Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World) and George Orwell (author of 1984) both grew up during the time of the two world wars that scarred the 20th century. They lived their early childhood and teenage years in a society that was threatened by imminent war. The future of the entire world was uncertain, experts debated about the shape that the world would take and these two novels served as two (out of many) possible scenarios that we were headed towards.
1984, as the name suggests, is set in the year 1984, or rather Orwell’s vision of what the world would look like in 1984. Written in 1949, this dystopian novel shows us a brutal, relentless, mind-controlling totalitarian state and gives us the famous line, “Big Brother is watching you”.
Brave New World, on the other hand, is set in the year A.F. 632 i.e. 632 years after the advent of Henry Ford, the American car magnate whose highly successful Model-T was the first automobile to be manufactured by mass-production methods and equipment. Ford is the ruling God in the ‘World State’ in Huxley’s world; a global hierarchy/caste system that was implemented after the ‘Nine-Years War’ and the ‘Economic Collapse’. Written in 1932, BNW shows us a different and a little softer form of totalitarian state. Unlike 1984, here we see a different kind of control. Control through conformity achieved by genetically engineered babies and brainwashing.
The first thing we notice is the technological advancements that have been made in both the novels. Orwell’s 1984 is not exactly the pinnacle of such advancement. Rather, apart from the two-way telescreens, the outrageous amount of surveillance and the novel printing machines, there isn’t much technology used in the state of ‘Oceania’ (the dystopian name given to England)owing to the fact that the means for proper scientific inquiry were considered anti-ethical to the beliefs of the party’. The ‘Party’ in ‘1984’ refers to the totalitarian government in power of ‘Oceania’ headed by their leader simply known as ‘Big Brother’.
Contrary to this, the dystopian world shown in Brave New World has made major technological breakthroughs and we can see it quite clearly in the first few pages as we are taken on a journey through the various labs housing all the different phases of the baby production machines. Throughout the novel, we come across various gadgets, privately owned helicopters, and the ‘feelies’ (best described as movies that you could feel in the first person) which quite clearly shows that technology is a huge part of everyday life in Huxley’s ‘BRAVE NEW WORLD’. BNW, however, does not portray a detailed picture of what life would be. Rather, Huxley tries to show us the effects of such things on human nature.
In both of these novels, the masses are constantly subdued and kept in check to avoid a revolution or awakening of the masses. The likeliness ends there as the methods adopted in both the novels are very different. While Huxley goes for a society that is kept in check through mindless consumerism and government issue drugs (called soma), Orwell opts for a totalitarian regime that controls through force and inducing fear in the minds of the common people. The ‘World State’ in Brave New World’ propagate consumerism by brainwashing the kids at a young age and teaching them phrases like “Mending’s anti-social”.
Stratification of society is another parallel that can be drawn between these two novels. Huxley’s society is divided into different castes like the Alphas, Betas, and Epsilons. Orwell’s society was segregated into three distinct classes: Inner Party (the elite, powerful higher class). Outer Party (the common people working in the system) and proles (outcasts).
Another important aspect of both novels is the absolute disregard and/or the abolishment of human history. 1984 shows us how the Party aggressively controls every aspect of history. Here, history has been rewritten numerous times so that it conforms to suit the needs of the present. We even see Winston, the main protagonist, himself indulge in such an act. We are also introduced to another one of Orwell’s famous lines, “Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.” Ominous indeed.
In Huxley’s Brave new world, people have accepted Henry Ford’s quote, “History is bunk” and as a result, anything to do with human history is looked upon with contempt. Instead of glorifying or even understanding the past, it is ridiculed and the lives that were lived before are looked down upon. The ones who do follow the old traditions are termed “savages’ and shunned.
