Utopia & Utopian Literature By Sir Thomas More Summary and Analysis Book II: The Discourse on Utopia: Country Life

Summary

Farmhouses are provided for agricultural communities, called "families," including some 40 men and women plus two slaves. Thirty such families are presided over by a magistrate.

There is an interesting arrangement for giving variety to occupational activities. Most people, after spending two years working in the country, are transferred to the city for the next two years, but the shifts are staggered so that only half of a farm "family" is moved in a given year. Work on the farm involves, as one would expect, plowing and harvesting, and raising cattle, chickens, horses, and oxen, the latter being used chiefly for work animals in preference to horses. Their plan is to produce more food than is required for the support of the population. Sufficient surplus is stored for two years' supply against crop failure, and the remainder is sold to foreigners. What money is received from such a sale goes into the national treasury to be used only in case of war, for no money is used among the citizens.

Analysis

The life of a farmer in Utopia seems not very different from that of an English farmer in More's day, with the exception of the housing of 40 or more people together. The Utopian farmer owned neither the land he farmed nor the house he lived in, but that was true of a good many English farmers as well. It was simply a question of who owned the place you farmed — a rich lord or squire in England, or the state in Utopia. What is really different is that an opportunity was provided to change activities and scenery. This, to More, was intended to equalize labor assignments because farm work was more strenuous than most city occupations.

The only oddity mentioned in working the farm was that of hatching chickens by means of a kind of incubator system. That practice was recommended because the chicks hatched in that fashion regarded the person who fed them as their mother.

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