Prisons of Pleasure or Pain: Huxley’s “Brave New World” vs. Orwell’s “1984”

By Uncola | The Burning Platform

Definition of UTOPIA

1:  an imaginary and indefinitely remote place

2:  a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions

3:   an impractical scheme for social improvement

 

Definition of DYSTOPIA

1:  an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

2:  literature:  anti-utopia

Merriam-Webster.com

 

 Many Americans today would quite possibly consider Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to be a utopia of sorts with its limitless drugs, guilt-free sex, perpetual entertainment and a genetically engineered society designed for maximum economic efficiency and social harmony.  Conversely, most free people today would view Orwell’s “1984” as a dystopian nightmare, and shudder to contemplate the terrifying existence under the iron fist of “Big Brother”; the ubiquitous figurehead of a perfectly totalitarian government.

Although both men were of British descent, Huxley was nine years older than Orwell and published Brave New World in 1932, seventeen years before 1984 was released in 1949.  Both books are widely considered classics and are included in the Modern Library’s top ten great novels of the twentieth century.

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley was born to academic parents and he was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, a famous biologist and an enthusiastic proponent of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution who was known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”.  Huxley’s own father had a well-equipped botanical laboratory where young Aldous began his education.  Given the Huxley family’s appreciation for science, it makes perfect sense that Brave New World began in what is called the “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre” where human beings are artificially grown and genetically predestined into five societal castes consisting of: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon.

Initially, the story centers on Bernard Marx, who is a slightly genetically flawed Alpha Plus psychologist with an inferiority complex due to his short stature.  By the end of the novel, however, the protagonist becomes a boy named “John the Savage” who is the bastard child of the “Director of the Central London Hatchery”, and a lady named Linda, who naturally birthed John on a remote American Indian Reservation.  When Bernard discovers the true identities of John and Linda, he arranges to fly them back to London in order to leverage his position with John’s biological father, the Hatchery Director.

Bernard is in love with a beautiful fetus technician named Lenina Crowne, who, upon meeting John the Savage falls madly in lust.  Lenina is a gal who enjoys multiple lovers because, in the Brave New World, “everyone belongs to everyone else”.  In other words, sexual promiscuity is encouraged as sort of a societal “pressure relief valve” designed to discourage negative emotions such as jealousy and envy.  John the Savage, however, suppresses his sexual attraction to Lenina because he considers her a slut.

Eventually, John’s sexual repression contributes to him violently attacking some children of the Delta caste who were waiting in line for their “Soma”, a mood-altering drug; and the outburst causes both Bernard and John to be brought before the powerful Mustapha Mond, who is one of ten world controllers.  A debate ensues between John and Mr. Mond who explains to the Savage that a stable society requires the controlled suppression of science, religion, and art. John, who is an avid admirer of William Shakespeare, argues that human life is not worth living without these things.

In Brave New World, the State achieves a harmonic equilibrium via the economic parity of production and consumption while utilizing Eugenics as a means to counterbalance the life and death of the citizens. Technology is employed as a means of control in lieu of any search for scientific, or spiritual, truth; as these are considered a threat to the established order.  People are cloned in hatcheries in accordance to the needs of the State and trained into obedience through “Hypnopedia”, or sleep-teaching. Happiness is valued over dignity and morality, and emotions are regulated through the use of the drug, Soma, amid constant entertainment including superficial games and virtual reality venues called the “feelies”.  Although there is no God or religion, per se, in Brave New World, Henry Ford is canonized in the place of a deity as a testament to corporate efficiency, assembly line production and rampant consumerism.

 

1984

Like Huxley, George Orwell also envisioned a future where government monitored and controlled every aspect of human life; yet the world is much more terrifying in 1984. Orwell reported on the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and he witnessed, first-hand, the ghastly barbarism of political fascism.  Moreover, he previously observed the rise of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and, later, Adolf Hitler in Germany.  In turn, Orwell published Animal Farm in 1945 and four years later, his novel 1984, as literary warnings to mankind.

