English 105W – Spring 2012 – Course Review Questions
Utopia – Key Terms and Concepts
• Explain the significance of the two meanings for utopia: (1) perfect world and (2) nowhere
(“u” or “ou” = “no” or “non”; “topos” = “place” or “where”).
• Discuss the significance of Ernst Bloch’s definition of utopia as the “forward dream of what
is not yet.”
• What does Fredric Jameson mean when he claims the most successful utopias are the ones
that fail the most completely?
• What, if anything, distinguishes a “utopia” from a “dystopia”?
• What separates “utopia” from “ideology”? Why is dreaming of utopia so often considered
dangerous in 20 century thought?
• What are the seven purposes of literary utopias?
• What makes the story of Eden such an important foundation for utopian thought?
• What does the story of Eden tell us regarding the coexistence of knowledge and paradise?
What does it mean for Adam and Eve to be “post-lapsarian”?
• What sorts of hierarchies does the story of Eden depict?
• What’s the role of prohibitions and boundaries in this paradise?
• What should we make of the role of Eve in the Fall?
• Describe Eden in terms of a lost eco-paradise.
• Discuss Genesis in terms of the tension between desire and law: How does the conflict
between human nature and natural law trouble the ideal of harmony?
Rule of St. Benedict
• Discuss the significance of the monastery’s isolation in maintaining a spiritual utopia.
• Connect the lack or privacy in the monastery to the monastic ideal of community. What do
the monks think about the value of individuality? Provide examples.
• What is the role labor and work in sustaining monastic life?
• Discuss the monastery in terms of the tension between hierarchy and equality.
• How does monastic life mask the “animal” nature of humans?
• What does the Rule suggest is the best way to maintain order: love or fear? Both? Neither?
• What are the forms of exclusion in the monastery? Who is said – implicitly or explicitly – not
to belong and what makes these exclusions significant?
• How does the social organization of the Shakers challenge typical gender hierarchies?
• Why do spiritual or identity utopias need to regulate sexuality? How does this tendency
manifest in the Shaker community?
1 • How is the Shaker community similar and/or different from The Rule of St. Benedict in its
attitude towards gender? Is it similar and/or different from Genesis?
• Explain how isolation both helps unify the Shaker community and dooms it to failure.
• What makes travel and commerce so dangerous for the Shakers? Why do they compose so
many strict rules regulating it? (How does it remind of the Rule of St. B? Genesis?)
• How does this community unsettle the capitalist ideal of private property?
• What attitude do the Shakers have towards adornment? What does this attitude suggest about
their core social values?
• What sorts of education do the Shakers advocate? Does it encourage or discourage
• Discuss the ideal of equality in terms of access to divine revelation.
• How does the Amana community restructure family bonds?
• How does the successful scale of the Amana community complicate its attempt to enforce
• How does the practice of “complex marriage” distinguish the Oneida community from other
• What does the practice of “complex marriage” do to the value of family in this community?
• Explain the difference between “procreative” and “non-porcreative” sex in terms of “sexual
• How does the existence of “spiritual hierarchies” in the Oneida community complicate its
claims of communal equality?
• How is Revelations linked back to the story of Adam and Eve?
• “Apocalypse” means ripping back the “veil” to reveal the truth. In what ways does
Revelations perform this apocalyptic gesture? What is the truth it reveals?
• Describe Revelations’ imagination of world ending cataclysm.
• In Revelations, apocalypse purges and cleanses through destruction of existence. Discuss the
utopian dimension of Revelations.
• Who belongs in the New Jerusalem? How does this exclusion reflect trends in other utopian
texts we’ve read?
• What are the social implications of a utopia believers locate in some distant future rather than
in the past or present?
“The Land of Cockaigne”
• What is this poem’s attitude towards hierarchies? How might Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of
the “carivalesque” help us understand this attitude better?
2 • In what ways is this a men-centric utopia?
• Explain how this utopia turns versions of religious utopia up-side-down.
• Why is complete sensual gratification in this poem potentially so dangerous to social order?
• From what social or class position does this poem present an ideal world? Why?
