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The contemporary Western society is very often focused on values such as effectiveness, physical satisfaction, and so on; it is hard to call these values “bad,” but it might be possible to state that their domination and the lack of other universal values which are not associated with only physical satisfaction and entertainment (such as the values of the Enlightenment), as well as the omnipresence of the culture of capitalism, in which an individual is constantly prompted to purchase and consume, results in the situation when consumerism becomes prevalent. On the other hand, various totalitarian ideologies, which were (and sometimes still are) pictured as alternatives to the current Western system of views, also involve numerous dangers.
The current paper discusses two dystopias, 1984 by George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) and Brave New World by Aldous Leonard Huxley. It is argued that, while 1984 is clearly a dystopian novel that pictures a society in which the power of the higher class is based on propaganda, fear, coercion and torture, Brave New World contains certain elements of utopia, such as the attempts to make all the citizens happy in a certain manner.
The three features which are discussed in this respect are the division of the two societies into social strata, the use of state power and control over citizens, and the loss of people’s individualities. After that, it is shown that 1984 closely resembles totalitarian societies such as the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, whereas Brave New World is more similar to the contemporary society in which physical satisfaction and consumerism became the ultimate values.
The Social Strata of the Two Dystopias
Both novels describe societies which are divided into castes (in Brave New World) or social strata (in 1984). However, it should be stressed that this division appears much less rutless to the lowest classes in Brave New World than in 1984.
Indeed, in Brave New World, the human population is divided into five main strata, which are named using Greek letters: from Alphas, the highest caste, to “semi-moronic” (Huxley 44) Epsilons, the lowest caste. Each of the castes also have subdivisions denoted with pluses or minuses; for instance, Alpha Double Plus is the highest subdivision of Alphas. The strata are not just social, but also biological divisions; “batches” of multiple identical individuals are manufactured in incubators using the “Bokanovsky’s process,” and, depending upon the amount of oxygen a “batch” is given, individuals belonging to different castes are produced (Huxley 10).
This is done with the purpose of increasing effectiveness and maintaining the social stability; individuals from different castes do different types of work, ones that are most suitable for them. Higher and more intelligent castes do more intellectual or administrative work, whereas “semi-moronic” Epsilons are engaged in manual labor. Noteworthy, according to the “World Controller for Western Europe” Mustapha Mond, each caste is satisfied with what they do, and previous attempts to have them do other types of work ended in problems ranging from an increased use of narcotics to serious social strife (Huxley 169-171).
In 1984, the division into social strata is also present. It is mentioned in “the book” (a text supposedly created by a person rebelling against the state in 1984) that there exist three social strata: the Low, the Middle, and the High (Orwell 129); this is also so in Oceania: the High are comprised of the representatives of the Party (the Inner Party), the Middle are the more educated citizens of Oceania (the Outer Party), who are also most tightly controlled, and the Low are the workers who perform menial tasks (the Proles).
The inner party is strictly privileged, and collectively possesses all the power in the country; the Proles are the most impoverished stratum who are left without education and perform manual work, but are, however, not strictly controlled. The Outer Party are the local middle class, and, while having some privileges such as education, they are tightly controlled by the Party, and the slightest deviations from the expected behavior, such as the “thoughtcrime” of speaking against the regime in one’s sleep (Orwell 163), are severely and ruthlessly dealt with.
Thus, while all the strata in Brave New World appear to be satisfied with what they do (due to the fact that they have been biologically adapted to the work they perform), the Proles in 1984 are impoverished and dispossessed, whereas the outer party is constantly under control; the only stratum enjoying all the benefits are the inner party. Therefore, Brave New World possesses a feature of utopia in this case: all the social strata remain happy.
The Power and Control Over the Citizens
On the whole, the citizens of both Oceania in 1984 and the World State in Brave New World are controlled by the authorities, to whom virtually all the power in the respective state belongs; however, while in Oceania this control is carried out by using ideology, pain, fear, and physical coercion, the World State uses biotechnologies and pleasure to control its citizens.
In Oceania, the Party has absolute power over the middle and lower classes, and is one with the higher class. The total control is maintained only over the middle class – the Outer Party. Proles are not strictly controlled due to the fact that they are believed to be incapable of any organized resistance to the Party. They are kept within the desired bounds by providing them with simple entertainments such as sports, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. On the other hand, the Outer Party, the people of the middle class, who are often rather educated, might potentially be dangerous, and thus are constantly kept under surveillance by using telescreens with microphones and cameras.
The control is carried out by using a variety of methods, from ideological (the propaganda of Ingsoc, the cult of the Party and the Big Brother), economic and military (the constant war, or pretended war), linguistic (the newspeak), historical (total control over the records and memories about the past), to the use of torture to change the beliefs and the very mind of the citizens. As O’Brien puts it when torturing Winston to get him become one with the ideology of the Party:
Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living… You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves. (Orwell 180)
On the other hand, in the World State of Brave New World, while the state also has a virtually unlimited amount of power over its citizens, completely different methods of control are used. In fact, the World Controllers utilize bioengineering, education, and pleasure and physical satisfaction in order to keep the representatives of different castes within their roles (Nicol 41-42). For instance, as has been stressed, individuals are “manufactured” in a manner due to which they belong to different castes with different levels of intellectual and physical development; the members of each caste are taught certain lessons during their development: e.g., in their sleep, children are exposed to audio lessons teaching them to contact primarily with the members of their class and be glad that they belong to their class (the “Elementary Class Consciousness” lessons) (Huxley 20-21).
