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Utopia

1. What is it?

A utopia is an ideal society. Utopian literature is when a writer describes a perfect society.

Most utopian writing is making a political or social point about real society. However, sometimes utopias are describing heaven or a dream.

2. How is it made?

Create a foreign land, usually by someone visiting it.Descriptions of perfect or peaceful situations, laws, or behaviour.
 Sometimes involves discussions between the visitor and a local about how the utopia was created.

3. Examples in literature

Kubla Khan 
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Know Your Book

Title: Kubla Khan: or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment
Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Published: 1816
Language: English
Genre: Poetry; Romantic
Synopsis: Reportedly written after a dream, Kubla Khan describes a ‘pleasure dome’ built by Mongol ruler Kubla Khan filled with beautiful plants, hills and waters. The nature of man-made and natural beauty are referenced, as is the effect and incongruity of creating beauty within a boundary. Finally, this concept of creating endless imagined beauty in an artificial and defined space is linked to the work of a poet.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. Briefly, what do each of the three stanzas describe?
2. How large is the area covered by Xanadu?
3. Of which mountain does the maid sing? 
Identifying Techniques

4. Which simile is used to describe the fountain of water in the second stanza?
5. How do the rhyme structures of the different stanzas differ?
6. What assonance and consonance are used in the first two lines? 
Text Analysis

7. Which phrase in the first two lines state Xanadu as a utopia?
8. The poem is often read as a metaphor for the imagination and creativity process. Which ideas or phrases help establish this reading?
9. Compare the first and second stanzas. What changes between the two?
10. Although a ‘utopia’, Xanadu has ‘wild’ elements to it. What ideas or phrases suggest the wilder nature of this utopia? 
Theme Exploration

11. How is Kubla Khan’s effort at building a utopia described? Is he successful? 
Provoking Opinion

12. Is it possible to create a man-made utopia?
13. The poem is seen as a metaphor for the imagination and creativity. What do you feel would be a good metaphor for the creative process?
14. Coleridge said that the idea of the poem came to him in a dream, but he was disturbed in the morning when writing it and therefore forgot some lines. When is a work of art ‘finished’?
15. What is your idea of utopia?

Utopia
by Thomas More

Know Your Book

Title: Libellus vere aureus, nec minus rei salutaris quam festivus, de optimo publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia (*trans: Utopia)
Author: Thomas More (1478-1535)
Published: 1516
Language: Latin
Genre: Non-fiction; political philosophy; satire; utopia
Synopsis: The book begins with letters between More and philosophical acquaintances about the problems of society and the possibility of a perfect land. More than creates this perfect land, an island called Utopia, and proceeds to describe its social and political structure. Ideas include collective rather than private property; rotation of housing to ensure fairness; free healthcare; all citizens being trained in at least one practical trade; and the allowance for two slaves from the criminal population.

Excerpt from Book 2 (translated from Latin):

Under such a system, there’s bound to be plenty of everything, and, as everything is divided equally among the entire population, there obviously can’t be any poor people or beggars. Each town, you remember, sends three representatives to the annual Lietalk, or Parliament, at Aircastle. There they collect details of the year’s production, and as soon as it’s clear which products are plentiful in each area, and which are in short supply, they arrange for a series of transfers to equalize distribution. These transfers are one-way transactions, requiring nothing in return – but in practice the free gifts that Town A makes to Town B are balanced by the free gifts that it receives from Town C. So the whole island is like one big household.

1. The political system described in the passage most resembles

a) free market capitalism
b) democratic socialism
c) feudalism
d) established monarchy
e) meritocracy

Answer
b
2. Within the passage, the responsibility for equal distribution relies on

a) farmers
b) lawyers
c) town planners
d) politicians
e) charity

Answer
d
3. The narrator’s tone in describing the system is

a) envious
b) sardonic
c) reverent
d) distrustful
e) flippant

Answer
c
4. ‘So the whole island is like one big household.’ In the context of the passage, this line suggests that people in households

a) have individual roles that help the overall unit function
b) are the opposite to political systems
c) control goods distribution
d) are irrelevant in building societies
e) are role models for the political powers

Answer
a
5. Both Kubla Khan and Utopia make use of which style of narrator?

a) Unreliable
b) Objective observer
c) Second person
d) Heroic protagonist
e) Comic

Answer
b
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