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Discussion of Literature Set in Dystopian Societies Essay

This paper takes a look at three renowned dystopian authors; George Orwell, Anthony Burgess and Aldous Huxley and compares the dystopian societies that are described in their respective novels 1984, A Clockwork Orange and Brave New World. The ways in which the rights and freedoms of the citizens in each of their novels are suppressed and controlled is described with particular reference to the use of propaganda, language, sexual relationships and violence.

The paper will progress to consider the ways in which the protagonists attempt to rebel from their situation and overcome cruel and unfair laws in order to escape the society. In discussing the ability of characters to overcome the unjust constraints of their society, it is worthwhile considering in some detail what a dystopian society is and how it is manifested. The concept of dystopia is inextricably related to the idea of Utopia, a theory that was developed originally by Plato in Republic and further explored by St Thomas More in Utopia.

Whereas Utopia is envisaged as a perfect society where subjects live peacefully side-by-side, dystopia is the antithesis of this; “dystopia was invented to denote a bad place. Utopia expresses desire, dystopia fear” (Aldridge, 53). Quite often a dystopian society is one that is believed to have formed as a direct result of unsavory actions that were taken in order to achieve a utopian society; the methods used to solve problems and assert control lead to undesirable outcomes. In literature a dystopian society often has a number of distinct characteristics.

One of which is the manipulation of one group of people by another. A Clockwork Orange, 1984 and Brave New World (BNW) are all examples of novels that depict such a society. In all three novels a minority group of people have acquired the power to control the citizens and they utilize this to command and dictate every element of their subject’s lives. Psychological oppression is in evidence in all three novels and the characters are limited in their thoughts and expressions. In both 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, the dystopian society is represented by violent and disturbing images.

Fear and hate is utilized as a means of controlling the population and, as described by O’Brien in 1984, a strong correlation is formed between mental and physical being, “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull” (Orwell, 331). The prime emotion that is encouraged in the population is that of fear and the threat of brutality and torture the protagonists face entail that they are able to suspend even their own thoughts in order to evade punishment.

Winston permits himself to think only of those subjects and issues that he has permission to think of, whereas Alex specifically avoids thoughts of violence in order to eliminate the chance he will become violently ill as a result of the side effects of the Ludivico he experienced at the government’s hands. In both cases the protagonists are no longer able to freely express themselves, their fear psychologically controls them and their entire mental thought processes altered as a direct result of this.

Whilst A Brave New World, also describes a society where people’s thought processes and actions are controlled, this control is achieved in a very different way; through drugs and sex. Immediately form birth, the citizens are physically, chemically and psychologically encouraged to be happy and content. Where, in 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, the characters are punished for rebelling against the constraints of the society in which they are placed, in A Brave New World the people are provided with rewards for following the doctrines of their leaders.

In this novel the subjects are conditioned from an early age to accept the values of the ten world leaders and they are indoctrinated to a value system that is based on superficial pleasures. The leaders thus control their society by limiting their aspirations and desires; the people accept simple things and are thus unlikely to rebel against their leaders. In all three novels, the ways in which the dystopian society is controlled is physically and visually represented by the use of propaganda. In 1984 the government literature, videos and advertisements are aimed at enforcing the state of fear that they have created.

Reality is purposely altered in order to inspire feelings in the nation, feelings that can ultimately be used by the government to assert control and prevent rebellion. Clearly the propaganda utilized in 1984 is very effective and stirs strong emotions in Winston and the people in his social group and he describes the effects as they watch a film and experience, “a desire to kill, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer seemed to flow through the whole group of people,” (Orwell, 16). In A Clockwork Orange propaganda is also of immense significance and is utilized to control the feelings and emotions of the subjects.

In this novel, two main forms of propaganda exist. The Ludivico Technique represents an outright propaganda, where the subject takes drugs and observes negative images in order to form associations with such images. In Alex’s case watching the repetition of violent images causes him to feel physical pain at the thought of violence and thus the propaganda serves to stem his aggression. Mass media is also utilized, as in 1984, and subliminal messages are utilized to encourage the populace to obey the state.

Propaganda is observed in the posters in Alex’s home and the effectiveness of this is evidenced by impact that the images have upon him both prior to, and post, his Ludivico treatment at the state’s hands. Prior to his experience he seems unable to associate with the graffiti ridden images in the poster and he cannot recognize the significance of the visuals. However, after his treatment the poster appears clean and renewed and is able to fully recognize their message. A Brave New World also features the use of propaganda as a means of controlling the emotions and free will of the citizens.