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A variety of pleasures are available for the citizens; they are primarily related to consumption and sexual activities, as well as to the use of narcotics (“soma”); also, people’s appearance and physical condition in maintained on the same level until they reach a certain age, at which point they simply die. There are certain forbidden materials (books), and the learning and application of science are strictly limited (Huxley 171-173). However, forbidden books are not even dangerous, because the members of the existing society would simply not understand them. Thanks to these measures, citizens almost never question the existing order and their place in it, and when they (primarily Alphas) do, they might even be rewarded instead of punished – by deporting them to places where other similar individuals live and thrive (Huxley 172-173).
Thus, while in 1984, the control is carried out by using ideology and means such as fear and pain, which makes the novel distinctly dystopian, in Brave New World, the control is conducted via biotechnologies and pleasure. This adds certain features of utopia to Brave New World; after all, all the citizens are glad and pleased. Nevertheless, the total consumerism of the World State citizens (Wilkinson 22-23) and the very fact of total state power and control are still adverse elements of Huxley’s world.
Loss of People’s Individualities
It should be noted that in both novels, separate persons, in fact, do not possess any unique individuality (probably apart from the Proles in 1984, who are not strictly controlled; but they have virtually no opportunity to develop their individuality – and if they do, there is a chance that they will be disposed of by the Party). This is done by using different means; it is possible to state that the citizens of both states usually do not develop any individuality, but those individuals who do develop one, are dealt with completely differently in both states.
In 1984, the middle class is taught from the very beginning of their lives the beliefs that they are desired to have. They are also constantly engaged in a variety of activities which keep them busy at all times, leaving them no opportunity to think or reflect (Finigan 436). Those who deviate from the intended course of intellectual development are kept under surveillance, and when the fact of deviation is established, they are dealt with in the dungeons and torture chambers of the Ministry of Love; their minds and personalities are reshaped according to a template. Thus, any development of individual thought is prohibited and strictly persecuted.
In Brave New World, the development of an individuality also goes against the rules of the World State. The latter uses the above-mentioned biotechnologies and educational procedures (Nicol 41-42), as well as the abundance of consumerist pleasures, to prevent personal development. The “Bokanovsky’s process” is used to create batches of “standard,” identical people (Huxley 5), who are then brought through standardized training and educational programs. Their time is also usually filled completely, if not with work, then with sexual pleasures or “soma.” Nevertheless, certain people still manage to develop individualities; however, in contrast with Oceania, these people are not destroyed or reshaped according to a template, but may be given a chance to live among others such as them.
Thus, even though most people of both novels do not have opportunity to develop individuality, citizens of the World State who still managed to do so still can realize themselves and live among other talented people, whereas dwellers of Oceania are strictly persecuted for slightest deviations. This, again, makes 1984 much more dystopian than Brave New World.
The Dystopian Societies and the Real World
While both novels feature dystopian societies, it is possible to argue that both of them describe some elements of reality in an exaggerated, hyperbolized way. For instance, 1984 clearly describes some of the terrors of the totalitarian states such as the Nazi Germany or the Stalinist USSR, especially the latter one. The heavy ideological propaganda, constant control and surveillance of suspected “traitors,” and concentration camps were used in both states for the purpose of keeping power. State power comes from the monopoly on the right to use the police and the military force (Searle 96); however, the novel clearly pictures some of the horrors that can occur in a situation when the state possesses too much power, and when a totalitarian regime is established.
On the other hand, it might be possible to state that Brave New World more resembles the contemporary Western society with its focus on physical satisfaction and consumption, often accompanied by the absence of any other values (such as the values of the Enlightenment), which results in low overall cultural level even among the more (practically) educated middle class (Wilkinson 22-23). However, there are also crucial difficulties; for instance, while the World State’s authorities (e.g. Mustapha Mond) are apparently driven by the desire to make people happy (in a way) (Huxley 167), the real world’s authorities often wish to gain political power for various reasons, for example, to promote the business interests of their own and of large corporations, by whom their political campaigns are usually sponsored and whose interests they often promote – hence, e.g., the enormous military budgets of the U.S., because producing weapons is a profitable business (Zinn 547).
Therefore, both the “very” dystopian 1984 and the “less” dystopian Brave New World picture societies which resemble some political regimes in the real world. While 1984 very much resembles clearly totalitarian states such as the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during and after Stalin, Brave New World has numerous similarities to the contemporary consumerist Western societies, which, despite all their advantages, are perhaps too focused on consumerism, money, and physical satisfaction (Wilkinson 23), and often may lack the values such as ones of the era of the Enlightenment.
On the whole, both novels depict dystopias, but while the society of 1984 is based on fear and coercion, the society of Brave New World is much “softer,” and is based on pleasure. However, in both novels, the societies are divided into social strata, the state completely controls people, and people do not usually develop their own individualities. In addition, 1984 is rather similar to totalitarian regimes such as ones of the Nazi Germany or the USSR, whereas Brave New World resembles the contemporary society in which consumerism and physical satisfaction were made the ultimate and universal values. Thus, dystopian literature, such as the two discussed novels, can warn about certain types of societies by providing a clear picture of dangers they pose.
Finigan, Theo. “‘Into the Memory Hole’: Totalitarianism and Mal d’Archive in Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 38, no. 3, 2011, pp. 435-459.
Huxley, Aldous Leonard. “Brave New World.” Internet Archive.
Nicol, Caitrin. “Brave New World at 75.” The New Atlantis, vol. 16, 2007, pp. 41-54,
Orwell, George. “1984.” Historical Revisionism.
Searle, John Rogers. Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power. Columbia University Press, 2007.
Wilkinson, Rachel. “Teaching Dystopian Literature to a Consumer Class.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 3, 2010, pp. 22-26.
Zinn, Howard. “A People’s History of the United States.” United Diversity.