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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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Travelogue

The travelogue is another important technique used in Utopia. There are a number of reasons for this. The early sixteenth century saw the dawn of the great age of exploration. Travel literature that described the voyages of explorers was very popular at the time. This popularity of this genre doubtlessly influenced More's choice as did the fact that the travelogue had been used by authors like Lucian (The True Story), a great favorite of More's.

The Tudor period was the great period of exploration and discoveries. More was a young man of twenty when Columbus discovered America. More wrote Utopia when the imagination of man was stirred by this sudden enlargement of their conception of the world. With it came stories of marvelous and exotic cultures that had any different social practices and laws. More used these stories as a way to get his own ideas across about how society could be improved.

Literary popularity suggested the choice of the travelogue. It is an excellent way to offer solutions to problems without being pedantic. The travelogue distances people from the immediacy of the problem. Therefore, the problem can be viewed more objectively. The travelogue is also a perfect vehicle of criticism. It deals with strange places and conditions that are not familiar to the readers, but which exist somewhere beyond the known horizon. It serves to camouflage the unsavory nature of the critical comments. More condemns contemporary social conditions like the unequal distribution of wealth, crime and punishment, and the abuse of royal privilege by showing a place where these practices are not tolerated and people are happier because of it.

The smokescreen that the travelogue provides is an important requisite in More's case because he was such a prominent citizen. For such a visible man, it was neither savvy nor safe to write open criticism of the political and social conditions of his time. The travelogue, therefore, was an ideal substitute.


Unlike Lucian before him and Swift who wrote after him, More makes his hero, Raphael Hythloday, a member of a definite historical voyage -- Vespucci's fourth voyage of discovery. At the end of this voyage, Hythloday and twenty-four other sailors, are left behind. In the course of their wanderings they discover the commonwealth of Utopia. His narrative is lent more credence by mixing facts with fiction.

More maintains the format of the travelogue consistently. The language exhibits correct nautical terms and phrases. But the travelogue part is limited because More is not interested in actual travels. His quest is not for wonders or architectural marvels, or for strange and exotic customs and habits but for "towns and cities and weal publics, full of people, governed by good and wholesome laws." It is a journal of a mental, not physical, exploration of a social problem.

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