• Why is this utopia described through this form poetry? Does its sing-song rhyme scheme
make it seem more or less serious?
• Describe how this poem both subverts social order but also subverts itself. Is it (1) a
resistance to authority? or (2) Escapism as a social safety valve? Or (3) A world where
imagining alternative social worlds becomes possible?
• Discuss the significance to utopian thought of the narrator’s warning to “Beware”.
• In what ways is Xanadu a “post-lapsarian” utopia?
• What dialogue does it create with Genesis? Discuss the role of the forbidden and the function
of nature within these two utopias.
• Using examples from its use of metaphors, line lengths and rhyme schemes, discuss the
conflict between essentialized masculine and feminine forces in the poem.
• How does the poem foreshadow or anticipate the discord it later introduces?
• How should we feel about the fact the narrator presents a woman as the agent disrupting the
harmony of Kubla Khan’s Xanadu?
• Describe Xanadu as typical or exceptional within traditions of eco-critical and epicurean
thought. Are these utopian ideals compatible in the poem? Why or why not?
• Coleridge claims the narcotic opium inspired “Kubla Khan.” What would you argue is “drug-
like” about it?
• Discuss the use of modal verbs (could, should would) towards the end of the poem. What do
they suggest about the narrator’s attitude regarding utopia as the poem closes?
• Why is this poem’s fragmentary nature significant?
• This poem, like “Kubla Khan,” deals with narcotics. How does the plight of the lotos-eaters
compare or contrast to the world Coleridge creates?
• What does the poem suggest about the viability of a utopia which removes all labor, worries
and pain? What is the price of utopia?
• How does the line length, rhythm and rhyme scheme of the stanzas convey the mental state
of the stranded mariners?
• Why is the location of this utopia on an island significant?
• In what genre or genres does More’s text belong? Why?
• How does the dual meaning of the title (ideal place and no-place) shape our reading of the
3 • Is this text (1) a practical utopian plan, or (2) a game mocking readers who take it seriously,
or (3) a joke meant to be taken in earnest?
• How does the structure of the first book as a dialogue affect the content discussed?
• Define “litotes.” Discuss their rhetorical significance in the text.
• What purpose do para-textual materials like engraved maps, images, letters and an invented
• What affect does reference to exact dates and existing people in Book I have?
• How does Book I present Hyplodaes? How are we supposed to feel about him as a narrator?
How does it affect our attitude as readers towards his description of utopia?
• Who is More’s intended audience? Why would he want to present utopia through the
character of Hyplodaes rather than in his own voice?
• Discuss how Book I responds to the hottest topics in 1516 England.
• Why does More place John Cardinal Morton at the dinner table during his exchange with
• How does Book I inflect how we react to Book II? What is the purpose of this two book
structure? How does it set up our narrative expectations?
• What is the central argument of Book II? What does it identify as the “root of all evil” it
proposes to eliminate? What makes this remedy such a radical one in More’s historical
• How does the language in Book II shift after the long, complex, clause laden speeches of
Book I? What is the significance of this stylistic shift?
• Imagine More only published Book II of Utopia. How would this decision change our
understanding of the society it presents?
• Why is it significant that Utopia is an island? How does it compare to other islands like that
described in “The Lotos-Eaters”? Or other forms of isolation that those presented in The Rule
of St. Benedict or The Millennial Laws?
• What about entering Utopia suggests it could be perilous to do so?
• What kind of citizen lives in utopia? Do they have a different human nature because of the
different social system?
• Discuss the attitudes of the utopians towards spatial organization, mobility and family. What
core values can we derive from these attitudes?
• Explain how the structuring and monitoring of time in Utopia are essential to maintaining
social order. How is it similar to the labor of the monks, the Shakers etc.?
• Discuss the Utopian attitude towards transparency.
• What assumptions do the Utopians make about education?
• What are some of the “swing-moments” that suggest Utopia might not be as perfect as it
• Where does religion fit into Utopia? What’s unique and what’s different from typical
• Does Utopia support a pragmatist or idealist approach to utopian thought?
