Dangerous Nostalgia

“And now we stopped in front of the mirror.  At that moment all I could see were her eyes.  An idea hit me: The way the human body is built, it’s just as stupid as those ‘apartments’- human heads are opaque and there’s no way to see inside except through those tiny little windows, the eyes.  She seemed to guess what I was thinking and turned around.  ‘Well, here are my eyes.  What do you think?’  (Without actually saying this, of course.)

I saw before me two ominously dark windows, and inside there was another life, unknown.  All I could see was a flame–there was some sort of ‘fireplace’ inside–and some figures, that looked…

That would be natural, of course.  What I saw there was my own reflection.  But it was not natural and it did not look like me (apparently the surroundings were having a depressing effect).  I felt absolutely afraid, I felt trapped, shut into that wild cage, I felt myself swept into the wild whirlwind of ancient life.”

Record 6, page 28-29

Although it could be argued that D-503 is weakened (albeit near-imperceptibly) in his beliefs prior to his first visit to the Ancient House, it is this trip that truly brings about a sense that his foundation is being shaken- entirely due to, it seems, the machinations of the mysterious I-330.  This passage in particular draws attention to his obvious, dutiful disgust for the things of the past–and, more specifically, the things that are illegal in OneState–but it also highlights his fascination with them.  He does not outright express any such sentiment, but it is more than evident in the tone of his account, particularly when he trails off, describing the scene he ‘witnesses’ behind I-330’s eyes.  There is an inarguable amount of reverence in it.  At this point in the narrative (still relatively early on), it would be acceptable to expect that he is not anywhere near ready to change.  However, the way in which he faithfully records his discovery of “another life, unknown” and the “wild whirlwind of ancient life” seems so charmingly accidental–on the part of D-503, certainly not on the part of Zamyatin–and it could be seen as almost akin to the way in which someone might inadvertently reveal their romantic feelings for another.  From this, Zamyatin provides readers with a common trope found in many dystopian novels: nostalgia for a time long before the story takes place that, in the narrative’s current environment, is strictly forbidden for the sake of the maintenance of order.  Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 exemplifies this.

D-503, from this point forward, becomes a character that we want to see tainted and drawn away from the norms of his restrictive society; we need him to be freed from the shackles of his banality because we very desperately want him to return to the comforts of ‘before’, of our own society, of normalcy within individuality.  “Me”, rather, instead of “We”.  D-503 is viciously torn between his current state, upon which he frequently rains unconditional praise, and the scary unknown that I-330 continues to push him into as the novel progresses, and it is this internal and external conflict that propels the narrative forward.  Moreover, his records become far more vibrant (albeit panicked and filled with inner turmoil) due to this forbidden nostalgia he has been so mercilessly infected with.  As a result, We is able to engender a sense of suspense and dread–a feeling almost inseparable from the dystopian genre–with regard to D-503’s fate as an admirer of the ‘ancient world’ in this harshly-regimented new one.

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