, observing that she has “a strange and irritating X to her.” D-503 reads the badge of her uniform: I-330. (full context)
Record 5
Fear of the Unknown  Theme Icon
Repression of Desire  Theme Icon
...that as he was recording the progress of civilization he felt “some kind of four-pawed X, inside” him. This could’ve been the result of unconsciously spotting his “shaggy” hands perched on... (full context)
Record 6
Individuality vs. Collectivism  Theme Icon
Fear of the Unknown  Theme Icon
...House. They venture further into the apartment. D-503 notes that I-330’s smile contains “that annoying X.” He becomes infuriated and wants to argue with her. They stand before a mirror and... (full context)
Record 10
Individuality vs. Collectivism  Theme Icon
Fear of the Unknown  Theme Icon
...expresses frustration at not being able to know what I-330 is thinking, noting the “irritating X” in her face. On her insistence, D-503 admits he was unable to report I-330 to... (full context)
Record 17
Individuality vs. Collectivism  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Fear of the Unknown  Theme Icon
Repression of Desire  Theme Icon
...would be a clarifying experience, it only provided him with a new set of unknown “X’s” to sort through. He goes on to describe yesterday’s events: per the doctor’s orders, D-503... (full context)
Record 21
Individuality vs. Collectivism  Theme Icon
Repression of Desire  Theme Icon
...understanding it, as he fears that without I-330 he’ll never know the answers to “ those unknown quantities ,” such as the secret passageway in the closet at the Ancient House, and he... (full context)