The study of human society as foreseen by Bellamy is contrasted at every turn with the institutions, customs, and mores of the late nineteenth century. Actually, more than half of the space in the book is devoted to the analysis of Bellamy's own time, which is a scathing denunciation of that society, often in eloquent language. In William Morris's News from Nowhere (first published in serial form in 1890, then in book form in 1891), the author, well known for his involvement in the Pre-Raphaelite movement and for the establishment of the Kelmscott Press, offers his vision of a bright future for England. The narrator of the novel goes to bed in his home in a London suburb one night in 1890, but when he wakes he finds himself in strange surroundings. The people he meets talk about events that occurred in the year 2001 as though they were past history.
In Book 2 Raphael Hythloday describes Utopia. The word `Raphael' means "God's healer", and the word `hythloday', from Greek, means "peddler of nonsense". The word `utopia' is a Greek pun that means both "good place" and "no place". If Hythloday is speaking nonsense motivated by the deepest moral compassion, where is the nonsense? Is Utopia a good place that is no place, or is it no place that is a good place? (The second reading can mean it is not a place that is a good place.)
The features of Erewhonian society that surprise the author are those that differ from the England that he knew. According to the early impressions of the travelers, the people all appear to be exceptionally healthy, exceedingly handsome, and altogether contented. Their life style is characterized by simplicity and gracious manners, best described as Arcadian. Gradually, however, oddities, or what appear to be oddities to the visitor, begin to surface. Duplicity pervades every aspect of thought and action. The natives habitually profess agreement to a proposition although they do not believe in it, and their friends are perfectly aware that they do not mean what they say. There are two separate banking systems in operation and two sets of religions. The people give lip service to what they call the Musical Banks, but they transact all serious business with the currency of the other chain of banks. Similarly they recognize a group of deities representing the personification of human qualities — justice, hope, love, fear — and erect statues to them; but their pragmatic morality is evidently dictated by a goddess — Ydgrun (Grundy). More and more they reveal themselves to the traveler as victims of self-deception and inverted logic. Their universities are called Colleges of Unreason, and the principal course of study is Hypothetics.
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Bergen has reported on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, Pakistan, counterterrorism, homeland security and countries around the Middle East for a range of American newspapers and magazines. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic and writes a weekly column for CNN.com. He has also written for newspapers and magazines around the world, and he has worked as a correspondent or producer for multiple documentaries that have aired on National Geographic, Discovery and CNN.
The text of Utopia is in two books. Book 1 was written after Book 2. It is in Book 2 that the society of the place named `Utopia' is described by a traveler, Raphael Hythloday, who through his travels had lived there for a time and has returned to England to report on what he learned. Book 1 is a lead-in to Book 2 and was probably intended to establish interest in the subject of Book 2. The narrative form of Book 1 is a conversation of Hythloday with Thomas More and Peter Giles, and of Book 2 the form is a monologue by Hythloday.
The name Raphael, though, may have been chosen by More to remind his readers of the archangel Raphael who is mentioned in the Book of Tobit (3:17; 5:4, 16; 6:11, 14, 16, 18; also in chs. 7, 8, 9, 11, 12). In that book the angel guides Tobias and later cures his father of his blindness. While Hythlodaeus may suggest his words are not to be trusted, Raphael meaning (in Hebrew) "God has healed" suggests that Raphael may be opening the eyes of the reader to what is true. The suggestion that More may have agreed with the views of Raphael is given weight by the way he dressed; with "his cloak... hanging carelessly about him"; a style which Roger Ascham reports that More himself was wont to adopt. Furthermore, more recent criticism has questioned the reliability of both Gile's annotations and the character of "More" in the text itself. Claims that the book only subverts Utopia and Hythlodaeus are possibly oversimplistic.