In this lesson, you’ll learn about Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ and learn why living in a perfect world was desirable in 16th-century Europe. Quiz yourself to see how well you did!
Introduction to Utopia
In 1516, Sir Thomas More, an English scholar, writer, and lawyer, published his literary work, Utopia, which was a book that explored the notion of a perfect (and imaginary) society. It arguably has moved readers throughout the ages.
More divides this classic work into two books that portray Utopia as an egalitarian society for the good of every inhabitant.
Book One Summary of Utopia
In Book One, Thomas More and his friend, Peter Giles, interrogate a wayward traveler named Raphael Hythloday. During their intense meeting, the three men converse, exchanging philosophical ideas. More and Giles are impressed by Hythloday’s immense knowledge and ask him why he does not seek employment in the service of a king. Hythloday turns them down, saying he wouldn’t do well at court because it condones blind obedience and favoritism based on flattery rather than performance.
Nevertheless, More and Giles insist that a man of great knowledge has a responsibility to serve his country.The men focus on England during their dialogue. In particular, Hythloday criticizes England for an excessive penal code and an unfair distribution of wealth amongst the population. More and Giles listen attentively, while Hythloday critically analyzes other European countries that have economic troubles due to weak governments. Thus, the purpose of Book One is to establish a worst case scenario for society.More wants to describe the things that are wrong with civilization before he introduces the island nation known as Utopia in Book Two.
The word Utopia comes from the Greek: topos and ou. Topos means ‘place,’ while ou means ‘no:’ together, the words form ‘no place,’ which describes Utopia. Further, Utopia is a pun on the Greek word eu that means ‘perfect’ or ‘new.’ Hence, Utopia is a perfect, imaginary place.
Book Two Summary of Utopia
Book Two begins as More, Giles, and Hythloday have a meal together.
Hythloday shares details about Utopia with his two companions. He explains key features, such as geography, community, family, marriage, education, and social structures, which illuminate the work-life patterns of Utopia. For instance, divorce is permitted for special circumstances, and education is a cultural norm. An island with no borders, Utopia has well-planned towns where farming by traditional families is the main activity.Hythloday continues describing Utopia’s government, law, politics, work, slaves, property, and economics. Utopians elect delegates to lead the government, and they have few reasons for lawyers. Because they have no desire to expand their nation, Utopians do not make foreign alliances.
Further, Hythloday emphasizes that Utopians work only six hours a day and have no need for extravagance. The slaves found in Utopia are criminals or poor workers from other countries. Since Utopians do not engage in trading, they do not use money.The three men also talk about Utopia’s religion, ethics, and medicine. Practicing no formal religion, Utopians follow reason and look into astronomy, but not astrology.
The Utopians are not forced to follow any religious ideals, but they believe in one God. In ethical matters, Utopians are against pre-marital sex, adultery, prostitution, theft, drunkenness, hunting, and gambling. Anyone found guilty of these acts are outlawed from society. In medicine, the people are well cared for by families and doctors. Suicide is accepted when people are terminally ill, but euthanasia is not.
Analysis of Utopia
More’s Utopia is a learning place where people can live free and prosper without the governmental constraints found in England.
Utopians base their lifestyles on rationality, the power of natural reason, rather than devout religion in the Christian sense. Because More uses irony and satire to depict the societies of England and Utopia, readers can easily compare Book One and Book Two. Book One showcases all that is wrong with England’s Christian society, whereas Book Two focuses on what is right about Utopian civilization.Another major issue that More confronts is a comparison of Utopia in terms of the ideal and the idyll. Many scholars find that More’s depiction of Utopia suggests an idyll, or paradise, rather than an ideal or archetype for other countries to model. In fact, More did not approve of every facet of culture and civilization found in Utopia. For example, as a devout Christian, he did not agree with the ideas of divorce, euthanasia, and suicide.
Hence, the purpose for writing Utopia is most often denoted as an effort by More to create an idyllic society that is organized in accordance with social revolution.
Let’s review. Sir Thomas More was an English scholar, writer, and lawyer who wrote the book Utopia, which was a book that explored the notion of a perfect (and imaginary) society. Looking at Utopia, an idyll (or paradise) where people are free from the follies of government, one can understand the character and wayward traveler Raphael Hythloday and his position on Utopia as an alternative for a more just social order. Thus, Sir Thomas More’s literary work has become a classic depiction of a perfect world in which people use rationality, the power of natural reason, rather than indoctrinated Christian ideologies to solve life’s problems.Utopia was separated into two separate books. Book One showcases all that is wrong with England’s Christian society, which stems from weak governments and the need to work for a king or monarchy, a system that promoted flattery as the guiding principle for policy-making.
Book Two focuses on what is right about Utopian civilization, such as its policy of not making foreign alliances or having a trading system resulting in no money, a six-hour work day, and its lack of lawyers.