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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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THEMES

Major Theme

Perfection in society in matters of kingship, councilors, laws, justice, property, work, wars and religion is the main theme of the book. The concept of a perfect state is very clear in Utopia. The perfect king is an elected king with very limited powers. Philosopher-councilors who advise the king to tread the right path even at the cost of personal favor are the best. Laws should be simple and clear, which every citizen can understand. Justice is tolerant and not excessive. Prevention of crime by good examples is definitely better than harsh punishment. Private properly and money are the two great sources of inequality. These are abolished in an ideal commonwealth and everything is free and easily available. To enable this everybody should work; Utopia does not tolerate drones. Nobody can live off the labor of others. There is nothing glorious about war and it should be avoided. However, the rights of a state are of paramount importance and if these are transgressed, the state should go to war. But in war, bloodshed and destruction of land should be avoided. The ideal religion is peaceful and tolerant. The people have a sense of belonging. They are very proud of their state and do their best to sustain the ideal conditions.


Minor Theme

The social inequalities of sixteenth century Europe in general and England in particular is a minor theme of this work. In every aspect, conditions were just the opposite of ideal, especially for those who held little power such as peasants and the mercantile class. The kings were powerful, ambitious and thought they ruled by divine right. They paid scant attention to the advice of their ministers or to the needs of the people. The ministers and councilors, in turn, only sought to maintain their position in court. If they could maintain their position only by abetting the king in his wrong acts, they did so.

There were far too many laws in these countries and many of them were very ambiguous. In fact, the stricter the laws, the more sophisticated the society was considered to be. Justice, as contemporary readers know it, was non-existent as both sides twisted the laws to suit their own convenience. Judges were corrupt and dependent on the monarch. Punishment was disproportionately severe for those who had little power.

Most of the property and money were in the hands of a few, who lived a life of leisure and extravagance. The majority had to work extreme hours to generate money that often benefited the rich. They themselves lived in dire conditions. Kings like Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France gloried in war and thought it very noble to embark on war for the flimsiest of reasons. This led to great hardship. A number of men were killed, land and crops were destroyed. Huge amounts of money were also needed to finance the wars and the people were taxed heavily to fill the king's treasury. The Church was very corrupt which lead to the Reformation Movement lead by a Gregorian monk Martin Luther.

These inequalities prodded More's social conscience to critique not only the problems pervasive in Europe but the concept of a society that provided for all rather than the few.

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