Ben Start Essay
The main idea behind a utopian community is a group of people working together for the “greater good”. These people ideally put the health and development of the community above their own self-interest; this is usually facilitated by a close-knit group of people who share familial, religious, economic or political bonds. In the book, Commonwealth is a classic example of a utopian community in that it is structured not like nearby towns, but rather was built from the ground up as a worker’s community founded on progressive ideals. As products of the Everett massacre, Charles Worthy and others rejected many of the values that pervaded America at this time, namely big capitalism and anti-labor. This also reflects the realities of many Utopian communities created in the 19th and early 20th centuries; their founders sense something wrong with the outside world and attempt to at least partially isolate their community so as to prevent it from being tainted. Influenza (and the resulting self-imposed quarantine) becomes both an allegory to the outside “ailments” of society that Commonwealth has always been attempting to keep out, and a foreshadowing of how the community will never truly be able to keep either from disturbing their way of life.
The message that I took from this book, then, was that isolation, in the attempts to create a utopia, is always a pipe dream, because you can never fully insulate yourselves from the outside; you’re simply running from the problem, and you can’t run forever. Instead of succumbing to fatigue from trying to keep ever vigilant against the outside, you sometimes have to bite the bullet and attempt to work with what you have. Yes, people will die from the flu, in this case, but life as a whole will (and did) go on.