In my previous blog post, I examined the prevalence of eye- and sight-related language in Alexander Kuprin’s “Liquid Sunshine.” While it is tempting to continue in that same vein and discuss the role of eyes in the context of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, I was even more drawn to the creative ways in which Zamyatin manipulates different forms of reflection—namely, mirrors and shadows—throughout the story. In a city made almost entirely of glass, many opportunities arise for individuals in the One State to observe each other’s behavior. Despite the preponderance of windows, however, characters rarely have access to mirrors and, consequently, access to reflective tools for introspection. The primary site containing mirrors is the Ancient House, the only location in the One State not entirely constructed out of transparent glass. When D-503 and I-330 first visit the Ancient House, they stop in front of a mirrored wardrobe door. Upon future visits to the Ancient House, they repeatedly make reference to the mirror, especially as it relates to I-330 and her eyes.
After D-503 and I-330 first begin their dalliance, D-503 begins to engage in reflective processes. During his first visit to the Ancient House, he sees himself reflected in I-330’s eyes and feels “unnatural and unlike [himself]” (Zamyatin, 27). He later describes how he “became glass. [He] saw—within [him]self” (56). Though D-503 views himself in a certain light, once he looks within himself, his self-perception fractures. He notes that there “were two of [him]. The former one, D-503, number D-503, and the other…” (56). The incompatibility of the rigid, rule-abiding pre-I-330 D-503 and the now-rebellious D-503 only becomes manifest after D-503 views himself as a makeshift mirror. This realization is soon followed up by another mirror-related event, wherein D-503 examines himself in a mirror and realizes, “for the first time in my life—yes, for the first time—I see myself clearly, sharply, consciously…and I know: he, with his straight eyebrows, is a stranger, alien to me, someone I am meeting for the first time in my life” (59-60). Again, only once D-503 glances in a mirror does the dissonance between his prior and present selves become evident. Mirrors, which are inherently reflective bodies, betray the disconnect between a person’s perceived and actual self. The act of engaging in both the literal and figurative reflective processes enables D-503 to comprehend the ways in which his insurrectionary transformation contravenes his past image as a devout member of the One State.
While the presence of mirrors in the novel empowers characters to understand more about incongruities in their worldviews and self-concepts, shadows obscure some of the malevolent forces invading the One State. Because shadows are a form of darkness contingent on reflection from light, they seem to have an inverse relationship to reflection than do mirrors. After D-503 begins to feel paranoid about his involvement with I-330, he envisions that S-4711 is his “gray-blue, two-dimensional shadow” (86), a ubiquitous and sinister force that accompanies him wherever he goes. In addition, D-503 refers to his dreaded √-1 and other irrational formulas as “fantastic, prickly shadows” (101) whose presence is not readily apparent but whose effects are easily felt. As the revolution draws closer, D-503 even tells I-330 that he is certain that “tomorrow there will be no shadows. No man, no object will cast a shadow….The sun will shine through everything” (183). Shadows, despite their relationship to reflection, appear far more menacing than their mirrored counterparts. However, a far more detailed analysis of the mentions of shadows throughout the novel could provide more insight into how they function throughout the story.