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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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PLOT (Synopsis)

Book 1

Utopia is an account of an ideal society in its multifaceted aspects: economically, politically, spiritually, and socially. It provides an alternative system that sees justice and equality as basic elements that all citizens should be given access. To make Utopia society seem even more effective and ideal, it is contrasted with the grim conditions present in 16th century Europe, and England, in particular. Using as his mouthpiece, Raphael Hythloday, More portrays the tyrannical and greedy aspects of European rule.

More is introduced to Raphael Hythloday by his (More's) friend, Peter Giles. The conversation that ensues among the three constitutes the substance of the whole book. This book gives Hythloday's account of his own views concerning contemporary Europe and then provides a firsthand account of an alternative society that provides for all by going into detail about Utopia society.

Once More realizes the immensity of Hythloday's knowledge, he insists that he enter the service of a monarch so that he could introduce and facilitate a just system to help all of humankind prosper, but Hythloday refuses to be part of any government as he thinks that what he has to say will go unheeded. Most of the first book then explores this debate on what obligations a person of knowledge and experience has to serve his country. Hythloday maintains his stance and proceeds to critically analyze the law, economy, and social conditions of European nations, particularly that of England.

He makes a number of points to prove his argument and sets them out in a rigorous, reasoned statement. Kings are all selfish, manipulative and power-crazy. They listen only to those councilors who abet them in their misguided ways. An honest councilor will be laughed at and disregarded. Kings resort to various devices to subjugate their subjects.


As regards crime and punishment, Hythloday thinks that extreme punishment is not a deterrent to crime. In England, thieves were hanged, but this did not deter men from stealing. As long as social conditions are fair, there will be no stealing, but if a man has no other means of livelihood, he will steal. In England in the sixteenth century, for a number of reasons, men had no jobs and could not feed themselves and their family. Therefore, they had to steal.

More is very impatient with Hythloday and though he sees the validity of Hythloday's objections to entering a king's services, he feels that it is the mariner's moral duty to do so. Plato, the ancient philosopher, thought that philosopher-kings were the ideal candidates for ruling nations. But More tells Hythloday that philosopher-councilors would be equally good. Therefore, Hythloday, with his knowledge and wisdom, would be and ideal philosopher-councilor. Hythloday does not agree and once more reiterates that kings will always follow their own councils, and even a wise councilor will be laughed at.

The book ends with a reference to the land of Utopia that will be discussed in the second book. The first book basically provides a negative picture of European culture and what is wrong with it. This provides an inroad to Hythloday's account of Utopia, a civilization that provides justice and equality for all.

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