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A Traveler from Altruria (1894) by William Dean Howells is a utopian novel that describes the differences between the late 19th century US and fictional island of Altruria. During the novel, visitor from Altruria compares the lifestyle of those two countries, discovering that US is still lagging in the political, economic, cultural, or moral aspects of life. This critique of capitalism and its consequences was greatly influenced by the previous utopian works - The City of the Sun, New Atlantis, Looking Backward and News from Nowhere.
Voyage centres on a young psychiatrist (played by Ryo van Kooten) who leaves Hong Kong to embark on a long lone voyage from Hong Kong along the coast of South-East Asia to try to overcome the emotional turmoil he has experienced in his relationships with former clients. While travelling, he tries to come to terms with his experiences by making a detailed record of their stories, and decides to visit those places himself.
The one major work preceding More's in the field was Plato's Republic. Its influence on Utopia is extensive and unmistakable. To begin with, the central theme of both works is the search for justice. In the Republic, the rulers are to be a group of intelligent, unselfish men called the guardians or philosopher-kings, who conduct public affairs for the good of the whole nation. The principle of community of property is in effect: "No man calls anything his own." Gold and silver coinage is outlawed, and there is a rigid proscription against luxury and ostentation. Throughout the society, life is directed by a highly moral code of conduct. An educational system for the intelligentsia is elaborately and idealistically designed. Equality of men and women is proposed in both works, though with certain qualifications. There is allowance made in Plato's scheme for the practice of slavery, as there is in More's. There are, on the other hand, departures from Plato in Utopia, some quite radical. The Republic establishes sharply defined class distinctions — the ruling intelligentsia; the warrior class; commoners, consisting of merchants, artisans, and laborers; and finally, at the lowest level, the slaves. Utopians recognize no such gradations among their citizens. The religious beliefs and practices in the two books are, of course, quite different. There is also a sharp difference in the treatment of families. In the Republic, women and children are held in common — "there is no marrying nor giving in marriage" — and mating is regulated to serve eugenic ends; whereas in Utopia, the family unit is the core of the entire social structure.
The reader, following the narrator's shifting attitude from admiration to surprise and finally to contempt, is led to believe that the author is bent on demonstrating the vast inferiority of the Erewhonians to his fellow Englishmen; but it gradually becomes clear that he attributes to Englishmen much of the irrationality and the ingenious equivocations that make the Erewhonians look foolish. The difference is only one of degree. The technique is close to that of Swiftian satire. In some places it is confused and inconsistent, but in other passages it is both clever and devastating, worthy of the master.
What happens to those slaves (bondsmen) who helped feed the citizens of Utopia by butchering animals for food and thus suffering the apparent moral consequence of diminished compassion is not stated. Perhaps Utopia uses only slaves gotten from outside the citizenry of Utopia for their necessary killing. Utopia has slaves captured in wars they fought and other "foreigners who have been condemned to death" which the Utopians "acquire [...] sometimes cheaply, more often gratis and take them away." Foreign slaves are kept "constantly at work" and in chains. (95) Utopia also has slaves who entered into slavery by choice. These are "poor, overworked drudges from other nations [...] who chose to be slaves among the Utopians." Such slaves can relinquish their slavery whenever they choose, but in doing so they leave Utopia, although they are not "sent away empty-handed." (96)
“ [A] permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon. ”
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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.
Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.