• How does the fact the dialogue ends midsentence change the fable?
4 • Like Utopia, this is an island. What’s up with islands?
• Explain how this dialogue blends reality and fiction.
• Situate this utopia within the theme of lost paradises extending from Genesis.
• What sorts of abundance does Atlantis possess?
• What initially makes Atlantis a “perfect” society? How do they stray?
• So, what’s the point? Idle conversation? Warning? Parable of Athens’ downfall?
“Sailing to Byzantium”
• Discuss Byzantium as a personal utopia as opposed to a social one.
• Does the narrator achieve his utopia?
• Why does Yeats present Byzantium in particular as a utopian destination?
• Explain how the narrator of the poem transcends the animal matter of his body. What does
this transformation have to do with alchemy and hermetic philosophy?
• Is this desire to transcend the animal similar to other utopias?
• Is there a potential hollowness to the narrator’s transformation? Why?
The New Atlantis
• Discuss the significance of the shift from utopias oriented in the past to those oriented in the
future. What changing values does this shift reflect? How does Bacon’s utopia reflect the
values of optimism and progress that infuse scientific reason?
• Explain how secrecy operates on the island. How is knowledge entangled with power?
• How does New Atlantis link scientific discovery to imperial power in particular?
• How reliable is this narrator?
• Where does this tale fit within the utopian tradition of travel narratives? Islands?
• What do you make of the fact the narrator is never really shown the wonderful discoveries he
is told about?
• What reference does Bacon make to Utopia? How does this reference reflect how his
worldview diverges from More’s?
• Why is the narrator allowed to leave and publish his account of Bensalem if they want to
keep their society secret?
• What should we make of the secret agents Bensalem sends out to spy on the outside world?
• What do you make of Bacon ending the text with “the rest was not perfected”? How does this
unfinished nature compare to Critias or “Kubla Khan”?
• How does Bacon square the science and religion of Bensalem?
• Explain the different meanings of the title and its significance to utopian thought.
• This play relies on doubleness: echoes, mirrors, repetitions, inversions and tensions. Identify
some examples and explain their significance in the play.
• Island again. Seriously.
• Is Prospero a benign magician or a sinister sorcerer? Is he civilized or is he barbarous?
5 • Caliban is often described as monstrous by the other characters but also speaks the most
eloquently of any of them. What do you think of this irony? Is he meant to be a sympathetic
figure? If so, what does that do to our appraisal of Prospero?
• Gonzalo proposes a utopia that draws the derision of the other characters. What are the
features of this utopia? Are Sebastian and Antonio justified in their criticisms of it? Judging
by their reputations, should we take their criticism seriously? What comment does this
important scene make on the island utopia?
• Prospero derives his power from his books and often refers to his magic as his “art.” What
does the play suggest is the role of knowledge and art in utopian thought?
• How does Prospero’s rule of the island and treatment of Ariel and Caliban speak to emerging
consciousness of the “New World”? How does this issue of colonization relate to Bacon’s
exploration of imperialism in The New Atlantis or the foreign policy of More’s Utopians?
• Explain how the opening scene overturns hierarchies. How is this similar or different from
“The Land of Cockaine”?
• How does The Tempest fit in the utopian tradition of travel narratives?
• Miranda is the only female character in The Tempest. What does her portrayal say about the
role of women in Prospero’s utopia? Is there some misogyny at work here? How and why?
• Does this play have a positive or negative view of human nature? Explain.
• When Prospero gives up his magic is he relinquishing utopia or gaining it?
• The manifesto is a new utopian genre. Discuss how The Communist Manifesto attempts to
move utopia from imagining into practice.
• Name five utopian elements of Marxism.
• Even though Marx grounds his critique in economic realities, his text is full of figurative
language. Explain the significance of specters, ghosts, hauntings and zombies in Marx’s
thought. [For you Twilight fans, he also compares capitalism to vampires in Capital: Volume
1. Isn’t it funny that vampires become extremely popular during horrible economic
downturns? Bloodsucking seems to be on everyone’s minds these days.]
• What are the main points of Marx’s critique of capi