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A dystopia is an imagined place where everything is unpleasant or corrupt. It is the opposite of utopia; a perfect world. The idea of a dystopian world has always been a common topic in literature. In the latter half of the twentieth century, two strikingly different novels had come out that both predicted a totalitarian type future that would be considered an ideal society. The first was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, written in 1932, which tells the story of Bernard Marx, a man who is alone in his unhappiness with the genetically engineered, brainwashing future that he lives in and desires to break free from the required promiscuity of his society. The other was the 1949 novel written by George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, where Winston Smith questions the ideals of the Party and Big Brother and falls in love with Julia, with whom he rebels against the strict government rules while attempting to stay hidden from the Thought Police and avoiding Room 101. While Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World have different ideas for what the future holds, they both address the issues of a totalitarian government, the lives of those affected by the government, language, and promiscuity in a politically ideal world.
Totalitarianism is a system of government in which one political party takes control, grants neither tolerance nor recognition to other groups, and suppresses opposing politicians and opinions. In both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, a totalitarian government is present. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the country of Oceania is run by a totalitarian government known as the Party, led by Big Brother. One of the main goals of the Party is to control the minds of its people. This is made evident through the Party’s slogan, “‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past (Orwell 37).’”. The Party holds complete power in the present, which allows it to control the way the citizens of Oceania perceive the past. This is due to the fact that every history book reflects the Party’s way of thinking and that it is forbidden to own photographs or documents of one’s past, leaving most subjects with an unclear recollection of what truly happened. The blurred memories are beneficial to the Party as the people of Oceania will believe anything the Party says. The Party achieves their high status by controlling the past. This is because the memories that people do have cannot be proven. While Winston is sitting in the pub, he recalls that, “And when memory failed and written records were falsified—when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested (Orwell 97).” What the Party says is always right, no matter what someone else thinks. This is made clear when Winston is looking at a children’s history book with a portrait of Big Brother on the front, “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tactically denied by their philosophy (Orwell 83).” The Party’s decision is always final and what they say goes. The Party’s philosophy allows them to control the minds of the people of Oceania, as everyone is too fearful to go against them.
The totalitarian administration run by the Director in Brave New World is less sinister than the one seen in Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, there are some similarities. Like Airstrip One, the World State also feels that the government should be in full control. Mustapha Mond, the Resident Controller for Western Europe, justifies why the government is a positive by saying, “Wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axels, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment (Huxley 36).” The Controllers all believe that the government knows best, not the individuals. With the government having full control, nothing can go wrong. The World State gains control of these people by making them believe that they are in control. The opening lines reveal the State’s motto, “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY (Huxley 1).” While there is community and stability in the State, there is almost no sense of identity. The individual ceases to exist because of the State’s control over its people. This control comes easily to the World State because lessons of the past are ignored and forgotten, similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Mustapha Mond alludes to this when he instructs his citizens to disregard history and focus on the future, “‘you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s: History is bunk (Huxley 29).” It is better for the society to neglect the past. This is because if they did not, the people would be less willing to participate with progress that science was making. History is “bunk” because it deals with human emotion, something that is no longer a part of society in a totalitarian government.
The effect of a destructive totalitarian government is the lasting impression that it leaves on the citizens. In both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, the corrupt governments effect the lives of the people living in society. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, both Winston and Julia are against Big Brother and The Party, however they must pretend that they are not or else their lives will be endangered. This is alluded to in the third chapter of book two where it says, “If you kept the small rules you could break the big ones (Orwell 135).” Even though Julia spends a majority of her time attending lectures and demonstrations, distributing literature for the Junior Anti-Sex League, preparing banners for Hate Week, and making collections for the savings campaign, she still does not approve of Big Brother or the Party. The way she rebels against them keeps her from being suspected of being against the Party. While Julia is able to rebel against the Party, many people fall to their power. Winston has managed to persevere and stand above the influence of the Party and tells Julia, “They can’t get inside you. If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them’ (Orwell 174).” The Party has made Winston already accept the fact that death is inevitable. Having his own thoughts allow him to feel that he has already won, even though he knows that he never will overcome the Party and has accepted that fact. Winston has also accepted that he can never be free. He knows that as long as he is alive, he will still be overseen by Big Brother. While in his cell, Winston thinks that, “To die hating them, that was freedom (Orwell 294).” Winston has so much hate for Big Brother that he feels the only way to be free is by paying the ultimate price. Even though not many would know that he hated Big Brother, it would still be an accomplishment for him if he died while still hating him.
