When D-503 meets and becomes infatuated with I-330, she introduces him to a new way of living and a new way of seeing the world. Soon, D-503 finds that he is no longer capable of relating to the other ciphers of the One State who march in synchronized step, engage in passionless, predictable sexual relationships, and go about their days blindly accepting the State’s unconditional control over their lives. Despite his burning desire to resume the content, collectivist life he once had, D-503 finds himself unable to dismiss the perpetually growing alienation he feels from the rest of the One State. D-503’s social isolation suggests that alienation is the cost of his gained knowledge and experience.
Before meeting I-330 and experiencing the fulfilling aspects of romantic love, individuality, and expression, D-503 is content with his life in the One State: he repeatedly expresses how happy he is to be a small part of the larger whole. While at work at the hanger designing the Integral, a rocket the One State will use to travel to and overtake distant alien civilizations, D-503 gazes on the machinery that operates around him: “Eyes shut, oblivious, the spheres of the regulators were spinning; the cranks were twinkling, dipping to the right; the shoulders of the balance wheel rocking proudly […]. Instantly I saw the greater beauty of this grand mechanized ballet, suffused with nimble pale-blue sunbeams.” D-503’s meditation on the “greater beauty” of the machinery speaks to his admiration for the corresponding “greater beauty” of the One State’s method of governance: what D-503 finds so mesmerizing about the machines is how with their “eyes shut” they go about their tasks, “proudly,” to accomplish the greater end goal of creating the Integral. Like these machines, D-503 considers himself to be part of a “grand mechanized ballet,” living his life to serve the greater cause of the One State’s welfare. Like these machines, D-503, too, is “oblivious” to what an unmechanized life could offer, but because he is largely ignorant of his individual interests and desires, he is content.
After I-330 enters D-503’s life, he finds it impossible to resume his formerly “oblivious life.” Upon seeing himself as an individual, he becomes dissatisfied, frustrated, and alienated from the rest of the One State. The day after D-503 and I-330 have a passionate sexual encounter in the Ancient House (an old private and opaque building from the pre-One State days of freedom that serves as a museum), D-503 looks in the mirror and remarks, with horror: “for the first time in my life, I see myself clearly, definitely, consciously. I see myself, with astonishment, like some kind of ‘him,’ I am him: black eyebrows that look like they’ve been struck through with a straight line; and a vertical wrinkle between them, like a scar […]. I had never known what was there.” When D-503 says that he looks “like some kind of ‘him,’” he draws attention to his masculine features, perhaps noting how significantly different they are from I-330’s comparatively feminine features. D-503’s observation of his distinctly masculine outward appearance marks the beginning of his journey into seeing himself as an individual, and, subsequently, into alienation from the rest of the One State who do not share this individualistic perspective. D-503’s new perspective causes him to consider himself “sick” when he realizes he can relate neither to the other ciphers nor the mathematics that was once central to his existence. Later on in the novel, he lies in bed before the morning work bell rings, considering how math has begun to fail him: “My mathematics—until now, the only solid and stable island in my entire gone-crazy life—had also become detached, was floating, spinning.” After the morning bell rings, D-503 joins the rest of the ciphers to eat and go to work: “I go downstairs, mechanically, on the beat, and I write my name down in the exit book, as everyone does. But I feel: I live separately from everyone else, alone, fenced in by a soft, sound-muffling wall, and behind this wall is my world…” D-503 once relished in his collectivist, mechanical existence. Now, however, going through the motions has become a depressing, alienating routine. His indoctrination into the world of individuality and expression renders him unable to connect with the people and tenets of the One State.
Ultimately, D-503 undergoes the Operation—a state-sanctioned lobotomy to remove the brain’s capacity for imagination—which effectively rids him of all knowledge of another way of life. In his final recorded entry, it’s clear that D-503 has regained his former contentedness: “I am completely, absolutely healthy. I smile—I can’t not smile: some kind of splinter has been dragged from my head and my head is light, empty” (202). D-503 is “absolutely healthy,” and fully recovered from his formerly crippling alienation. When he describes his head as “light, empty,” he seems to suggest that that the Operation has removed the weight of knowledge and curiosity from his head. D-503’s regained sense of acceptance and contentedness with the One State suggests that complete happiness and knowledge and a curious, critical engagement with the world are mutually exclusive. In other words, one must accept that a fulfilling, examined life comes at the cost of alienation.
Alienation Quotes in We
There were two of me. One me was the former, D-503, cipher D-503, but the other one…Before, he only just managed to stick his shaggy paws out of my shell, but now he has crawled out whole, the shell is cracked open, now shattered into pieces and…and what next?
Through the fog, I see: long glass tables; sphere-heads are chewing in time, slowly and silently. From a distance, through the fog, a metronome is tapping, and under the regular caress of this music, I count to fifty, mechanically, together with everyone: the fifty mandatory masticatory motions to each bite. I go downstairs, mechanically, on the beat, and I write my name down in the exit book, as everyone does. But I feel: I live separately from everyone else, alone, fenced in by a soft, sound-muffling wall, and behind this wall is my world…