Verification of Thomas More’s "Utopia" serving as eponym and paragon for the literary genre of utopian fiction using the example of Tommaso Campanella’s "The City of the Sun"
Essay 2010 15 Pages
List of contents
(1) Purpose of this paper
(2) Basic concepts of utopian fiction
(3) Thematic aspects in both works
(3.1.) Utopian socialism
(3.3.) Science and religion
(4) Structural aspects in both works
(4.1.) Dialogical structure and travel report
(5) Major differences and their explanations
Verification of Thomas More’s Utopia serving as eponym and paragon for the literary genre of utopian fiction using the example of Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun.
1. Purpose of this paper
In the following paper I will discuss the role of Thomas More’s work Utopia for the literary genre of utopian fiction. I will explain that the novel not only served as an eponym, but also as a model for the following literary works of utopian fiction. To prove the importance of Utopia in this regard, I will explain the definition of a utopia and the elements that make up the literary genre of utopian fiction. I will further compare selected structural and thematic aspects of Utopia and Tommaso Campanella’s utopia The City of the Sun and show the influence the earlier work had on the latter. In addition to that, I will finally discuss how several differences in these and other utopian novels can be explained.
2. Basic concepts of utopian fiction
As a utopia we understand an ideal community or society that is usually based on perfect happiness and fulfilment of its inhabitants. Utopias are counterdrafts to an existing reality and are rooted in history. Thus, every utopia has its point of origin in a reality that is felt as deficient and flawed, in which nature does not give freely and human life is based on laws which do not represent their subjects and hard labour that is shared unequally (Gnüg, 9). Common features that are shared by utopian works fictionality, which means that the draft for that ideal society is wrapped in a fictional story, a device which usually serves to protect the author of such works, and the placement on an island or a hard-to-reach place. With the full discovery of earth’s surface those places became either regions under water, or on other planets or even in the future or other dimensions. Early utopias though were usually situated on an island, or in regions that were surrounded by mountains and thus hard to reach and barely known. This remoteness and difficult reachability does create fictionality in a sense that it is not (yet) existent in this world, but also serves as protection and explains the unrenownedness and by this creates a sense of authenticity, because it leaves open the possibility that a place like that might actually exist. In that way it gives a impression of realizability. The often very detailed outline of this ideal society sets utopian fiction apart from philosophical treatises or political party manifestos in a structural way, whereas it sets it apart from other epic genres - such as the adventure novel - contentwise. It is important to understand that even though utopian fiction represents a political and social condition as optimum, which is seen as rational, it is also a powerful appeal. The tendency of a utopia to be real or realizable is different to that of other fiction, like for example that of a fairytale (Gnüg, 9).
The philosophical discursive utopia as well as the utopian novel lives from the tension between their design of an ideal society and their historical reality. Therefore utopian fiction usually goes hand in hand with the satire, as the ideal is presented as reality making actual reality appear even worse. That means that deficiency and desire are the two incentives for utopian thinking in any form (Gnüg, 12). In order to correct said deficiency, the authors of such utopian novels usually include the concepts of socialism, which guarantees equality, and democracy, which guarantees individual freedom. Equality in this sense is not understood as equality before the law, but as actual equality that includes the same living conditions for all members of a societal system. Same living conditions require the same economic conditions for everyone, ergo ideally the abolition of private property, which is, as mentioned above, the case in most utopias, as it is common opinion that only equal property relations guarantee real equal opportunities.
3. Thematic aspects in both works
3.1. Utopian socialism
A thematic aspect that is described in both texts, as well as in other utopian fiction, is that of socialism, which includes that everything that is produced or imported belongs to the whole community. In other words, there is no private property in either of these two societies. Both, More and Campanella, born into middle class families, learned early on what it meant to have to work hard for everything they owned. They knew of the suffering and hard labour of the poor and of the greed of the rich and therefore felt that private property was the main source of inequality of men.
