Critical Response#1: The Garden of WE-den

Hello cyberspace. I decided to take a traditional route with this assignment, and formulated a close reading of I-330 from Zamyatin’s WE. Since I’m currently reading Milton’s Paradise Lost in another class, I was inspired by the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Here goes!

Disclaimer 1: The Zilboorg translation of We that I will be quoting from is quite different from other versions of the text; for example, my book uses “fancy” where others use “imagination”.

Disclaimer 2: I will be referring to the Adam and Eve story as common knowledge; hopefully you are all familiar with its basic characters and events.

“They, fools that they were, chose freedom” (59): I-330 as the Satanic Eve

It is difficult to read Eugene Zamyatin’s We without being reminded of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The forest “beyond the Green Wall” (149) can be likened to Paradise itself, and the Well-Doer’s “surgical removal of fancy” (77) is reminiscent of God’s desire to keep human nature separate from the “Knowledge of Good and Evil”. In addition, the subversive Mephi who “tempt” susceptible Numbers away from the doctrine of the United State play a Satanic role; of course, the name “Mephi” refers to Mephistopheles, Faust’s version of the devil. Overall, We presents readers with an inverted Adam and Eve tale, since we have characters being tempted into Eden, and not away from it.

Given that a paper much longer than this one could be written on this subject, I’m choosing to focus solely on the way that the character of I-330 complicates the “Adam and Eve” metaphor. Although she is undoubtedly a reincarnation of Eve, I-330 also embodies aspects of Satan; what does this do to a proposed reading of We as a topsy-turvy version of humankind’s fall from Paradise? First, I-330 represents Eve in that she is D-503’s true counterpart (despite his “relationship” with O-90). The first moment we meet her is when D-503 notes, “A laugh, as if an echo of mine, reached my ear” (7; emphasis added); just as Eve is to Adam, I-330 is D-503’s equal and he quickly falls in love with her. Here, the key word is falls; it could be argued that D-503’s infatuation with I-330, which made him realize that “love and jealousy do exist, and not only in the idiotic books of the ancients” (61), is the impetus for his “fall” from the faux-paradise of the One State into the Eden-like world beyond the Green Wall. Just as Eve gives Adam the forbidden fruit, I-330 gives D-503 a taste of forbidden alcohol (54); a few pages later, D-503 admits, “For the first time in my life I see clearly” (57).

Although she embodies an Eve-like role within the text, I-330 similarly represents Satan. Aside from the obvious example of her role in the Mephi, she also expresses the desire to make “all that was certain come to an end” (137), just as Satan desired to undermine God’s “project” on Earth by tempting Adam and Eve to sin. In addition, we can possibly view I-330’s connection to the color yellow as allying her with the devil. In the excellent essay “Zamjatin’s Modernist Palette: Colors and Their Function in We”, Sona S. Hoisington and Lynn Imbery survey and consolidate the various studies that have analyzed Zamyatin’s use of color; as they see it, yellow “symbolizes vitality, the presence of the life force associated with the sun in the heroine I-330, in the world of the past, and in the world beyond the Wall” (163). Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, “During the Middle Ages, both green and yellow were used to symbolize the devil”; just as the “ancients” of our present culture associated yellow with the devil, D-503 associates I-330 with yellow objects in the “Ancient House”, as well as with the yellow pollen that drifts over the Green Wall.

Therefore, it is possible to read We as an Adam and Eve story where I-330/Satan distributes the “Knowledge” that disrupts the One State/Paradise, while I-330/Eve also tempts D-503/Adam to follow her into a new life. Although the garden is re-entered in We and not abandoned, the fact that I-330 embodies aspects of both Satan and Eve leads to the death of D-503’s chance at living in the “real” Utopia: when D-503 discovers that he was recruited by I-330 for reasons other than love, he gives up his humanity to be a Number forever. Unable to reconcile the Satan within his Eve, D-503 chooses the false Paradise over true Eden.

Works Cited

Hoisington, Sona S. and Lynn Imbery. “Zamjatin’s Modernist Palette: Colors and Their Function in We.” The Slavic and East European Journal, 36.2 (1992): pp. 159-171.

 Zamyatin, Eugene. We. Trans. Gregory Zilboorg. Toronto: Clarke Irwin, 1959.