The setting of 1984 takes place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Great Britain which, at that time, was part of “Oceania”; one of three world super-states all engaged in never-ending warfare.  The protagonist of the novel is Winston Smith, a middle-class member in the Outer Party of INGSOC, a totalitarian regime led by the figurehead known only as “Big Brother”.

Winston works in the Records Department of the “Ministry of Truth” where he revises history on behalf of the Party while under constant surveillance both at work and home.  Everywhere he goes; there are posters with a photo of the party’s leader and the words:  “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”.  In an act of rebellion, Winston acquires a diary and begins to record what Big Brother and the INGSOC party would label as “crimethink” and “thoughtcrime”.

Eventually, Winston meets and falls in love with a beautiful coworker named Julia, and they engage in what they believe to be a secret affair whereby they have illicit sex as a form of political rebellion.  In 1984, the Party members living in Oceania are brainwashed to have sex only for procreation and this is how sexual repression is channeled into enthusiasm for the State.

Under the threat of detection by the “Thought Police”, torture and even “vaporization”, which would eliminate every last vestige of proof he ever existed, Winston persists in his rebellion against the Party with certain fatalism.  In fact, just before he and Julia are captured by the militant, jackbooted INGSOC Party authoritarians, Winston told Julia “we are the dead”; to which she replied the same words back to him.

Throughout Orwell’s dark narrative, various themes are explored such as “Newspeak” which is a language of mind control; the terrifying tyranny of totalitarianism; historical revisionism; torture, and psychological manipulation.  The INGSOC Party’s prisonlike control and complete invasion of individual privacy is such that a citizen’s own facial expression could betray their inner disloyalty to the Party through what Orwell labeled as “crimeface”:

Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your own nervous system. At any moment the tension inside you was liable to translate itself into some visible symptom.

– Winston Smith, 1984, part 1, chapter 6

Orwell was near prophetic in describing the proliferation of listening devices in both public and private settings as well as “telescreens”, which simultaneously broadcast propaganda while relaying live video feeds back to the Party watchers.  In Orwell’s chilling story, free will and individuality are sacrificed to the extreme demands of Collectivism and in deference to complete societal control by an authoritarian government.

 

Compared and Contrasted

In both, Brave New World and 1984, common themes are addressed including government, orthodoxy, social hierarchy, economics, love, sex, and power.  Both books portray propaganda as a necessary tool of government to shape the collective minds of the citizenry within each respective society and towards the specific goals of the state; to wit, stability and continuity.

In Brave New World, The “Bureaux of Propaganda” shared a building with the “College of Emotional Engineering” and all media outlets including radio, television, and newspaper.  Much of the brainwashing of the citizens in Huxley’s world included messaging to stay within their genetically predetermined castes or to encourage the daily use of the drug, Soma, in order to anesthetize emotional agitation:

a gramme in time saves nine

A gramme is better than a damn

One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments

When the individual feels, the community reels.

The “Ministry of Truth”, in 1984, also known as “minitrue” in Newspeak, served as the propaganda machine for Big Brother and the INGSOC regime.  Although its main purpose was to rewrite history in order to realign it with Party doctrine and make the Party look infallible, the Ministry of Truth also promoted war hysteria in order to unite the citizens of Oceania while broadcasting simple messages designed to discourage any self-determination or autonomous thought.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

war is peace

freedom is slavery

ignorance is strength

Whereas the citizens of Brave New World used the drug Soma and cursory material distractions to vanquish any desire for real knowledge or truth; the “memory hole” in 1984 was a chute connected to an incinerator and served as the mechanism by which the Ministry of Truth would abolish historical archives as if they never existed.

In other words, truth was unimportant to the citizens of Brave New World and it was summarily rescinded from the realm of 1984.

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Categories: Big Brother, NWO

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