More handles this desire to equalise in his Utopia by having everyone work six hours a day in order to produce enough provisions for every citizen. No one is excluded from this work, except for children, old and sick people. Everyone has to work on the fields for two years minimum and is then allowed to learn a second occupation, or even third or more, in which he works the rest of his working life. (“Agriculture is the one occupation at which everyone works, men and women alike, with no exceptions.” More, 36) Because everyone does work is it possible to reduce working hours to only six hours a day, a time that is even beat by Campanella’s 4-hour working day, and still provide enough for Utopias citizens and for trade with other nations. The authority over everything that is produced has the council of Amaurot. This council is made up of three representatives from each city – the oldest and experienced citizens. With “fifty-four cities on the island” (More, 32) that would make 162 council members, probably different ones every year – a rather large number. More describes the contribution of provisions in the following way: “In the annual gathering at Amaurot [...] they survey the island to find out where there are shortages and surpluses, and promptly satisfy one district’s shortage with another’s surplus. These are outright gifts; those who give receive nothing in return from those to whom they give. Though they give freely to one city, they get freely from another to which they gave nothing; and thus the whole island is like a single family.” (45) More’s choice of words would indicate that the produced provisions are property of the single cities, a fact that would contradict his previously mentioned concept of common property. It is however obvious that, with as many citizens as there are in Utopia, there is a need for someone to oversee the fair contribution of everything that is produced throughout the whole island. The mention of the island being like a family gives an idea of the emphasis More puts on the family system, an aspect to which I will return further on.
Campanella does mention that matter as he states that “the magistrate takes care that no one receives more than he deserves. Yet nothing necessary is denied to anyone.” It is difficult to grasp though, how this works in his City of the Sun as he mentions later on that “as many names of virtues there are among [them], so many magistrates there are among them”(8). It seems hardly necessary though to explain this matter further as Campanella limits his utopia to only one city and there is no mention of the number of citizens.
To come to the aspect of family, we have to say that in comparison to Campanella, More’s idea of utopian socialism is quite liberal as he does “not, of course, try to regulate the number of minor children in a family.” (41) or their upbringing. As far as we know from the text, school attendance is compulsory (“They are trained in it from childhood, partly in schools where they learn from theory, and partly through field trips to nearby farms,” More, 36 ; “every child gets an introduction to good literature” More, 49). There is no evidence that the state interferes with the moral upbringing of children as this seems hardly necessary since the Utopians in general have a strong moral code and the children do not have contact with anyone who could teach them wrong (“These and the like attitudes the Utopians have picked up partly from their upbringing, since the institutions of their society are completely opposed to such folly, and partly from instruction and their reading of good books.” More, 49) The only way in which Utopia’ s families are controlled is by sending adults away to smaller families when either their own family becomes too large or they want to learn an occupation different from that of their own family (“But if anyone is attracted to another occupation, he is transferred by adoption into a family practicing the trade he prefers.” More, 37).
Campanella goes a huge step further with his socialism as the institution family does not hold any importance in his City of the Sun (“Domestic affairs and partnerships are of little account” Campanella, 16). In his utopia “All things are in common with them, and their dispensation is by the authority of the magistrates. Arts and honors and pleas-ures are common, and are held in such a manner that no one can appropriate anything to himself.” (Campanella, 7) Campanella describes private property as a danger to the state, as it produces self-love. He includes an own home, wife and children in his idea of private property or states that at least these are the very reason private property is accumulated (“all private property is acquired and improved for the reason that each one of us by himself has his own home and wife and children.” Campanella, 7). Ergo, the danger Campanella sees in private property is the self-love that comes from it and thus he is of the opinion that “when we have taken away self-love, there remains only love for the State.” (Campanella, 7) More does not relate private property to self-love in that manner, but rather has Hithloday argue that “as long as [there is] private property, [...], it is really not possible for a nation to be governed justly or happily.” (More, 28)
In More’s Utopia, the family is the central part of society. More takes great care in describing marriage customs and living arrangements and he uses family units to describe the whole social and geographical structure of Utopia and its cities. He describes monogamous marriages where premarital sex and adultery is severely punished, as it would be hard for people to live happily with only one spouse if they were allowed promiscuity. (“The reason they punish this offense so severely is that they suppose few people would join in married love – with confinement to a single partner, and all the petty annoyances that married life involves – unless they were strictly restrained from a life of promiscuity.” More, 60-61) It is described that women are allowed to marry at the age of eighteen and men at the age of twenty-two, ages, it seems, that make sure both are reasonable enough to choose a suitable partner for life. Both partners have an equal right to refuse marriage to someone – a fact that shows equality of men and women. Utopia even grants its citizens the right to divorce – a quite daring description for More’s time. (see More, 60-62)