Many of the characters in We seem subservient and submissive to the demands of the One State. Beneath their passive exteriors, however, they fight a perpetual, invisible battle between acting as the One State dictates they ought to, and acting to fulfill their own repressed desires. Despite characters’ best efforts, these repressed desires come to the surface and cause them to behave rebelliously. Zamyatin offers that while prohibiting undesirable behaviors and desires through repression might hide them from the public eye, prohibition does little to erase human urges. Throughout We, Zamyatin shows how characters attempt to deny the presence of desire. Characters like D-503, for example, go out of their way to convince themselves that they don’t think they want what they intuitively feel they want. Zamyatin’s portrayal of repression in We suggests that desire—the conflicted longing for something one does not have—is the default state of human experience. Repression does not rid society or individuals of conflict: it only hides and magnifies the strength of discontentment.
D-503 wants to remain loyal to the One State, so he repeatedly tries to repress his human urges by disassociating himself from them. As D-503 continues to act irrationally and out of character, he begins to refer to two versions of himself: the “real,” former D-503 who was rational and supported the State at all costs, and the unreal, current self who loves I-330, behaves irrationally, and aids the MEPHI rebel organization. Despite ample evidence that D-503 is changing—that he has acquired a decidedly unmechanical “soul,” an imagination, and has urges to rebel and act irrationally—he insists: “I still consider the former me to be the real me—all this recent stuff is, of course, sickness.” By referring to “this recent stuff” as mere “sickness,” D-503 disassociates himself from his rebellious urges, passing them off as external “sickness” and refusing to claim responsibility for them. He represses his urges by attributing them to “sickness” and by forcing himself to believe they have nothing to do with his “real” self. Despite his protestations, though, D-503 is never really able to erase his supposedly “unreal” self: his “strange, shaggy hands,” which resemble those of the uncivilized, pre-One State Ancients, serve as a visible, constant reminder of his “barbaric,” urge-driven human origins.
D-503 employs the same method of denial when he realizes, to his horror, that he has developed feelings for I-330. As his feelings for I-330 grow, D-503 refuses to accept them, as love or ownership of another cipher runs counter to the One State’s rules. He repeatedly articulates his hatred for her throughout his records. At the end of We, D-503 confesses to S-4711 his involvement with I-330 and MEPHI, and their thwarted plan to steal the Integral to overthrow the One State. He claims, “It seems to me I always hated her, from the very beginning,” despite ample evidence that suggests the opposite. D-503 seems to believe that by insisting to S-4711 and to himself that he hates I-330—and all the irrationality and rebellion that she represents— he can repress and eradicate his inner, parallel tendencies toward rebellion and irrational behavior.
Characters besides D-503 also suffer from repressed urges. O-90 longs to be a mother, despite the State’s forbiddance. She makes repressed, barely comprehensible remarks to D-503 about her sorrow: “Dear D, if only you—if only…” O-90 constantly mourns her inability to act on her urge to be a mother, but she represses her grief to the point that she can only articulate it indirectly and partially to D-503. Ultimately, however, O-90 can no longer repress her desire to reproduce, and she solicits D-503 to impregnate her—an act that will be met with severe repercussions and which necessitates that she flee the One State to escape punishment.
In a more literal instance, one may view the Green Wall—the barrier that stands between the One State and the wild, uncontrolled world that lies beyond it—as the State’s attempt to repress the urges of its citizens on a grand scale. The Green Wall is the One State’s attempt to deny the existence of the irrational, non-surveilled world. In constructing the wall, the government attempts to physically separate ciphers from their human urges. D-503 states, “none of us, since the Two-Hundred-Year War, has been beyond the Green Wall.” The One State knows that, should its citizens venture beyond the Green Wall, free of surveillance, the desire to act on urges of human nature would be too strong to suppress. The fact that the Green Wall exists, and, more generally, that the One State feels an authoritarian style of government is necessary to maintain control of its citizens suggests that desire and human urges cannot be extinguished—they can only be repressed and controlled.
Repression of Desire ThemeTracker
Repression of Desire Quotes in We
With particular pleasure, I listened to our contemporary music […]. Crystal chromatic degrees converging and diverging in infinite sequences and the summarizing chords of Taylor and Maclaurin formulae with a gait like Pythagorean pant-legs, so whole-toned and quadrilateral-heavy […]. What magnificence! What unwavering predictability! And how pitiful that whimsical music of the Ancients, delimited by nothing except wild fantasy.
…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—
Freedom and crime are so indissolubly connected to each other, like…well, like the movement of the aero and its velocity. When the velocity of the aero = 0, it doesn’t move; when the freedom of a person = 0, he doesn’t commit crime.
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?
“I hate the fog. I am afraid of fog.”
“That means you love it. You’re afraid of it—because it is stronger than you. You hate it—because you are afraid of it. You love it—because you can’t conquer it yourself. You see, you can only love the unconquerable.”
What if today’s essentially irrelevant occurrence—what if all this is only the beginning , only the first meteorite in a whole series of rumbling, burning rocks, spilling through infinity toward our glass paradise?
The beauty of a mechanism is in its steadfast, precise, and pendulum-like rhythm. But then you, who have been nurtured by Taylorist systems from childhood, haven’t you grown up to be pendulum precise?
With one exception: mechanisms don’t have imaginations.
Have you ever seen an inanely dreaming and distant smile break across the physiognomy of a pump cylinder while it was at work? Have you ever heard of a crane, in the nighttime, in the hours allocated for repose, turning over in agitation and sighing?
A ridiculous feeling but I was sure of it: yes, I must help. Ridiculous, because it was a duty and yet another crime. Ridiculous, because a white duty cannot, at the same time, be a black duty and a crime—they can’t coincide. Life is either blackless or whiteless and its color only depends on a basic, logical premise. And if the premise is that I gave her a child illegally…
“Because I…I was afraid, that if she was…that they would have…you would have…you would stop lov…Oh, I can’t—I couldn’t have!”
I understood: this was the truth. A ridiculous, funny, human truth!
“The most merciful Christian, God himself, slowly burning all the recalcitrants in the fires of Hell—is he not an executioner? And were there really fewer burned at the stake by the Christians than Christians who were burned themselves? And yet, understand this, and yet, they glorified this God as the God of Love. Absurd? No, the opposite: it is testimony, written in blood, to the ineradicable good sense of a human. Even then—wild, shaggy as they were—they understood: true algebraic love toward humankind is inhuman—and the sure sign of truth is its cruelty.”