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Essay: 1984 vs Brave New World

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Society often chooses between the safety of its people and the safety of its principles. Either may be compromised for the sake of the other in drastic situations, but ultimately, a balance exists. Who creates this balance and what the balance is like, however, determines how “good” the society is. Still, “good” cannot be used as a measurement to evaluate society as much as efficiency can. Efficiency in governing, economy, and compliance can translate to the success of a unit, even if the individuals who consist of it are unhappy. The novels 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley concern societies in the future that deal with unique issues, as both have reached maximum efficiency with different methods, varying from fear to biology. While 1984’s aim of warning against a totalitarian rule was effective at the time it was written, the modern-day advance of human intellectualism causes Huxley’s argument to be more pressing. Therefore, through placing the setting in a distant enough future that even modern society cannot foresee, offering an outsider point of view both within and outside of the society, and portraying relationships as ones that exist without love so that no attachment to life exists, Huxley’s creation of a society in Brave New World is the most effective in conveying its message that in order for people to remain satisfied and complacent in their societal role, the option of choice and truth must be erased in any way that it can.

Brave New World’s setting far into the future is more effective in creating a dystopic reality than 1984 because the problems presented in the novel continue to be more current to this day than the year when it was written. Existing in the year AF 632, the “year of stability”, the World State has reached maximum efficiency in terms of biology. According to Huxley’s plot, Bokanovsky’s Principle and social conditioning has been perfected over six-hundred years, and has become one of the “Major instruments of social stability.”(Huxley, Chapter 1) Social stability is a recurring topic in the novel, and through biology and therefore government, the society has achieved it. It is important to note, though, that if Huxley wrote the novel decades later, he would see it wouldn’t take up to 2540 AD to reach such a state. Scientific advancement has been rapid and staggering in the 20th and 21st century, as people continue to innovate and make life more comfortable. However, this development causes information to be spread at an incredible speed, which is positive in that people can become more knowledgeable, but negative in that there are consequences attached to learning about the world’s shortcoming. Therefore, it becomes more evident to readers how a scientific process can be implemented to make a society perfect and content, but with the cost of ignorance and lack of individualism. After all, ultimate safety is what the people want, so a little sacrifice of free will isn’t too much to ask for.

The time period of 1984 is about the year the title suggests – time is rather unimportant under the Party’s rule, as Winston once brings up – but it was written in 1948, which closely follows the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. At the time, authoritarianism was a great fear. The level of success that Nazi Germany had and Stalin’s Soviet Union would have undoubtedly caused panic, and in the lieu of this momentum, Orwell published his novel to warn against something like that ever happening again. In the story, the character O’Brien states that the Party is “…different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing…The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time … We are not like that.” (Orwell, Part III) This means that the Party unified the population in thought by excessive brainwashing and torture, which can translate to propaganda and fear, but it did not relent in power. Despite that, in modern day, the threat of autocratic rule does not pose as much of a fear as Brave New World’s extreme scientific manipulation. With the vast spreading of information, it is unlikely that the entire world’s population can succumb essentially to one rule by a small group of people – history has proven that. However, with genetic manipulation’s popularity rising, readers begin to question the current ethical dilemma of when all of it will become too much.

An outsider within the society has a different, but still relevant, opinion than an outsider that comes into the society. This is why Huxley presents two main characters, Bernard Marx and John. Bernard is a higher-caste member of the World State, an Alpha-Plus. Bernard’s unhappiness, which is uncommon among the society’s people, is fostered by his insecurities of his physical state. Fanny Crowne shows the general public’s feeling of Bernard when she exclaims, “‘He’s so ugly…and then so small…They say somebody made a mistake when he was still in the bottle – thought he was a Gamma…That’s why he’s so stunted.’”(Huxley, Chapter 3) Therefore, Bernard is able to critically view other upper-caste members, and he sees them as vapid and weak in thought. This highlights Huxley’s message that choice must be erased for a complacent society because Bernard’s difference makes him view people as though they have a choice to be “normal” or not. At seeing that people are not allowing themselves to access a choice and think more like him, he becomes miserable and cynical. However, while uniqueness among a population lends an individual to have a different view of the society they are immersed in, it doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t completely influenced in the teaching and ways of that world. Therefore, by introducing a character like John, Huxley shows how averse a person living in the modern world would be to the World State. John doesn’t belong to a society, but by being at the Savage Reservation, he has grown with embracing individuality and emotion, while getting accustomed with Linda’s conditioned views. His feelings of horror over the civilized world are different than Bernard’s mainly because Bernard only focuses on his feelings of isolation. Once Bernard is given a chance to be integrated into society, as with what happened when he became a celebrity for bringing John, he is happy with complacency. This is seen when Bernard experiences that he was “…for the first time in his life, treated…as a person of outstanding importance.”(Huxley, Chapter 11) John, however, doesn’t feel this because he is still isolated and sees a passionless world with people being mere expendables, like when he meets the nonchalant children in the hospital during Linda’s death. This topic poses ignorance and choice against each other, with the World State being ignorance and John being choice. Ignorance in the novels trumps choice, as choice ceases to exist. For that reason, Huxley uses a person from outside the society to show how truth and obedience cannot coexist.

