Literary Commentary: Utopia

      I am pleased that Sir Thomas More was able to publish a work like Utopia, especially as I am disillusioned with our world's current state of affairs. Today the work would be seen as science fiction or an alternative viewpoint, as our capitalistic, self-centered views are still prevalent. More didn't seem to really support his fictional land; he may have written his narrator's response (an "absurd society") as a safety valve against criticism and trouble, but the author seemed also to really reflect the doubts of his character-self. It was definitely a rebuke against the England of Thomas More's time.

      I see Utopia as a radical, progressive vision: an experiment in humanist philosophy promoting the dignity of humankind. He stretched these new ideals of the human mind, while remaining dedicated to faith, and tested the new power of reason by offering something to reason over.

      The society described by the character Hythloday is fascinating because of its seemingly alien views, but there are still similarities, possibly because to be too different would invite more controversy than Thomas More might already have received. More is constrained, as humans must ever be, within the mindset of his time; for instance, while slavery is established from a punishment viewpoint instead of an inferiority viewpoint, and the children of slaves are not slaves, slavery is still assumed. Despite the open-minded nature of his fictional society, he could not dare to have his Utopians be anything but fervent worshippers of the single, unknown deity. Evangelism, proselytizing and anti-belief activities are prohibited, but faith itself is without question. Atheism is discouraged due to the belief that people act for personal benefit rather than a belief in rewarded afterlife. It is also somewhat ironic that after this work that espoused religious tolerance, More dedicated much time to persecuting Protestants.

      Sharing the workload seemed a logical, humane outlook, with some mention given to the arts of reason, learning and science; those who could not work or create with their hands could exercise their minds. This still seems to me to be a society of content worker ants, though, with few great minds who were allowed to forgo labor for intellectual pursuits. The physical here holds greater importance than the mental. This and the concept of forced faith makes the land of Utopia oppressive to me; poets, writers and lovers have no place in this protected land, and no great works of passion will be created here.

      However, I was pleased to find the allowance of euthanasia and divorce, which went against the religious beliefs of Thomas More's day. I was also gratified to see the concept of every child receiving an equal education (hello, current-day United States?), and enjoyed the interesting idea regarding "precious" metals (used as chamberpots to discourage greed).

      Such elevated society, given the fallibility of humankind, might well be impossible, but this story oddly enough has an impact even today, because of what I see as our country's modern intellectual spiral downward. More's Utopia is constructed to constrain humanity's natural weaknesses, rather than to illustrate a country of ideal people. His depiction of Hythloday's reasons for refusing to consider a counselor's position is perfectly understandable and well explained, and shows much insight into human nature.

For Reference:
Sir Thomas More's Utopia

David Elsensohn, March 2005

Return to Essays

Goth can be FUN Musings from the Host
Return to the Gothic Offramp
Return to

Copyright © 2005 ArcticChaos and Friendly Morbidity Ltd.
Please assail the Holy Cranium with your praises, curses, hexes,
and all various bitching or sensual favors.