Literature Study GuidesUtopiaBook 2 Chapter 5 Summary

Utopia | Study Guide

Sir Thomas More

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Utopia | Book 2, Chapter 5 : Of Their Traffic | Summary



The Utopian population is carefully managed in many ways. In the home rules are very strict. The oldest man rules the household, "wives serve their husbands, and children their parents, and always the younger serves the elder." In addition:

  • Women leave home when they marry, but men stay at home and obey their parents.
  • No city may have more than 6,000 residents.
  • Families must have at least 10 and no more than 16 members. Extra babies are adopted out to families with fewer children—and are often sent to other cities where there are fewer inhabitants.
  • If there are too many inhabitants of Utopia overall, the Utopians create a new colony on the mainland. This action is either by the consent of the native inhabitants or by force. Colonists can be recalled to Utopia if there is a need for more people (as a result of illness or natural disaster).

Everyone brings the fruits of their labor to a marketplace where the father of each family goes and takes what his family needs. There is no payment and no barter, and leftovers are distributed so there is no waste. Slaves butcher animals by the river, so no citizen need see or participate in an animal's death or cleanup.

Meals in cities are served at large halls, and there are complex rules for preparing, serving, and eating meals. The oldest eat first and then the younger adults. Children generally sit quietly. There is special provision made for nursing mothers. If a nursing mother is not available, any mother may nurse a child, and "the child whom they nurse considers the nurse as its mother." In the countryside each family receives provisions from town and eats in its own home.


The expression "from each according to his ability and to each according to his need" is a slogan Karl Marx made popular in 1875. Like More, Marx believed people usually feel the need to acquire more than they need because they fear they will have too little. He stated, "It is the fear of want that makes any of the whole race of animals either greedy or ravenous." The only other reason for acquiring unneeded goods is pride.

While More's vision of communal sharing may have been based largely on religious beliefs, Marx's very similar vision was political. The general idea, however, is very similarly expressed by both men, along with the expectation that lack of want would make it easy to share and share alike. Unfortunately, the real-world Marxist experiment in the Soviet Union ended with a very different outcome.

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