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Essay: George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

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  • George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
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Introduction

With Brave New World set just under 600 years after 1984 (Vega De Febles, 94), both George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World introduce dystopias, establishing societies that are both problematic and possible. The possibility of this type of society coming to be is what evokes fear in the reader associated with dystopian literature. The dystopias differ in methods of control in response to the divergent threats their citizens present to their authority. The marginalization of the individual in Brave New World is contextualized through Helmholtz Watson, “a dissatisfied Alpha-Plus who wishes to experience the deep emotions and passions crushed by the system” (power of Images, 113) as well as John ‘the Savage’, a naturally conceived man who steps out of the reserve into the indoctrinated world. Similarly in 1984, the mechanisms of government control are portrayed through Winston Smith, “a deviant intellectual who does not conform to the ‘logic’ of power” (Ibid). The states in both texts create two different environments in an attempt to control individuals and in doing so, Orwell and Huxley respectively, critique government control. The critique centres around each state’s control of the individual and suppression of nonconformist thought. Additionally, each state’s approach to the control of literature, the revision history and the treatment of social, familial, and sexual bonds define their respective Dystopian cultures that are reflections of totalitarian societies.

Approach to Discourage Thought

In both 1984 and Brave New World, the general public’s ability to interpret and gain insight is severely circumscribed through systematic suppression of free thought. Although this agenda is more overt in Orwell’s 1984, it is also a major means of population control in Huxley’s Brave New World. In her book Epistemic Injustice, theorist Amanda Fricker outlines a concept of “hermeneutic injustice” that serves as a useful framework for the analysis of both works. With Hermeneutics being a study of interpretation, particularly the interpretation of knowledge, hermeneutic injustice is “a gap in collective interpretive resources [that] puts someone at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their social experiences” (Fricker, 1). Those who are particularly disadvantaged by this phenomenon are termed “hermeneutically marginalized” (Fricker, 6). Such people are not only limited in their ability to communicate their experiences to others, but are also more fundamentally limited in formulating a coherent interpretation of their own perceptions. These experiences “are left inadequately conceptualized and so ill-understood, perhaps even by the subjects themselves” (Fricker, 6). In 1984, Newspeak is the main application of the concept, gradually exchanging common English for colloquialisms thereby limiting any words that allow for critical thought. Syme, a linguist working for the Party, states that the purpose of newspeak is to “narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (Orwell, 67). The suppression of thought is then apparent in the citizens’ inability to contradict, as the pool of human knowledge has been shrunk to limit the range of thoughts experienced by its citizens. In the Appendix of 1984, Orwell describes the official language as a new set of words and grammatical constructions that provide a medium of expression for the intended world view and “make all other modes of thought impossible” (312). Words such as Doublethink, the belief that two contradictory terms are correct, and Sexcrime, all forms of sex for purpose of pleasure, exemplify Newspeak.
In Brave New World, hermeneutic injustice is applied through constant distraction from a lack of freedom. An example of such distraction is the use of the drug soma to escape reality. Soma is alternatively described as “Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant” and “the solid substance of their distractions” (38). The description of soma aligns the drug with distraction from the monotony of everyday life. Furthermore, citizens aren’t permitted to be alone for prolonged periods of time and are conditioned to have an aversion towards nature, as it prevents them from consuming new products and media, not dissimilar from our current consumerist society. While both dystopian states rely on the suppression of critical thought to maintain social conformity, there are significant difference in the methods they use to achieve such goals.

