Monday, July 31, 2006

The Paradox of Happiness

I believe Zamyatin makes happiness the goal for citizens of the One State for the purpose of creating a paradox. Happiness, as defined in the One State, is the lack of desires. In this sense, happiness comes from losing something. Now, I tend to think of happiness as gaining something by following one's desires. Though I do not always know what will bring me happiness, making my own choices in finding it out seems to add satisfaction to attained happiness. If being happy was as simple as having my imagination removed (the solution described by the Great Operation), I would rather not exist. I think Zamyatin creates this opposing happiness definition situation to show that there is room for disagreement as to how to achieve happiness (even if the One State discourages such debate). Instead of claiming that the One State's way of life is bad, the author allows the reader to choose for themself what to believe. Surely Zamyatin does not believe the One State is the right way to live, however, he never forces the reader to make that conclusion. Zamyatin allows the reader freedom, even as the book claims that freedom is man's source of unhappiness. Even though the ambiguity of happiness contradicts Zamyatin's own societal creation (the One State), it appears to be his full intention to do so. The question then, is whether the reader will take on his or his society's beliefs. As the two belief possibilities rest on the same premise but contradictory conclusions, they appear to be a paradox.

If Zamyatin had chosen some other, non-paradoxical criterion (excellence, hard work, fulfillment, etc.), the novel would not have the same impact. For example, if excellence and hard work were the criteria, the One State would arguably be one of the best possible ways of living. The work is done diligently as it is assigned, and is seen (if done properly) to be excellent. The same goes for fulfillment, which is supposed to be ingrained in the heads of each citizen of the One State at birth (satisfaction with the status quo). However, it seems to me that Zamyatin chose the very ambiguous term of happiness to show how ridiculous it is to try to force everyone to follow the same method to achieve it. The One State has its method for achieving this goal, but unlike many other goals, happiness cannot be attained with mathematical precision. There is no preset definition to work from, but rather, only subjective opinion which rests in the hands of the individual.


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