Apart from history, another facet of life that is made obsolete in Huxley’s dystopia (or utopia, however you choose to see it) is the concept of family. No one gets pregnant anymore, babies are mass produced, according to need, and parenthood has become obsolete. Although Orwell does not totally abolish the family, it has been distorted to a large extent. Children are encouraged to spy on their parents and even turn them in if necessary. They are taught to give their loyalty to Big Brother and the Party. This way, even family becomes a means of surveillance and control for the ‘party’. The awful behavior of the kids finds its parallel in Brave New World where children are encouraged to take part in ‘erotic play’.
Both novels put an emphasis on the importance of sexual behavior to human beings.
As mentioned earlier, in Brave New World, there are no pregnancies as reproduction and sexual intercourse are completely separated. Most of the women are made sterile and those who aren’t sterile are made to wear ‘Malthusian belts’ and maintain constant contraception. Exclusive relationships are also abolished as ‘Everybody belongs to everybody’ and people are encouraged to be promiscuous. As a result of this enforced promiscuity, sex becomes another mindless and unimportant task like eating ice cream. In fact, when Lenina Crowne sleeps with the same man more than once, her friend Fanny expresses her concern and suggests her to go out with other men to avoid suspicion.
Orwell’s Oceania, however, has a different outlook on sex. Sexual activity is absolutely forbidden and devoid of pleasure. Winston’s wife just “endures the act for the sake of the party”. Young girls are formed into (chastity groups) and are encouraged to stay away from the sexual pleasure of any kind. This has an exactly opposite result. While in BNW, sex has become meaningless, in 1984, Winston sees it as a sort of rebellious act or an expression of freedom.
After reading these two novels, one can find striking similarities not only between the two books but between the books and the present day world. I propose to you this: we are living in our own dystopian world.
Through the years, many of Orwell’s ideas (especially those regarding totalitarianism and control of the masses) have proved to be true. Governments and security agencies still continue to control the public through the media by monitoring opinions and by guiding and dictating how people live and interact. In addition, the history taught in schools was controlled by the party to favor a communist agenda. Major wars were completely erased from history books and other major moments in human history were also removed. All that remained was what the party wanted the masses to believe. Brave New World does something similar by stigmatizing the past, history and all those associated with it as
“History always favors the victor”.
In 1984, censorship was at an extreme. The thought police ensured that any dissenters were found, tried and executed. Similarly, today, spying and censorship are out of control. From agencies like the NSA spying on all emails to Net Neutrality and Facebook suppressing conservative content, the world that we live in is carefully monitored and regulated to keep us in line.
In Huxley’s NEW WORLD, we see the rampant use of synthetic stimulants to escape reality; something that is just as widespread in the real world. We also see that all the characters in Brave New World are trying hard to conform to their peers and the government. Look around you. Things like popular culture, dressing up in a certain way, listening to a certain kind of music, doing what’s “acceptable”, worshipping pop icons and trying to emulate these pop icons are the same type of conformity, just on a different level. Similarly, 1984 shows how the Party controlled the “proles” by keeping them quarreling amongst themselves and distracting their minds with menial means of entertainment like state-printed pornography, lottery tickets, and football. A few lines from the book make it clear as day.
“If there was hope, it must lie in the proles because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, 85 percent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated”
-showing that it is the masses, the common folk who hold the key to overthrowing oppressive regimes.
“But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength ….. If they chose to, they could blow the Party to pieces ….. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”
-highlighting how it was easy to control the masses once they’re distracted enough.
Even today, governments and regimes around the world blatantly use a similar form of misinformation and discrimination to get people to conform. A look at history books around the country and other nations reveal that the content of those books is indeed carefully curated to suit the agenda of the ones in power. In a similar manner, using religion and castes as a basis of discrimination, governments try to get the masses to conform by having them blindly believe in ideologies which are intolerant to diversity.
Though it is near impossible to highlight and analyze all the aspects of these two masterpieces, the truth remains that these books are even more relevant in today’s world as it was during the time of their publication. Considered as works of sci-fi and sci-fi horror then, they are not too far off from the world we live in right now. These are two masterpieces by two great minds of literature and hence are books that should be on everyone’s reading list.