Thought Control and Government Manipulation

In both Brave New World and 1984, the state controls the thought patterns of its citizens on a fundamental level. In Brave New World, the state manipulates its citizens with behavioural conditioning from early infancy onwards, combining “neo-Pavlovian conditioning and hypnopædia” (36), a form of sleep-based hypnosis. Employed to limit the thoughts of citizens though spoken conditioning of “words without reason” (Huxley, 21), it allows for “finer distinctions […] [in the] complex courses of behaviour” (ibid) to be made. Slogans such as “Orgy-porgy” are of cheered as a part of a solidarity circle following the consumption of soma and before group sex. These chants function to promote a loss of self in favor of a group. As the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explains to a group of students touring his facilities, this conditioning has such a profound influence on children “[t]ill at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind” (Huxley, 21). The state’s role in raising children allows them to replace parents as the primary progenitors of moral education, and they continue to perform this role well past the stage at which people normally pass into adulthood. The people of Brave New World are suspended in a form of perpetual childhood, infantilized by the state. Fittingly, the moral lessons instilled through hypnopaedic conditioning echo the language of nursery rhymes–they are short, rhythmic and arranged in rhyming couplets. With their promotion of casual sex and consumerism, however, they offer a satiric parody of present-day nursery rhymes. Huxley’s depiction of such an advanced structure of indoctrination demonstrates the extent to which the Brave New World has gone to induce a society, complacent and reliant on the state from birth.

Orwell imposes manipulation in combination with conditioning upon citizens of Landing Strip One, the setting of the novel. In 1984, the crude method of doublethink is employed by The Ministry of Truth. Their purpose is rooted in aligning articles of the past to fit the party’s current agenda. The Ministry thus controls and distorts the past in order to govern the thoughts and change the perception of what is held to be true, with authorities exercising this ability to alter past statements such as promised food rations (Orwell, 42). An example of this distortion is Winston’s discussion of a prior “categorical pledge” (Ibid) that promised no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. However, a reduction would be made with the only distinction required being a “substitute for the original promise [in the form of a warning] that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April” (Ibid). The categorical pledge is intentionally nonsensical. This example of doublethink is premised on forcing the population to accept contradictory claims. A fundamental principle of formal logic is that once a contradictory set of statements are both accepted as true, any and all other claims become valid. Once citizens learn to accept contradictory beliefs simultaneously, their ability to deconstruct any subsequent statements is nullified. Logical argumentation relies on pointing out contradictions–when contradictions are no longer accepted as legitimate means for disputing a point, there is no longer any mechanism of counter-argumentation. The Inner Party’s political strategy is sufficiently machiavellian to utilize a form of political entrapment against potential enemies of the state. As Winston is progressively identified as having thoughts antagonistic towards the state, he is inducted into the “Brotherhood”, a state operated entrapment tool. The “Brotherhood” poses as a resistance movement based on the political views of Emmanuel Goldstein, author of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Goldstein serves two purposes. On the one hand, his position as a principal enemy of the state allows the government to promote an atmosphere of collective solidarity against him, with the populace rallying against a common adversary. His image is broadcast through all telescreens in the quotidian “2 Minutes Hate”. On the other hand, his supposed movement serves as a lure to those who are less than fully loyal to the state, such as Winston. Rather than relying solely on the manufactured environment similar to that of Brave New World to predispose its citizens to an all-pervasive ideology, 1984’s world state makes use of aggressive propaganda campaigns to influence and distort the beliefs of the populace.

