Although the characters in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia often argue with each other and present
opposing viewpoints, it is the combined effort of the views that represents the author’s true message. By rhetorically
taking away the direct, literal seriousness of the story, entering himself into the story as a fictional character, and creating
a compound argument among many random characters, More does not choose a side, but rather gives the reader a "personification"
of the conflict involving his own controversial views.
More begins by giving his story a light,
jovial feel by creating the character of Hythloday who is portrayed as obscenely radical. In the introduction and throughout,
Hythloday is described as a man who could read and speak Latin and Greek, hinting the reader in to the Greek origin of Hythloday's
name, which means "peddler of nonsense.(More x)." All the names of the peoples and cities Hythloday mentions in his travels
are also hints. Utopia, for example is a pun on two Greek words, Eutopia (good place) and Outopia (no place). Sadly, very
few people knew Greek at the time Sir Thomas More wrote, or these hints might have been a clue that the entire concept and
the opinions surrounding it were based in foolery. On the other hand, they also might have been placed in the text to distract
from the serious social criticisms More was making.
In the story, Hythloday receives great scoffing from the other characters
for his comment on servitude for the Royal Family. He argues that rulers are interested in "military pursuits" rather than
"pursuits of peacetime (16)", in conquering new territory rather than finding better ways to govern their own. He further
argues that the advice of the ruler’s favorites, whether wise or foolish, will always be met with approval by men trying
to "suck up". In such an atmosphere, the advice of an outsider, no matter how wise, would meet with disdain (16-17). The other
characters more or less pass off this comment, viewing it as a comment made by just that- an outsider. The character of Hythloday
is, from the start, not taken completely seriously.
The issue of whether to join the service
of the King or remain a philosopher was one that Sir Thomas More constantly struggled with in his life. At the time he wrote
Utopia, this question was of particular interest to him, as he was on the brink of joining the King's service. The argument
between More and Hythloday can therefore be seen as an internal argument Sir Thomas More was having with himself. The struggle
between remaining free to pursue the ideal and pragmatically compromising that purity for the sake of social utility is an
important theme in Sir Thomas More's life, right down to his final decision to rather be a martyr.
The fictional frame of Utopia allows Sir Thomas More to put the discussion of issues into a dramatic, character-based argument
and show those issues from multiple sides. Here, Sir Thomas More gives a subtle clue that while the character More bears his
name and perhaps some of his views, Hythloday also embodies aspects of Sir Thomas More's beliefs and ideas. The set-up of
this fictional argument further allows Sir Thomas More to explore issues that, in a non-fiction work, might get him into trouble
with the King, or the wealthy as a whole. He directly accuses the rich of "cornering the market," the King of setting "specious"
judgments on criminals- in other words "making them into thieves and then punishing them for it (25)." These criticisms were
likely to result in a punishment of beheading in 16th Century England. By having his character More argue with these criticisms
in the fictional work, it appears that Sir Thomas More does not believe these opinions himself, thus he is safe from punishment.
With this in mind, it is no accident that Sir Thomas More gave his name to one of the conservative characters in the book
that basically defends the status quo (or opinion of the King). The fictional More stridently disagrees with Hythloday's more
radical propositions such as the eradication of private property, and in doing so provides a sort of cover for Sir Thomas
More. The disagreement by his namesake seems to imply, at least on the surface, that Sir Thomas More also disagrees with Hythloday.
This might be a clever way for the author More to display his own struggle with forming an opinion on these matters- putting
on paper the inner commentary he had while trying to make a realistic decision about his social criticisms.
The exchange between More and Hythloday can be seen as a conflict between two separate ways of thought, combined in this piece
of literature to utilize the good qualities of both. Hythloday adheres to a belief in the purity of the philosophical ideal
of truth; More has a more pragmatic belief that such purity has no value and that it must be tempered and put to public use,
even if that means compromising the original ideal. This is a classic political and philosophical conflict, with roots spread
at least as far back as Plato.