News from Nowhere Discussion Questions
Is the world in News from Nowhere a Utopia? Would you want to live in this world?
What do we think of Morris' description of the revolution? Is it realistic? How does it map on to the reality of the 20th century? (The revolution is described in chapter 17).
Morris describes an England that seems to have abolished the distinction between town and country. Population is spread relatively evenly, and while there do appear to be some centers of denser population, even those areas are closely tied to nature. There is perhaps nothing we could describe as “urban.”
This seems to reflect a fundamental Marxist idea. In the communist manifesto, Marx and Engles describe this abolition of distinction between town and country as one of the tasks of the ‘proletarian state’, saying this state must see to the “Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”
Some anarchists have similar ideas - that the city is inherently corrupting and that we should pursue a platform of de-urbanization or "degrowth"
Is the abolition of the distinction between town and country a necessary or inevitable part of revolution? Does your idea of utopia include de-urbanization?
What's going on with gender and sexuality is this novel? Is this a society that is liberated from patriarchy and heteronormativity? Or does the novel show the limitations of imagination from a 19th-century male socialist?
There seems to still be a gendered division of labor, and society seems deeply heteronormative - but they also seem to have abolished any formal institutions of marriage. There's a lot of talk about "beauty", particularly in descriptions of women, though the beauty of some men - particularly Dick - is emphasized as well.
What's going on with romantic and sexual jealousy as well? It seems as if the only violence in the society is the violence of jealous mean. Patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and male entitlement still seem to be issues.
There's a deep-seeded fear throughout the novel that the society will somehow run out of work for people to do. Instead of a scarcity of commodities, there's a feared scarcity of jobs. Why is this concern highlighted? Do we believe this a valid fear for a post-revolutionary society?
What is the practical importance of imagining utopias? Is there a concrete benefit to sharing the kinds of stories Morris has shared here? Does sharing our ideas of a better world help to combat nihilism and apathy and motivate people to take action?
From a book of essays on News from Nowhere whose title I can't remember:
The utopian imagination, at its most radical, invades the prevailing concept of reality, undermines certainties about what humans must always be like, and casts doubt upon the inevitability of the relations of everyday life.
The imagined future is a subversive force: the more who imagine a different kind of future, and imagine constructively, materially and determinedly, the more dangerous utopian dreams become.
As used by Morris, the utopian imagination served to root wishes, dreams and collective aspirations within the framework of the making of practical history
From News from Nowhere:
Chapter 2 - “And you see this ferrying and giving people casts about the water is my business, which I would do for anybody; so to take gifts in connection with it would look very queer. Besides, if one person gave me something, then another might, and another, and so on; and I hope you won’t think me rude if I say that I shouldn’t know where to stow away so many mementos of friendship.
Chapter 5 - “You see, children are mostly given to imitating their elders, and when they see most people about them engaged in genuinely amusing work, like house-building and street-paving, and gardening, and the like, that is what they want to be doing; so I don’t think we need fear having too many book-learned men.”
Chapter 15 - "What is the object of Revolution? Surely to make people happy. Revolution having brought its foredoomed change about, how can you prevent the counter-revolution from setting in except by making people happy? What! Shall we expect peace and stability from unhappiness?
Chapter 18 - "Most commonly beautiful of body." (What's up with this obsession with beauty? Also weirdly eugenic - where are the disabled people?)
Chapter 25 - “This is not an age of inventions”
Chapter 25 - “I found that the women knew as much about all these things as the men”
Chapter 28 - "Even amongst us, where there are so many beautiful women, I have often troubled men's minds disastrously. That is one reason why I was living alone with my father in the cottage at Runnymeade."