Literature and History

In both novels, the state places severe restrictions on access to literary texts and historical records. While in Brave New World the state relies primarily on censorship and the mass distraction of the populace to promote a culture of ignorance, in 1984 the Party engages in a deliberate campaign to misinform the public by altering and destroying historical archives. While there are parallels between the two texts, the nuances between them reveal a fundamental difference in political strategy. Both Winston Smith of 1984 and Helmholtz Watson, an alpha plus at the top of the hierarchical system of the Brave New World, are employed as writers for their respective states. Unlike Helmholtz, however, 1984‘s Winston is specifically tasked with destroying records and rewriting events, with the government continually revising their list of warring states, described by Winston as “merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another” (Orwell, 43). In Brave New World, Helmholtz’s writing is not so explicitly propagandistic–rather, he is employed by the Bureaux of Propaganda, writing “regularly for The Hourly Radio” (Huxley, 45) and composing “slogans and hypnopædic rhymes” (Ibid). Further, the method of persuasion used by Helmholtz is almost antithetical to the method used in 1984. In 1984, a continual fluctuation in received knowledge reinforces the idea that there is no objective truth beyond what the state sanctions, echoed when O’brien, an Inner Party member who has been closely monitoring Winston’s rebellious mischief for years, states that the Inner Party even “make[s] the laws of nature” (Orwell, 277). Whatever the telescreen broadcasts at any given moment overrides any previously held beliefs. In Brave New World, the unchanging repetition of the state’s social code internalizes the belief that these principles represent an absolute and stable truth. By creating this sense of a stable truth, the world state of Brave New World teaches its citizens to love their sense of servitude (105, power of images). Whereas, in 1984 a mechanism is employed to form a society devoid of core beliefs, core identity, dehumanizing its citizens by cheating them of a sense of individuality.

Both Winston and Helmholtz have extremely limited freedoms in terms of what they are permitted to write. Winston holds the intellectual capacity and awareness to defy state prohibitions. He is “reasonably certain that [he] would be punished by death” (Orwell, 9) for keeping a personal journal. After gaining the courage to attempt to scribe anything, “he seemed not merely to have lost the power of expressing himself, but even to have forgotten what it was that he had originally intended to say” (10-11). Winston’s ability to express himself is repressed by his society. Winston comes to the understanding that anything he scribes “would be meaningless” (10) to the future, rendering the act of writing moot. The overarching presence of fear has limited Winston’s capacity to produce thoughts opposed to the standards expected of citizens of Landingstrip 1. In Brave New World, Helmholtz repeatedly expresses a desire to write more meaningful passages: “Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly–they’ll go through anything […] [but] can you make words really piercing–you know, like the very hardest X-rays– when you’re writing about […mundane] thing[s]? Can you say something about nothing? […] I try and I try” (Huxley, 47). Although he is self-aware enough to recognize and begrudge his personal limitations, Helmholtz’s conditioning is sufficiently complete that he is unable to experience the emotional intensity required for great literary feats. Helmholtz is so entrenched in the value system of Brave New World that his initial response to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is derisive laughter. Not only is he unable to write literature that “pierces”, but he is also more fundamentally unable to relate to its emotive force. As Mustapha Mond later explains to John, literature is censored not only because it conflicts with the state’s consumerist idealization of all things new, but also because “they [the general populace] couldn’t understand it” (150). Both The Inner Party of 1984 and World Controller of Brave New World have therefore rendered the archaic act of writing and texts of the prior society obsolete in their respective states, uprooting any to the connection to all emotional responses literature can generate.

Huxley employs the character of John as a foil to the ideologically complacent to the laymen of Brave New World. John’s obsessive fixation with Shakespeare is a motif so pervasive throughout the text that it even informs the novel’s title, and it serves two functions: not only does it demonstrate how emotional suffering can sensitize the individual to literary texts, but it also shows the transformative power of high art. John’s sensitivity and birth outside of the societal structure the Brave New World positions him as an outsider who is uniquely qualified to challenge the state and many of its objectives with regard to controlling its citizens. As a non-citizen raised on the “Savage Reservation” where traditional family relations still persist, John has experienced a far greater range of emotions than is typical within the society of London, and this background gives him the analytical ability to understand the emotional register of tragedies like Romeo and Juliet. John’s life experiences prepare him to read Shakespeare, but just as significantly, his exposure to these plays facilitate a newfound capacity for self-reflection. Although “he only half knew” (Huxley, 88) and understood the words of a Shakespeare passage, he was able to conceptualize his emotions and thereby experience them as he had been introduced to the words that described his feelings, allowing him to fully grasp his contempt for Pope, his biological father who lived in the brave new world (Huxley, 88). In this way, John functions as a counter-example to the two primary kinds of hermeneutic injustice explored in the novel: social engineering and censorship. Attempting to maintain a stable social state, Mustapha Mond has rendered their mode of delivery obsolete to citizens.