Brave New World also looks at the lives of those living in a totalitarian society and how it affects them. John, the son of the Director and Linda, has grown up outside of the World State and detests living there, as he feels he is unable to adjust to the society. While talking to Mustapha Mond, he says that, “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin (Huxley 211).” The restrictive yet safe society of the World State does not allow one to have the full human experience, which includes good and bad moments. John wants to be able to go through all those experiences, but with the way the Controllers run the World State, he is not allowed to do so. The totalitarian government of the World State has an effect on the lives of its citizens from a very early age. As infants, they are electrocuted for touching books or flowers. The Director’s reasoning for this is, “‘They’ll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an “instinctive” hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They’ll be safe from books and botany all their lives’ (Huxley 17).” For the rest of their lives, these infants will live in fear of books and flowers because the World State has not allowed them to appreciate it. Instead, the State has these individuals living in fear of literature and nature, forever impacting their lives. The individuals living in the World State are forever trapped, as they have never experienced anything outside the state. Bernard asks Lenina, “‘Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina (Huxley 79)?’” Bernard does not see Lenina as being free because she does not understand that she doesn’t have the freedom to be anything but happy. Like most of those living in the State, Lenina’s life is corrupted because she believes she is free and happy solely because she is told that she is.
In both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, the importance of language is evident. In Nineteen Eighty-Four exists the invention of “Newspeak”, a reduction of the English language to the minimal. When describing his ex-wife to Julia, Winston says, “‘She was – do you know the Newspeak word “good-thinkful”? Meaning naturally orthodox, incapable of thinking a bad thought (Orwell 138)?’” The Party created Newspeak in order to make Thoughtcrime impossible, as no one would be able to think something negative, especially about the Party or Big Brother. “Good-thinkful” is another way to say that someone cannot think of something bad and is an example of one of the words created with Newspeak that makes something that should be negative sound like a positive thing. The Party uses this not only through Newspeak, but also through the use of doublethink, which is the acceptance of different beliefs at the same time. At the beginning of the novel, doublethink is used when describing the different Ministries, “The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order (Orwell 6).” This description of the Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Peace, and the Ministry of Love is an example of the use of doublethink. The Ministry of Truth is nothing but propaganda used to make the Party and Big Brother look good. The Ministry of Peace is concerned only with war, something not associated with peace at all and the Ministry of Love deals with crime and punishment, however, the language used to describe the three ministries make it seem as if they are actually better than they are. The Party controls language and is constantly changing it. Syme warns Winston that, “‘By 2050, earlier, probably – all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron – they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be (Orwell 56).” The Party’s manipulation of language will change the way that everything is read. Things will no longer mean what they are supposed to because they have been changed to mean something more pure. The Party does this in order to avoid defiant thoughts.
