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Utopia | Study Guide

Sir Thomas More

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Utopia | Book 2, Chapter 4 : Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life | Summary

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Summary

The Utopians strongly emphasize the importance of work and have no patience for idleness. On the other hand, however, they have arranged their work lives so no one works more than six hours a day. To achieve this relative degree of leisure, they have a very specific way of organizing labor.

To start with, all Utopians—both men and women—are laborers. No one is exempt from labor—not even the governors. There are no beggars and no idle rich. In addition there are no trades that are "vain and superfluous, and serve only to support riot and luxury." Everyone spends some time working on the farms, and then each individual has his or her own special trade (trades can be inherited or selected by the individual).

Everyone, whether male or female, wears more or less the same simple clothing—and everyone is happy with this arrangement. No buildings are allowed to fall into decay, so there is no need to build new structures on new land.

In their off hours, activities are up to the individual man or woman. In Utopia people "are not to abuse that interval to luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise." Proper exercise includes reading, lectures, conversation, music, and specific games (no gambling is allowed).

Analysis

In this chapter More begins to explore the role of women in society. Unlike most men of his time, More made a point of educating his daughters. He seems to have had a relatively egalitarian relationship with his two wives. In Utopia he explores the idea that having women engaged in the workplace could have significant benefits: "women generally do little, who are the half of mankind."

While the idea of women as the equals of men is not completely carried out in Utopia, it is explored in much greater depth in later chapters. Women, of course, did not become the equals of men during Tudor times. Enfranchisement of women had to wait for the 20th century.

At least two of the ideas expressed in this chapter were brought to reality in China during the "Great Leap Forward," which took place at the end of the 1950s. Utopian dress, which barely differs between men and women, is similar in concept to the uniforms worn by Chinese men and women. The Chinese government also enforced expectations that all Chinese citizens should work the land. Though Utopians do so gladly, many Chinese were forced into such labor. The Great Leap Forward involved violence and coercion against the people of China and ended with a horrific famine. Could a society in which all agreed-upon rules of dress and universal farm labor have fared better? More suggests the answer is "yes."

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