In 1984, Winston’s intellectual capacity and limited free-thought is bound by the constraints imposed by the state. However, unlike John, Winston is employed as a member of the of the outer party, creating an account and critique that is perhaps more radical than John’s. The constraints are articulated when Winston is introduced to The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism (Orwell, 233), supposedly written by enemy of state Emmanuel Goldstein. Winston is “reassured” (252) through his readings, abandoning his misgivings about the totalitarian state. When reading about the power structures exposed by Goldstein, he is convinced of their accuracy largely because they reflect his own assessment of the political climate: “It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, [and] less fear-ridden” (252-253). Winston’s new awareness of his “fear-ridden” (253) state is reassuring because it sets him up in opposition to the state. The state’s previous success in keeping him complacent through fear is evidence of the power the state’s perpetual culture of fear maintains over its citizens. Thus, Winston has been “hermeneutically marginalized” (Fricker, 6) through fear.

In both Brave New World and 1984, literature and history have been altered through social engineering and fear, rendering citizens of both societies unable to comprehend literature or access history. The jurisdiction both states hold over texts allows them to alter fact and subvert understanding. The disconnect from meaning allows the states to establish themselves as the sole providers of information. The control of texts, both literary and historical, indoctrinates citizens, dissuading them from forming criticisms antithetical to their respective societies’ ethoses.

Sex and Social Relationships

Both states extend their power in to the interpersonal relationships of their citizens. They limit emotional attachment through their treatment of sexual, familial, and social bonds. Both states extend their influence to manipulate the family structure, but in Brave New World the mechanism of control relies far more on social engineering than on the legal regulations and atmosphere of fear perpetuated in 1984. In Brave New World, the state even takes complete control of the reproductive process and stigmatizes family bonds as obscene and disgusting. To Lenina, a woman with ties to both John and Helmholtz, seeing “two young women giving breast to their babies made her blush and turn away her face. She had never seen anything so indecent in her life” (Huxley, 75). Such a reaction demonstrates the effect of a state constructed aversion to nature. In 1984, the state conditions its population to view marriage purely in terms of a contract to procreate in pairs, with an “undeclared purpose […] to remove all pleasure from the sexual act” (Orwell, 83). Although Brave New World promotes sex for pleasure and 1984 forbids it, both systems serve the ultimate purpose of undermining interpersonal bonds: each citizen’s highest loyalty is to the state because they never develop deeper relationships with one another. Many of the elements encompassing sexual relationships within both books are a consequence of each text’s respective approach to the family structure. In 1984, the influence of the state becomes increasingly pervasive with each passing generation; parents raised on propaganda then pass their worldview onto the next generation, who in turn become even more thoroughly indoctrinated. Moreover, children are taught in state school to be loyal to the state rather than their parents, undercutting family loyalty. These competing loyalties can be seen through the children as a “hardly a week passed” between a “child hero” (Orwell, 31) overhearing “some compromising remark” (32) and denouncing his “parents to the thought Police” (ibid). It was commonplace for “normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children” (31). Children are taught that one of their fundamental duties is to monitor the behaviour of their own families and report any suspicions to authorities, undermining the family at its root, and perpetuating the culture of fear.

While in 1984, the state sets up apparatuses to compete with the family, in Brave New World, the state literally eliminates the existence of the family unit, to the exception of the Reserve. The family unit is eliminated through the industrialization of reproduction and removal of the biological mother. Fetuses are stunted with alcohol to create a caste structure formed of 10 levels from alpha plus through epsilon minus (Vega de Febles, 94), in which each caste level conforms to the stipulated “sacrifices” (Huxley, 152) or role in society ascribed to their rank, meeting at the “the line of least resistance” (ibid), as their difficulty of their tasks suits their given caste. The effects of Brave New World’s reproductive system eliminates familial ties, thus there are no moral beliefs contradictory to the state but rather values shared by all. When John’s mother, Linda, dies in hospital, his reaction is far from the norm to the general public. As John “sobbed uncontrollably” (142) directly following the death of his mother, the attending nurse was quick to ask him to behave, in fear of undoing the 7 months of “wholesome death-conditioning” (142) children in the hospital were partaking in. The lack of sympathy in the context of a familial bond exemplifies the fracturing of emotional connection in the brave new world.

