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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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Symbolism

Thomas More has used a number of symbols in Utopia that emphasizes the high moral tone of the book.

The tower in Utopia symbolizes both goodness and strength. The tower is a physical necessity, it stands in the sea, midway between the two corners of the country and it contains a garrison of soldiers who can repulse invaders. Physically too, strength is implied. This tower is one of the first landmarks described in Utopia and becomes a symbol of moral impregnability and strength that results from the attainment of perfection.

The tower is built upon another universal symbol of strength -- the rock. A rock is solid, steadfast, and immovable. "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church," Christ said to Peter. This epitomizes the idea of durability and strength that is inherent in the image of the rock. Together, these two objects -- the tall tower built on a strong rock -- symbolize the strength and solidity of Utopia customs and values.

This rock is visible. There are other rocks in the sea that are submerged, and therefore, dangerous. They make the waters around Utopia difficult to navigate. Only the Utopia themselves know the landmarks that make the seas safe. Strangers who wish to reach the mainland safely need a guide, a local Utopian, to help them.


Water is the Christian symbol of life -- the life giver as well as the cleanser of impurities. Utopia, the blessed country, has a lot of water. Its capital, Amaurot, is fed by two rivers that never run dry. Where the river meets the sea, the sweetness of the river is mixed with saltines. This is an apt symbol of the renewal of life that results from happiness mixed with sorrow.

There are plenty of gardens in Utopia. The Utopians take great pride in their gardens. The garden is an important image and symbol in medieval literature. It represents basically two important ideas -- one of evil and failure, because of the Garden of Eden and the second of joy and happiness and closeness to nature, and therefore, to God. The Utopians are mostly farmers, husbandmen, tillers of soil. The plough-man is the one who grows food and sustains the nation. He is therefore God's closest assistant on earth; the man who feeds God's other children. Everyone in Utopia is close to the land because they must work as farmers for a certain number of years. This closeness reveals their closeness to nature, which is a main precept of Utopian society. Acting within the realms of natural law makes each person responsible for himself as well as for others. One can pursue pleasurable activities as long as they do not impinge on other people's happiness.

Perhaps the most important symbol in Utopia is the island. Most other Utopias are also islands as perfection needs isolation, without any contaminating influences working on it. Cut off from the rest of the world, the citizens of a perfect society nurture their values without any distraction or interference from the outside world. But the unhealthy atmosphere of inbreeding is eliminated because all the values present are perfect and perfection, when upheld correctly, cannot deteriorate into ugliness and depravity.

Symbolically, an island can be seen as a fortress of righteousness in an evil world. It is also a symbol of hope -- the long-awaited land to seafarers. In making Utopia an island, Sir Thomas More is also making a connection to Great Britain, which holds the potential for social reform and equality.

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