The dystopian society depicted in We is presided over by the Benefactor and is surrounded by a giant Green Wall to separate the citizens from primitive untamed nature. All citizens are known as "numbers".
Every hour in one's life is directed by "The Table", a precursor to Nineteen Eighty-Four's telescreen. It is also prefigured by Vicar Dewley's Precepts of Assured Salvation in Zamyatin's 1916 Newcastle novella Islanders.
The action of We is set at some time after the Two Hundred Years' War, which has wiped out all but "0.2 of the earth's population". The war was over a rare substance never mentioned in the book, but it could be about petroleum, as all knowledge of the war comes from biblical metaphors; the substance was called "bread" as the "Christians gladiated over it"—as in countries fighting conventional wars. However, it is also revealed that the war only ended after the use of weapons of mass destruction, so that the One State is surrounded with a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Allusions and references
Many of the names and numbers in We are allusions to personal experiences of Zamyatin or to culture and literature. For example, "Auditorium 112" refers to cell number 112, where Zamyatin was twice imprisoned, and the name of S-4711 is a reference to the Eau de Cologne number 4711.
The St. Alexander Nevsky, which was renamed Lenin after the Russian Revolution
Zamyatin, who worked as a naval architect, refers to the specifications of the icebreaker St. Alexander Nevsky.
The numbers [. . .] of the chief characters in WE are taken directly from the specifications of Zamyatin's favourite icebreaker, the Saint Alexander Nevsky, yard no. A/W 905, round tonnage 3300, where 0–90 and I-330 appropriately divide the hapless D-503 [. . .] Yu-10 could easily derive from the Swan Hunter yard numbers of no fewer than three of Zamyatin's major icebreakers – 1012, 1020, 1021 [. . .]. R-13 can be found here too, as well as in the yard number of Sviatogor A/W 904.
Many comparisons to The…