Thomas More, the author of Utopia set out to create a subversive textual piece where he would be able to describe a ‘perfect world’ in which he would set a contrast against his own real and ‘undesirable’ society. Within the first book, More discusses the problems facing his contemporary European society; mentioning the violent nature of his people, the lack of fair ideals and that of punishments for crimes. It is not until the second book that More’s didactic and entertaining approach becomes prevalent.
Through the careful and witty use of second-hand narration to create the very foundations of his didactic-natured world, More has utilized irony, humour and satire as well as understatements and absurdity, situational paradoxes and juxtaposition. All of these techniques have been combined to achieve More’s ultimate purpose; to create a “splendid little book, as entertaining as it is instructive”. Intending to add realism to his book’s nature, Thomas More included a “Utopian Alphabet” at the beginning of the book; aimed emphasizing the satirical aspect of his fictional world.
A poetry extract: “Utopos ha Boccas peu la chama polta chamaan”, showed how such a perfect world could have such a major flaw in linguistics; with it translating to “Utopos me General from not island made island” – bringing forth both a humorous and ironic undertone. The mere fact that the speech flow is truncated causes the General to sound like an uncivilized and uneducated individual, in what is seemingly a perfect society of both civilized persons and great minds (intelligentsia) – thus, the irony.
This leads the reader to either find entertainment, or humour in it (as the translation would be found to be silly by uneducated readers), or take deep meaning in the ambiguous alphabet. To further add a sense of realism, the letter written by More that portrays one Gilles’ writing to Busleiden, is included at the beginning of the book. The amiable tone shown through the personal address of Gilles’ to Busleiden, “My dear Busleiden… ” demonstrates the relationship between the two; as being friends.
Within the letter is a recount of More being told the location of Utopia; but with someone coughing at exactly the right moment, “started coughing rather loudly… the rest of Raphael’s sentence was inaudible”, so that the location remained hidden. This emphasises that Utopia is an impossible, fictional place but the fact that it’s guarded so closely (by coincidental means of concealing the location) is what adds to its dual entertainment, and instructive appeal. Irony, layered with satire and absurdity is prevalent throughout the book.
A defining didactic aspect of the book’s title is quite clear, as Utopia means “no-place”; thus informing the educated reader that the world does not exist. The book is merely designed to teach, and to entertain the reader with the farcical nature of such a world filled with so many flaws, it simple cannot exist. “Utopians simply can’t stand hypocrisy, which they consider practically equivalent to fraud”. This is directly associated with such instances regarding war as “They say it’s a quite subhuman form of activity” – juxtaposed to “… they hardly ever go to war, except in self defence”.
The fact that the Utopians despise war (for its “sub-human nature) but would in fact still participate in it is absurd and shows both a satirical view of their hypocrisy and a reinforcement of the ironic nature of such a concept. Juxtaposition of the two ideals is effective at emphasizing the satirical absurdity of such a contradiction, or hypocrisy, where the reader can interpret the “entertaining” or humorous nature of a perfect society undermining its own “perfect” ideals. Furthermore, More contradicts himself again when he describes “… he working class foreigner… ” as volunteering “… for slavery in Utopia” and reinforces that slaves are so well off, that they relish being prisoners to society. This is then directly juxtaposed to the next page where slavery is described as “… just as unpleasant… as capital punishment”, contradicting More’s previous information by suddenly undermining his own prior concept of the conditions of slavery. This portraying of Utopia as being impossible explains why many aspects within it have so many flaws and contradictions.
This subsequently shows the solutions to More’s own contemporary society’s problems begin to lose all credibility after they are analyzed. This lack of credibility coincides with the fact that the didactic aspect of the book attempts to show the reader that such a society could never exist in a modern world; such as that of More’s, or the readers’. More has the tendency to downplay incidents using understatements. Many such events are described as being quite less significant than they actually are, especially when it comes to war.
When a village or town is taken over by Utopian soldiers after a battle; “They merely kill those responsible for its failure to surrender… and enslave the rest of the garrison”. The word “merely” clearly indicates an “insignificant or casual act”, demonstrating a distinct example of More’s ideals of what constitutes a serious act and otherwise. The fact that those responsible for resisting the Utopians are executed contributes to a sense of irony when contrasted against “… they don’t like bloody victories”.
The enslavement of all soldiers, involved or not, is also absurd as if they kill those in command; obviously the Utopians considered them to be responsible, not the troops themselves? After all, the Utopians state themselves “what raises us above them is our reason and intelligence” which is a deeply ironic remark when compared to the situation that had occurred. It is an ambiguous situation and can be likened to More’s insistent hypocrisy which appears to have been a driving force for this particular aspect.
More has achieved once again, an effective didactic example of why his Utopia could never exist with its ideals; since they seem to be undermined before they are even proven to work. The Utopians, having no materialistic values, are said to use gold it to amuse children and degrade the criminal sectors of their society. Within a situational paradox, More describes a group of Flatulentine diplomats arriving in Utopia. They are “completed ignored” as the Utopians view their expensive attire as degrading and “fit for a slave or child! “. This situational paradox is reinforced by “I say, Mother, just look at that great baby!
Fancy wearing jewelry at his age! “, which demonstrates the absurdity and impossible nature of such a situation. The opinion of the diplomats as being children can be seen as a subtle subversion unto the European culture of More’s time and gold “being considered more valuable than human beings”. However, that fact that such a perfect society could have no value for valuable items is a paradox, or contradiction of human nature; as realistically, this situation could never happen as the compelling nature of power almost always overcomes that of a mere idealistic value.
The mere paradoxical nature of this instance can be viewed as both a humorous fault in More’s ideals and a didactic feature of the book where the utopia’s ideals are yet again undermined by real world facts. Thus, it can be rightly said that More has developed a “perfect” society with an incredible amount of flaws. Through the seemingly perfect ideals that More has put forth, contradictions have established a story, “… as entertaining as it is instructive”.