Both states systemically lessen or nullify emotional bonds as the state’s absolute power would be undermined by competing loyalties presented by the traditional family unit. The issue of the family bonds can be approached through the lens of the Oedipus complex. Brad Buchanan’s “Oedipus in Dystopia: Freud and Lawrence in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’”, identifies the obsolescence of family structures as fundamental to the social engineering of Brave New World. With a distinctly Freudian reading, Buchanan identifies the family unit as a socially disruptive force. In particular, he suggests that the world state of Brave New World has removed family ties in order to disable the Oedipus complex: “Huxley’s imaginary state has taken over the role of parent and robbed the child of his or her Oedipal potentialities. Indeed, it could be argued that the active suppression of the Oedipus complex is the principal tool of social stability in this future” (Buchanan, 76). In the brave new world citizens are no longer connected to biological parents, but rather that connection is replaced with a decanter, in which children of the Brave New World gestate, removing the need for “viviparous reproduction” (Huxley, 18). The desire for a mother figure is subverted into a desire for the comfort of a protective oblivion, as if they were able to return to a pre-conscious fetal state. With the aim of eradicating Oedipal desire, the means to the state’s ultimate control can be found in maintaining the infantilization of citizens to such an extent that they fell as if the womb or decanter, (77) serving one’s escapist tendencies. The world controller states the citizens of the brave new world are confined by their “infantile and embryonic fixations” (Huxley, 157), deviating in size based on caste level. The application of Freud’s theory demonstrates a narrative for the substitution of the mother, allowing the state to maintain citizens in a complacent oblivion.

While the role of father and mother still exist within the society of 1984, their position as parents is void of any meaningful authority. In this way, the principal psychological motivation behind the Oedipus complex is foreclosed–if the father is not the head of the household in any substantive way, there is no incentive to usurp his seat. Children answer to the state above their parents, so the state is just as much a “big father” as a “big brother.” Any ambitions to seize power would in theory be diverted to the state, but the overarching climate of fear restricts such potential impulses and makes any revolt seem futile. The complacence and domestication of the citizens within Brave New World, alternatively view their conditioned tendencies as a form of protection, rather than as a restrictive threat.

Conclusion

Through the manipulation of the core constituents of individuality in both dystopias, including the control and suppression of thought, literature and history, and treatment of social, familial, and sexual bonds, both texts present a clear critique of the differing methods used to attain supremacy. In Brave New World, the state lives with perpetual stability and security, satisfying the basic needs of the individual. The citizens of the Brave New World are oblivious to the fact that they have “no free will” (Varricchio, 856), failing to “understand[] the great cost at which” (Ibid) their state of wellbeing has come. In 1984, control is established and maintained through a culture of incessant fear mongering in combination with methods of restricting thought and literature similar to Brave New World. Thus Big Brother’s aim is “at affecting rationality” (Barr, 113) whereas the World Controller of Brave New World “intends to erase culture and to control instincts by catering for them” (Ibid). These novels, although not written in the recent past, still contain relevant warnings about the dangers of an overreaching government, expedited through the technological advancements the internet age. Our lives are increasing policed by both by other individuals and the state, as social media has given rise to a panoptic system of regulating one another, with the potential to ruin one’s reputation. Similarly, the exposure and intrusiveness are manifested through the hypnopedic slogan “every one belongs to every one else” (Huxley, 29) in Brave New World and the way in which “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING” (Orwell, 3) in 1984.

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