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Utopia | Summary

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Summary

Utopia is a work of political and social satire written in three sections. Its author never describes a particular purpose in writing Utopia. However, scholars agree it is a combination of social satire and genuine philosophical thinking. It can sometimes be hard to know where More is being facetious and where he is arguing for social or political change.

Front Matter

Before the beginning of Utopia, More provides a number of made up but intriguing items. These include poems and an alphabet in the "Utopian language," maps of Utopia, and letters that supposedly verify the existence of Utopia.

Book One: Thomas More Meets Raphael Hythloday

Book One, which is much shorter than Book Two, describes a trip that More takes to Flanders (modern-day Belgium). There he meets up with his (real life) friend Peter Giles and the fictional character of Raphael Hythloday. The fictional Hythloday, it turns out, has traveled with the (real life) Amerigo Vespucci to the New World (the Americas). From there Hythloday went off on his own to discover the fictional island of Utopia.

Much of Book One is made up of sociopolitical debate among More, Hythloday, and Giles. Hythloday describes a discussion he had with a variety of real and made-up men at a dinner party hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the end of Book One, Hythloday offers to tell the gathered group about the amazing culture and politics of Utopia.

Book Two: Utopia

Book Two consists of an in-depth description of the physical, social, and cultural aspects of Utopia as described by Hythloday. By the end of Book Two, the reader has a well-rounded vision of what it would be like to live in the fictional Utopia. The chapters include:

  • Description of Utopia: This chapter focuses on the geography and geology of Utopia, along with details about its many harbors, its 54 cities, and its many farms.
  • Of Their Towns, Particularly of Amaurot: This chapter explains the layout of Utopian cities. It tells the way their houses and gardens are laid out, cared for, and shared so that no one owns anything. All goods and land are available to all.
  • Of Their Magistrates: This chapter describes the government and justice system of Utopia. It includes a system that makes people slaves rather than imprisoning or executing them for crimes.
  • Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life: Everyone in Utopia—men, women, and children—works in agriculture, makes their own clothes, and enjoys leisure activities such as attending lectures or playing games. There is no money, and no one is richer than anyone else.
  • Of Their Traffic: This chapter describes the family structure of the Utopians and the very specific rules by which the society is organized. The chapter also describes how the sick and injured are cared for.
  • Of the Travelling of the Utopians: Utopians travel from city to city, but they must ask for and receive permission to do so. No one is allowed to wander aimlessly without a plan, or to stay anywhere without working. "All men live in full view" of one another so no one can break a rule without their actions being noticed or without consequences.
  • Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages: Utopians have many slaves, mainly consisting of criminals and the poorest members of other neighboring societies. Women have more rights and privileges than was common during More's time but fewer than are common today. Divorce is possible though not common.
  • Of Their Military Discipline: Utopians "detest war," but when they do fight, they do so with the aim of avoiding bloodshed.
  • Of the Religions of the Utopians: In Utopia there are many religions. People may worship the sun, the moon, the planets, and any other idols. All agree, however, in the idea of a Supreme Being.

By the time Hythloday has told his entire story he is exhausted. More, thinking deeply about what he has heard, takes Hythloday to dinner.

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