Utopia by Thomas More: Summary & Analysis

Utopia by Thomas More: Summary & Analysis
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  • 0:02 ''Utopia'' Introduction
  • 0:28 Book One Summary
  • 1:50 Book Two Summary
  • 3:33 Analysis of ''Utopia''
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cirrelia Thaxton

Cirrelia is an educator who has taught K-12 and has a doctorate in education.

In this lesson, you'll learn about Thomas More's 'Utopia' and learn why living in a perfect world was desirable in 16th-century Europe. Quiz yourself to see how well you did!

Introduction to Utopia

In 1516, Sir Thomas More, an English scholar, writer, and lawyer, published his literary work, Utopia, which was a book that explored the notion of a perfect (and imaginary) society. It arguably has moved readers throughout the ages. More divides this classic work into two books that portray Utopia as an egalitarian society for the good of every inhabitant.

Book One Summary of Utopia

In Book One, Thomas More and his friend, Peter Giles, interrogate a wayward traveler named Raphael Hythloday. During their intense meeting, the three men converse, exchanging philosophical ideas. More and Giles are impressed by Hythloday's immense knowledge and ask him why he does not seek employment in the service of a king. Hythloday turns them down, saying he wouldn't do well at court because it condones blind obedience and favoritism based on flattery rather than performance. Nevertheless, More and Giles insist that a man of great knowledge has a responsibility to serve his country.

The men focus on England during their dialogue. In particular, Hythloday criticizes England for an excessive penal code and an unfair distribution of wealth amongst the population. More and Giles listen attentively, while Hythloday critically analyzes other European countries that have economic troubles due to weak governments. Thus, the purpose of Book One is to establish a worst case scenario for society.

More wants to describe the things that are wrong with civilization before he introduces the island nation known as Utopia in Book Two. The word Utopia comes from the Greek: topos and ou. Topos means 'place,' while ou means 'no:' together, the words form 'no place,' which describes Utopia. Further, Utopia is a pun on the Greek word eu that means 'perfect' or 'new.' Hence, Utopia is a perfect, imaginary place.

Book Two Summary of Utopia

Book Two begins as More, Giles, and Hythloday have a meal together. Hythloday shares details about Utopia with his two companions. He explains key features, such as geography, community, family, marriage, education, and social structures, which illuminate the work-life patterns of Utopia. For instance, divorce is permitted for special circumstances, and education is a cultural norm. An island with no borders, Utopia has well-planned towns where farming by traditional families is the main activity.

Hythloday continues describing Utopia's government, law, politics, work, slaves, property, and economics. Utopians elect delegates to lead the government, and they have few reasons for lawyers. Because they have no desire to expand their nation, Utopians do not make foreign alliances. Further, Hythloday emphasizes that Utopians work only six hours a day and have no need for extravagance. The slaves found in Utopia are criminals or poor workers from other countries. Since Utopians do not engage in trading, they do not use money.

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