Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse” – Utopia, Sir Thomas More
What does a perfect society look like according to a man living in the sixteenth century? If you want to know the answer to such a question, read Utopia and find out!
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I was charged with the task of reading this book for a course on Renaissance literature. The moment I read the first few sentences: [ “Thomas More to Peter Giles, sends greeting. I am almost ashamed, right well-beloved Peter Giles, to send unto you this book of the Utopian commonwealth well-nigh after a year’s space, which I am sure you looked for within a month and a half. And no marvel”], I yawned. This book is not at all what I was expecting. I expected a work of fiction in which descriptions were interesting and pleasing to the ear, and dialogue was short and clipped like regular speech. Instead, Utopia is a long-winded series of descriptions of a perfect society.
However, even though it is a difficult read and hard to get into, this book is extremely important. Do not read Utopia under the pretext that you will be swept away into a story. It’s not a story. It is a portrait of a country that (according to Sir Thomas More) is perfect in every way. The reason why this book is important because it points out what is wrong with modern society. It is at once a work of fiction, a travelogue, a philosophical discussion, and a satirical piece.
Of course, if so far, my review has been a complete turn off and you would rather read dystopian fiction… something like The Hunger Games or The Road… feel free to read these reviews instead. Anyway, let us carry on.
Sir Thomas More, the author of Utopia, features as a prominent character in the book. He is the narrator who recounts a long-winded story by the philosophical learned man called Raphael Hythloday. Raphael Hythloday, is a completely fictional character (unlike Sir Thomas More and Peter Giles) who voyages to the island of Utopia and lives there for five years. Everyone listening to Raphael’s tale is intrigued, and it’s no wonder, the island is full of many strange customs.
Here is one of the cultural practices worth mentioning: Young Utopians who are destined to be married see each other naked before they are married so that they know what they are getting into. Honestly, I was not expecting this for a text that was written in the 1500s. This was probably the only instance when I laughed out loud.
The rest of the text is full of descriptions on how the government works, the roles of women in society, war in society, work, leisure, religion, city structures, houses, and so on and so forth. Some of it is interesting, but it is usually plagued with philosophical discourse that is in a long-winded style akin to a typical text from the sixteenth century.
I had difficulty giving this text a rating. I did not enjoy reading it probably because I had to read it over the weekend so that I could be tested the following Monday. Reading something in a rush always sucks the enjoyment out of anything. However, this book influenced so many texts since it was published. I believe that we wouldn’t have a genre of dystopian literature if it wasn’t for Utopia (which gave way to utopian literature).
About the Book Title: Utopia Author: Sir Thomas More Language: Originally published in Latin, then translated into English Year Published: 1516 Pages: 135 (depends on the edition) Genres: philosophy, fiction, travelogue, classic literature
Until next time,