Fordisms are used to assert the supremacy of their leader and the inhabitants of society are fed subliminal messages as they sleep. They have no free will and thus become dehumanized. A further means by which the dystopian society engendered and controlled within the three novels in through the encouragement, or discouragement, of social interaction. In 1984 the subjects of society are sexually repressed and sex is permitted for procreation purposes only, “to beget children for the service of the Party” (Orwell, 69).

Sex is no longer associated as being pleasurable and natural but instead becomes an unemotional procedure. In A Clockwork Orange Alex is unable to accommodate thoughts of sexual pleasure as his treatment entails that he now associates this with violence and thus experiences pain at the thought of partaking in a sexual act. His inability to behave as a normal man transpose him into the “clockwork orange” (Burgess, 96), he is a machine incapable of experiencing and fulfilling his natural urges.

In both 1984 and A Clockwork Orange the mechanical, unemotional feelings attributed to sex and lust serve to dehumanize the characters and thus prevent them from feelings and emotions that could place the rule of the governments at risk. In Brave New World the government openly encourages sex as it is recognized as a means by which sexual desire can conquer and eliminate all other emotions. In this novel babies are artificially created in laboratories and sex therefore serves the purpose of pleasure alone.

Family units cannot be formed as babies are without parents and thus the subjects do not form bonds and have become promiscuous. Although the use of sex as a control mechanism is different, like 1984 and A Clockwork Orange the intention is the same, to remove emotions from the subjects. A crucial characteristic of the regimes in place within the dystopian societies concerns language and communication. Language, as a means of communicating and forming relationships with others in society, is suppressed and with it is the extent of human interaction.

The limit on language in all three books serves to limit free thought. In 1984 Newspeak is utilized as a means of brainwashing members of society and forcing them to think in a predetermined manner. In both Brave New World and 1984 the government’s intention to diminish the vocabulary reflects their plans to further diminish the thoughts of their public; without the words to communicate they are unable the commit thought crime, “In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible (…) there will be no words in which to express it”.

(Orwell, 200-201). In A Clockwork Orange Alex’s use of language acts as a means by which he can rebel from society. Nadsat allows him to communicate with the members of his gang and thus achieve the human interaction that the government attempts to suppress. In addition to this it serves as a means by which the unwelcome behaviors exhibited by Alex can be separated from the rest of the society, who, as with 1984, do not have a vocabulary capable of expressing such words.

A further commonality between all three novels is that of rebellion, with the main characters in all three books actively rebelling against the system into which they have been indoctrinated. Winston, Alex and John all begin to question the merits of their society and, in all three cases they utilize a past reference as a means against which they can assess their current situation. For Winston this is his diary (which allows him to record the past and therefore have a term of reference), for Alex it is his meeting with Pete and for John it is Shakespeare’s Othello that acts as a significant prompt.

Winston’s rebellion is manifested in three main ways. He commits the crime of keeping a diary, he partakes in a sexual affair and he joins a brotherhood. His actions reveal that he has realized the ills of the society and is trying to actively prevent himself from being fully indoctrinated. However, his efforts are not entirely successful. Through his capture and punishment in room 101 he is ultimately forced to love Big Brother and he rejoins the society as a fully integrated member. John too is not entirely successful in his rebellion against the repressive society in which he has been born.

He attempts to rebel by refusing to partake in sexual contact, discourages the use of the drug soma and eventually causes a riot. The violence his actions engender causes a frenzied orgy which he himself takes part in. Such an orgy is a manifestation of the very society against which he is trying to rebel and he takes the only action that he feels remains, he kills himself. Finally, in the case of Alex, the effects of his treatment entail that he is forever changed and his attempts at violent behavior and rebellion are put to an immediate halt.

However, unlike Winston, there are indications at the end of the novel that he is beginning to free himself and his ability to think and behave as an individual is being renewed. His reaction to the appearance of his friend Pete alert Alex to the changes he needs to make in his own life. However, his use of the Nadsat when speaking of his hope for the future, “Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there” (Burgess 191), indicates that he is beginning to break from his control.

Whilst rebellion against doctrine is present in all three of these novels, so is the reality that the rebellion has failed. In every case there is no real evidence that the dystopian society has been changed as a result of the protagonist’s actions and the characters appear to have been largely isolated in their ability to recognize the ill merits of the way in which they are being ruled. The efforts to overcome the cruel society are short-lived and the message portrayed is that members of a society cannot overturn their conditions alone; to truly escape the unfair laws citizens need to act as a collective whole.

Works Referenced: Aldridge, Alan. Consumption (Key Concepts). University Park, PA: Polity, 2003. Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. More, Thomas. Utopia (Penguin Classics). London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Plume, 2003. Plato. Plato: The Republic (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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