There are a number of similarities between George Orwell’s 1984 and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
George Orwell, Eric Blair, call him what you like. I call him a fake, a fraud. Too much? Maybe, but at least it caught your attention.
George Orwell’s 1984 is highly praised and is generally regarded as one of the best English-language novels ever written. Especially in those long and tedious lists that are produced by some big publishing firm. The true acid test of any novel is what it has brought to language. 1984 has brought plenty. Newspeak, Big Brother, Room 101. Even the author’s name became a term, Orwellian. They are many more examples besides. All brilliance has to draw inspiration from somewhere and 1984‘s appears to come from a lesser known Russian novel called We.
We is the brainchild of Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin. There many similar characters and themes it shares in common with Orwell’s masterpiece. Too many to be a coincidence in fact. Also, Orwell was certainly aware of We as he wrote a review of the novel just a few years before 1984 was published.
Plot and Characters (I’ll try not give too much away)
We is set in the future. There is only one, super state. Nature was been banished behind a wall. All .human individuality has been crushed so people are referred to as numbers, names cease to be. The main character is D-503, the object of his affection is I-330. The leader is known only as “The Benefactor”. The story is told through a series of D-503 diary entries. He is a mathematician working on a spaceship called Integral that will conquer any alien race it encounters.
Initially, D-503 is reluctant to be involved with I-330 as she is a rule breaker. Like all the best women, she is dangerous and that’s what draws D- 503 further under her trawl. She even encourages him to tell the authorities on her. When he fails to do so it makes him a fellow criminal. They start a romantic relationship and D-503 leaves behind O-90, a woman he had a state approved relationship with. Ultimately though, it leads to trouble.
Parallels with 1984
There are numerous parallels between the two novels. Starting with the main characters, D-503 and Winston Smith. We is told through a series of diary entries made by D-503 and Winston Smith also keeps a diary to record his thoughts as he fears he will eventually lose them. They both work in jobs that in a sense will preserve the authoritative rule of the current regime. D-503 is a mathematician on a spaceship that the State sees a vessel to further extending its rule, although he sees it in a more positive light. Winston works in The Ministry of Truth were he either destroys or alters historical records so that they fit in with the Party’s narrative.
Even the love interests have similarities. I- 330 and Julia are both dangerous and beguiling. They seem to represent a more carefree and human past. They both appeal to the soul rather than the head. Sometimes I think the authors are are trying to say women will not give up on love whereas are men are too quick to do so. Both relationships take place in what the participants believe are secret places.
The systems of control are very alike too. The citizens of OneState and Airstrip One can both be observed by the authorities at any time. In We, the people live in glass houses, meaning “the Guardians” can view them as they please. The characters of 1984 have a telescreen at home that sees their every moment there. In both stories, people are encouraged to turn on each other and alert the powers that be to any deviant behaviour. Without ruining the ending, even the conclusions share a lot in common, although We finishes on a much more uplifting tone.
Why is 1984 the more popular?
Well, firstly, there is the language both books are written in. A book written in English by an English man will have more pulling power than a book by Johnny Foreigner in the Western world. Then, there’s the issue of timing. Orwell’s novel was brought out when World War II was still raw with the populous and there was a real sense of fear that Orwell expertly taped into. What really sets the two books apart though is the construction. 1984 is a much better written work. Although We has excellent ideas, the plot falls down a bit. Orwell may have taken these ideas but he moulded them into a story that has deep resonance up till the present. Well done George.