‘They made the wrong choice,’ said one of my early readers of WE. She is a highly intelligent and strong-willed person, and I know why she said it. I’m sure that if she had been in the same position as my characters at the end of the novel, she would have gone in a different direction.
A certain amount happens in this story. There is dispute, physical danger and shocking discovery. But it’s primarily a psychological novel, and the climax is a moment of choice. If you are confronted with an overwhelmingly collective society – the WE – and it threatens to absorb you, what do you do?
The character called Lewis wants to preserve freedom at whatever cost. He wants to establish his own society, based on liberal principles, no matter how poor or difficult life is going to be outside the society he is trying to escape. He wants this to be a Mayflower story. Mayflower-type stories are powerful. They crop up again and again in story-telling. In science fiction they may get blended with the Adam and Eve myth, as the small band of colonists arrive on a pristine new world.
To the character called Erin the WE is even more horrifying than it is to Lewis. It means the death of her free will, and without free will no relationship with God is possible. Her response to the dilemma is prayer. But it’s not a response that the others can share, and therefore it is not decisive. Even an idea as powerful as God is powerless if held by only one person.
Paul, who chooses with them, is a child of the WE. And May has a child of her own coming, and must choose for two.
In the end the story is about whether there is any point being on your own. It’s about what you do when everyone else has gone off in a direction you don’t agree with. How you decide what ‘we’ means, and when, and why. And – this is the thing about reading – when the characters make the choice, the readers may make it too. They are free to choose their own way.