Like how Bernard doesn’t offer a full picture of the current world, Winston Smith and Julia do not in 1984. That is why focusing on those two as outsiders do not completely show the oppression under the Party. Orwell only allows the reader to experience events through Winston’s eyes. While Winston may briefly express an outsider’s view, as he was child around the time the world powers shifted, he lapses in memory, so all he offers is his adult life experiences. At the same time, Julia can’t entirely be titled as an outsider of society either because she acts with self-interest and doesn’t exactly care about the rebellion the way that Winston does; all she does is “hate purity…goodness” and doesn’t “…want any virtue to exist anywhere.” (Orwell, Book 2). This shows that Julia is bored and ready to act, but isn’t much of an outsider in thought. Therefore, perspective doesn’t make Orwell’s argument compelling in this way, especially because the reader can see the easy divide between good and bad that Winston presents, whereas in Brave New World, the lines are more blurred.

The civilized people of the World State in Brave New World are not capable of love or emotional attachment. With this distinctly human quality stripped away, the choice of emotion is removed, which helps the World State’s case that emotion is ultimately unhappy and dangerous. This can be seen when Mustapha Mond talks to students about the ludicrosity of  monogamous relationships, stating “Our ancestors were so stupid and short-sighted that when the first reformers came along and offered to deliver them from those horrible emotions, they wouldn’t have anything to do with them.” (Huxley, Chapter 3) To expand on this, Henry Foster and Lenina’s relationship is purely sexual, as should everyone’s relationship be in the World State. John and Lenina’s relationship, however, isn’t sexual, much to Lenina’s confusion, as John wants a romantic, till-death-do-us-apart kind of connection with her. The problem is that showing or even feeling love is unheard of, and love goes against the social stability, as emotions lead to a lack of logic. A society based on science should be logical, if nothing else. On top of that, upper castes do not intermingle with each lower castes because of conditioning, so relationships are non-existent if they do not abide by the rules that society enforced. The fact that fleeting relationships only exist to make people content is abhorrent to an outsider like John, as when Lenina approached him to show the only version of love she knew, he “…retreated in terror, flapping his hands at her as though he were trying to scare away some intruding and dangerous animal.” (Huxley, Chapter 13) People do not have the choice to love for whatever length of time that they want to and who to love but they do not know this, so instead they rely on a level of promiscuity that modern society, as portrayed by John, abhors. If they had any other knowledge like John, they wouldn’t abide by the standards, and society would regress in the World State’s standards, as families would become relevant again. Therefore, by conditioning people from childhood that physical closeness is the only closeness that people can get, a large choice that everyday people are conflicted is eliminated. In this case, both truth and choice are hid from the people, which creates a vegetative population. Humans need love and work, and with neither of those a choice that is aware to the populous, the entire race becomes manipulatable, which is precisely what Huxley warns against.

Meanwhile, in 1984, the people are still essentially human. Winston feels, Julia feels, and every person who is tortured feels. People can build relationships, even if they aren’t supposed to, and mourn lost connections. Unlike in Brave New World, sex is seen as repulsive, as seen with the Junior Anti-Sex League, so being in a relationship civilian’s duty. The government does not want love to be a reason for marriage, but especially for the generation that grew up before the time of Big Brother, this rule may not always be followed. As Julia explains, “When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time…If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?” (Orwell, Part II) This shows that sex is shunned under the Party because they do not consider their people’s happiness as much as they demand having complete servility, whereas in Brave New World, the World Controllers have managed to achieve both, therefore creating a “perfect” society. Mustapha Mond states that “Happiness is a hard master – particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestioningly, than truth.”(Huxley, Chapter 16) According to Mond and reality, people are essentially hedonists, so Huxley utilized this characteristic by allowing the World State to thrive on limitless sexual relationships and soma on top of conditioning so no one will be able to care about a future beyond what they know. This is why Brave New World presents an effective argument; a lot of the society seems comfortable and gratified, and since people in modern-day innovate and work towards maximizing those two aspects, it is entirely possible that something similar could occur.

Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopic novels are a prediction of what may occur if power in the hands of some gets to the point of tipping over the edge. Both societies achieve maximum efficiency, 1984 in dictatorship-like control over the people and Brave New World in societal organization and creation, but both suffer from several moral errors. In particular, the latter novel serves as a prime exemplar of how abstaining the truth and instead giving the population pleasure will make it easier to manipulate them. Huxley warns that with scientific advancement  rapidly improving, there may be a point where progress is no longer necessary. When progress dies, so does individualism. Therefore, society must decide to abide by one the two conflicting ideas: protection of the people by abstaining a transparent governance, or protection of the principles that the human race has tried so hard to perfect over millennia.

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