Presented as a conversation between friends, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia offers an alternative to European life that is hopelessly unobtainable, but undeniably superior. Utopia is absolutely fiction, and yet it is written in a style that makes its content remarkably believable. More’s conversational attitude towards a serious and scholarly piece of thought makes his thesis at once obscure and obvious. He spends a majority of the narrative describing small, unconnected details of the lives of the Utopians, ignoring the lengthy scholastic explanations which are to be expected of a man of his education, and yet through the detail he reveals an expansive and original hypothesis. More sees the value of the European lifestyle and yet, through his fictional acquaintance Raphael Hythlodaeus, makes a convincing argument for the practices of the Utopians. The dichotomy between the virtues of one culture and the failures of another highlight More’s most central point: perfection would be obtainable in real life only if the world could be destroyed and created again. Pride and human ambition will forever limit the people of the real world from seeing the success of the people on More’s fictitious island.
Raphael Hythlodaeus is a well traveled, well educated, and well opinionated man. He has seen enough of the world to know the world, and is articulate enough to share his opinions of it. Hythlodaeus’s discovery of Utopia and his persuasive account of the society he finds there create the narrative through which More discusses his ideas on perfection. More cleverly creates an incarnation of himself to hear about and question Hythlodaeus’s findings, effectively discussing weighty ideas in a causal and approachable manner. Utopia seems real because it is discussed as if it is real and because the man who finds it seems just as real as the man who invents him.
Established as a credible source, Hythlodaeus describes a lifestyle that shocks Europeans, both real and fictitious. Utopia is perfect, and yet almost everything about it is alien. Values held sacred in Europe are denounced and rejected in Utopia. Slaves are dressed in gold, and houses are redistributed and traded every ten years. Women are contributing members of society, existing even in the priesthood. Cities are well planned and ruled by a government that is always stable, the crowded streets of Europe’s cities and the turbulant thrones of its palaces. Utopians live without the faintest hint of proper European society, and yet, they are entirely content. Europeans, including More’s incarnation, are flabbergasted at how such a happiness could be possible in a world so different from their own. More uses the difference between the structure of Utopia and the established custom of Europe, and the skepticism of Europeans upon hearing of it, to discuss his views on the limitation and impossibility of perfection in Europe.
The most striking difference between Utopia and the nations of Europe is a...