Language is greatly affected in Brave New World, mainly the plays written by William Shakespeare. The works of Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers, are almost non-existent. Mustapha Mond is speaking about historic events when he says, “‘And a man called Shakespeare. You’ve never heard of them, of course (Huxley 44).” People have never heard of Shakespeare before because the Controllers see it as dangerous to society. This is because it offers an alternative way of thinking, such as having freedom or knowing the truth. The meaning of the words “freedom” and “truth” are distorted. The citizens of the World State have no freedom and do not know the truth. This is why Shakespeare has been banned from the World State; it symbolizes the human values that have been abandoned in the World State. While walking past the School Library with the Head Mistress and Dr. Gaffney, John asks if young people read Shakespeare and Dr. Gaffney replies, “‘Our library,’ said Dr. Gaffney, “contains only books of reference. If our young people need distraction, they can get it at the feelies. We don’t encourage them to indulge in any solitary amusements (Huxley 142).’” Young people are not encouraged to read about anything that is not in favour of the World State. Many people are also programmed to believe that everything the Controllers and the World State say is true. If they say that everyone is happy, people will be happy, not because they are, but because they have been told that they are. After John reads Romeo and Juliet to Helmhotz, he remembers, “How Helmholtz had laughed at Romeo and Juliet (Huxley 193).” Helmholtz laughs at the play because it deals with real human emotion, something that the society in Brave New World lacks. Shakespeare is a master of real human emotion, however, no one understands what real human emotion is because the World State is against people feeling true emotions.
Both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World are also filled with promiscuity. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, promiscuity is frowned upon. This is one of the problems that Winston has with the Party. Chastity was deeply rooted in everyone by the Party, as sex is only used for procreation as a duty to the party. This is why prostitution is illegal in Airstrip One, however, Winston retells a time he had with a prostitute in his diary, “She threw herself down on the bed, and at once, without any kind of preliminary, in the most coarse, horrible way you can imagine, pulled up her skirt (Orwell 70).” Although prostitution is illegal, Winston found himself going to prostitutes because his ex-wife, Kathrine, did not enjoy having sex with him. She would only do it because it was her “duty” to the party to have a child. However, once she and Winston discovered that they could not have children, she left, leaving Winston to resort to prostitutes to fulfill his urges. Winston does not care for the Party’s position on chastity. Before having sex with Julia for the first time, Winston tells her, “‘Listen, the more men you’ve had, the more I love you. Do you understand that (Orwell 132)?’” Even though Julia has slept with a countless amount of men, Winston does not care. He hates the Party and Big Brother so much that he loves how impure Julia is in the eyes of the Party. The Party views sex as a wrongful act. Winston realizes that, “The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort and dirty it (Orwell 69).” The Party seeks to abolish sex entirely. This is because sexual intercourse encouraged private loyalties, something that the Party does not approve of.
While promiscuity is frowned upon in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is celebrated in Brave New World. People in this dystopian society begin engaging in sexual acts from a young age. While the Director is showing new students around the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, he asks the nurse what the afternoon’s lesson was, to which she responds, “‘We had Elementary Sex for the first forty minutes,’ she answered. ‘But now it’s switched over to Elementary Class Consciousness.’ The Director walked slowly down the long line of cots. Rosy and relaxed with sleep, eighty little boys and girls lay softly breathing (Huxley 22).” In the World State, children are encouraged and even forced to partake in sexual activity, even though they do not understand the full meaning of it. The World State is also looking to dehumanize the act of sex through simulators. Mustapha Mond asks the Director, “‘Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” enquired the Assistant Predestinator. ‘I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvellous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactual effects (Huxley 29).” Simulated sex helps dehumanize the act. The state is looking to dehumanize it because there will be no competition for loyalty. Instead of loyalty to an individual, everyone will be loyal to the state. However, even though the state is conditioning its people to dehumanize the act, there are some that still lean towards monogamy. Lenina admits to Fanny that, “‘I hadn’t been feeling very keen on promiscuity lately. There are times when one doesn’t (Huxley 36).” Despite the conditioning to be promiscuous, Lenina finds herself longing for a mate, as does Fanny. This shows that despite the State’s wishes, the act cannot be dehumanized.
While the dystopic futures of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World are seemingly different from each other, they have several similarities. Both address the issues of a totalitarian government, the lives of those affected by the government, language, and promiscuity in a politically ideal world. Nineteen Eighty-Four’s grim, darker future aims to show the disastrous effects of war while Brave New World’ s seemingly lighter future proves that true freedom allows for some pain and suffering.
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