Literature Study GuidesUtopiaBook 2 Chapter 1 Summary

Utopia | Study Guide

Sir Thomas More

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Utopia | Book 2, Chapter 1 : Description of Utopia | Summary

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Summary

Book Two is titled "Of the Discussion Which Raphael Hythloday Held Concerning the Best State of a Commonwealth, by Way of Thomas More, Citizen and Undersheriff of London." Each section within Book Two relates to a different aspect of the imaginary state of Utopia. Chapter 1 relates to the geography and layout of the country.

In his description, Raphael says Utopia is an island, more or less crescent shaped. "Between its horns the sea comes in eleven miles broad, and spreads itself into a great bay," which is protected from winds. The land is particularly safe from intruders because the entrance to the harbor is rocky. He says, "The channel is known only to the natives ... if any stranger should enter into the bay ... he would run great danger of shipwreck." Additional harbors in other parts of the island are also well protected and fortified so it would be easy to defend against an attacker.

This handy geography is not accidental. Utopia was not originally an island, but its first ruler, Utopus, decided to cut off his country from the mainland. People laughed at this idea, but as soon as it was accomplished they "were struck with admiration and terror."

Utopus organized his new nation so that each of its 54 cities would be nearly identical, both in appearance and in culture. Amaurot is the capital, and each city sends representatives to the central government. Each city is at least 20 miles in diameter, and there are farms all over the island. People are sent to the farms from the cities by turn so everyone has a share in both urban and rural life. In addition, "There is a master and a mistress set over every family," and for every 30 families there is a magistrate.

Raphael describes uniquely healthy and easy-to-breed chickens (which are able to move about when they are born, and consider every hen to be their mother), cattle, and horses. He explains the farms share any surplus with areas that have less so everyone in Utopia has an equal amount of food and other supplies.

Analysis

Utopia's geography is perfect: arable land, temperate weather, plenty of impregnable but hospitable harbors. The physical and cultural organization of Utopia is based on absolute uniformity. Every city is alike, every family shares in urban and rural labor, and every region receives the same amount of food and other necessities. Even the chickens share in the communal experience. The communal nature of labor and governance, Raphael assures the reader, leads to a surplus of goods as well as a happy and contented populace.

This approach to governance and style of living is almost exactly the opposite of what More would have experienced in his day-to-day life. The Tudor world was extraordinarily hierarchical with the Church and king at the top of the hierarchy and laborers at the bottom. Though Henry VIII and the Reformation would soon be making significant changes, those changes had not yet occurred when Utopia was written.

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