Ecotopia is a novel composed of a series of diary entries written by a fictional character named William Weston, an American journalist who went to experience life in Ecotopia. In his diary, he describes an ideal society that the author Ernest Callenbach envisioned. The setting takes place in 1999 where Northern California, Oregon, and Washington succeeded in separating themselves from USA and become an independent society, known as Ecotopia. It had its own military and foreign relations.
Weston starts his diary by describing the difficulty of getting into the border of Ecotopia. Apparently, people feared Ecotopia. It has a strict border and according to some rumors the people who went there never returned. Weston had his suspicion about the truthfulness of this rumor. He met a taxi driver in which he had to pay extra in order to make the driver drive him to his destination. Near the border, there are security guards who gave him a full body inspection and demand him to remove some of the stuff he brought along with him. He finally reached the train station and discovered that Ecotopians are not as scary as people describe. They are very kind, sociable, and they emphasize recycling.
Ecotopia preaches an eco-friendly and free-spirited lifestyle. Instead of cars, there are high-speed trains that operate using magnetic force, and they use wood and biodegradable plastic to build their own houses. Bicycles are their primary transportation devices. Ectopia also has “cradle to death” healthcare, along with extensive attention in improving medical practices. Scientists spend most of their research in providing a new secondary, more eco-friendly resource for energy. Ecotopia also omits any production of preserved or canned food, emphasizing the importance of natural food.
People in Ecotopia usually live in groups of 5 to 20, some live with family, and some live with strangers but have a “family” like relationship. The elderly in the group provides education and day care. Everyone is very open to many ideas, especially sex. Women are very open to their sexuality and often approach men. Another part of Ectopia’s openness is its tolerance for all people. There’s equality amongst gender and race, which resembles that of feminism. The society also emphasizes several times that citizens strive to be in a “stable–state,” and compare its system to a meadow: Grass dies and degrades to fertilize the land, allowing more grass to grow, likewise their society is self-sustainable.
Although Ecotopia might seem like an ideal society, it has many contradicting ideas. Women are often treated as sexual objects, or some sort of trophy. It shows that women are powerful in society by taking part in government and being able to overpower men in many fields. But in many instances, they were swept off their feet by men and taken to the bedroom for sex. Also, the author portrays women in society as humans that are running simply on animalistic impulse. Men, on the other hand, are viewed as the more sensitive ones. For some reason, he included the scene where he justified rape by suggesting that since everyone is so free spirited, they barely care what happens to them.
Another conflicting idea is the enforcement of eco-friendly behavior. The majority of citizens smoke marijuana, which can cause air pollution. One thing that is also disturbing is the annual war game, where young men compete aggressively with weapons to prove their manhood. Young men represent different areas of the town and compete with neighboring towns. No matter what, winners and losers gain honor. Ecotopia is supposed to be a violent-free society, but here they allow people to compete aggressively. The argument that was presented by one of the elderly states was that the war game is a way to let the youth experience adrenaline, to make use of the strength, much like football in America but just with lethal weapons. Another contradiction that was discussed was tolerance for race. The author never really discusses any other race that lives there, but he vaguely mentioned the other race; that black people were segregated, and that they formed their own community. He also emphasized that the citizens are obsessed with Indian culture and often use Indian references. It remained unclear whether the author purposely neglected to mention the other race as a way to remove labeling, hence enforcing equality for all.
This novel not only discusses Ecotopia, but it also focuses a lot on Weston’s romantic interaction with Marissa. Marissa is a manager of the “forest service”, in which citizens are to participate planting back the amount of wood they will need for building their home. Marissa is the perfect example of an ideal citizen. She complies by all the rules and is just as free-spirited as one can be. Marissa was also known to make many relations with men she comes across with, which put Weston in many uncomfortable situations. But despite all that, she was the one who converted Weston into one of the Ecotopians by challenging many of his Western practices, like how political discussions are opened and live for Ecotopian. Ecotopians are allowed to interact with current meetings between political leaders and express their ideas, which Weston found extremely strange.
The emphasis of recycling was also something that was challenged by Marissa many times. Weston has a habit of throwing out papers that were half used, which aggravated Marissa; she would then continue to lecture him about the importance of conserving natural resources. This romantic interaction in the novel stands out because it humanizes the characters, instead of just having a monotonic description of the society while the characters are just there for the propose of the story.
Overall it is an interesting book to read. The future that Callenbach envisioned has striking similarity with the society we have now such as videophones and research for a secondary energy resource. Although women in Ecotopia take positions that are utterly impossible in the society during that period, (the leader of Ecotopia is a female), and are very open to their sexuality, they seemed like mere accessories at some point. On one hand, they hold a lot of power, being politically involved in the society. On the other hand, they were treated somewhat like a trophy. Women who made love with a lot of men were often called out, but men seemed to be the victims. Perhaps the author is trying to address the double standard that exists in society now, but some practices such as the war game to prove young men’s masculinity remain questionable.