Literature Study GuidesUtopiaBook 2 Chapter 7 Summary

Utopia | Study Guide

Sir Thomas More

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Utopia | Book 2, Chapter 7 : Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages | Summary

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Summary

Slaves are very common in Utopia. Raphael explains slavery plays an important role in society because of the reasons for which people are enslaved. Specifically, Utopian people are enslaved for committing crimes—even for crimes as serious as murder. Only slaves who rebel are put to death. Non-Utopians become Utopian slaves after being condemned to die in their native lands. Non-Utopians also become slaves out of choice because life may be better for them as a Utopian slave than as a free person in their own country.

Raphael also explains the system by which Utopians manage sickness and death. The sick are well treated and everything is done to help them get well and to manage their pain. If they are beyond treatment, they have "become a burden to themselves and to all about them, and they have really out-lived themselves." They are encouraged to take their own lives. If they commit suicide without the approval of the priests and Senate, however, their body is thrown into a ditch.

Premarital sex is harshly punished because Utopians believe no one would marry if unmarried sex were allowed. Before marrying, both the bride and groom are presented to one another naked. This practice is a way to ensure no deformities or other issues have been hidden and no one is defrauded before marriage.

No man may divorce his wife without her consent, but if a couple is unhappy with one another and finds a preferable mate, they may petition the Senate. The Senate looks into the reasons for the divorce. Adulterers are punished, but others may be granted a divorce so they can remarry.

Raphael describes the laws of Utopia and explains there are few of them because few laws are necessary. Nevertheless, their form of justice has become so famous in the area that other nations ask them to send judges and magistrates to help them. Utopians are willing to help other nations. But they refuse to sign treaties or make alliances because they are aware of how treaties can be written to favor one party over another. Utopians also dislike the need for treaties. They believe treaties are written with the assumption that "all were born in a state of hostility." As a result, nations might "lawfully do all that mischief to their neighbors against which there is no provision made by treaties." This way of thinking is utterly un-Utopian.

Analysis

Thomas More, decades after the writing of Utopia, was executed in the Tower of London. He had refused to sign documents that made King Henry VIII the leader of the new Protestant Church of England. His refusal related to the king's desire to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn who, he hoped, would give him a male heir. It is likely, therefore, that More's description of Utopian ways of managing divorce should not be taken seriously. Similarly, More's suggestion that allowing premarital sex would lower the marriage rate is probably not serious.

The discussion of slavery harks back to Book One, which largely focuses on Raphael's belief that execution is the wrong punishment for a thief. Raphael supports the Utopian logic that killing a man for stealing teaches the man nothing and deprives him of the opportunity to change his ways. The character of Thomas More, however, is less enthusiastic about changing the laws. By separating himself from Raphael, More provides himself with an easy way to separate his own beliefs from those of the Utopians.

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