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I. Introduction and information on Utopias
Turmoil within an author’s society can implant the idea of a utopia in their minds. Utopian societies are considered to be a perfect world. Two prevalent novels centered around this type of society are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. These novels have similar yet slightly contrasting themes and ideas of how a government can control its population for a perfect and peaceful community. The two pieces also have comparable main characters with rebellious thoughts.
These themes, ideas, and characters are symbols that elucidate an insight into society and the human mind.
There is a basic formula to a utopian novel that can be seen in these two pieces. A middle-aged man finds himself uncomfortable in his community, and meets a younger and beautiful woman. This woman can either share his rebellious ideas or be repulsed by them. In any case, love spurs the novel forward and is what leads to some form of a realization.
The term, utopia, first appeared in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia in 1516. More was a part of the Counter-Reformation, which sought to promote Catholic ideals, rather than Protestant ones (Protestant ideals during this time emerged as a result of the Protestant Reformation). One of the characteristics of his fictional community was religious tolerance, which is ironic since he actively persecuted Protestants as a part of the Counter-Reformation. Humanism was the cultural and intellectual movement that emphasized human potential to attain excellence and promoted the direct study of the literature, art, and civilization of classical Greece and Rome that occurred during the Renaissance.
More also lived during the time where humanists began to denounce the socioeconomic system of feudalism that was set in Europe. Feudalism was based upon the thought the nobility would own land from the Crown and would, in return, provide military services; then on this land peasants would exchange their labor for shelter on the nobles’ land. The society in Utopia would be considered extremely utilitarian, in which actions are taken only if they benefit the majority of the population. This work of fiction was a satire on the social and political environment of the time, which seems to be the general purpose of creating these exaggerated societies. Two important facets of More’s piece would be the doctrine of utilitarianism and social commentary on society as a whole.
A. Intro to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The events that were occurring in the 20th century provided for authors to create satirical utopian literature. A novel that is considered quintessential for understanding utopian societies in literature would be Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Europe was experiencing social, economic, and political changes that were destabilizing. Before World War One, the world was also experiencing a boom in all aspects of life–technology and the economy in particular. However, it came to an end with the war. The stock market crashed, sending countries into economic distress. Huxley was writing his novel in 1931 when both Europe and America were reeling from World War One (Bloom). This level of industrialization, economic depression, and fascism served as a foundation for Brave New World. In an interview in 1962 regarding this novel, Huxley comments on the advancement of technology.
“[Technology could] iron [humans] into a kind of uniformity if you were able to manipulate their genetic background … if you had a government unscrupulous enough you could do these things without any doubt … We are getting more and more into a position where these things can be achieved. And it’s extremely important to realize this and to take every possible precaution to see they shall not be achieved. This, I take it, was the message of the book This is possible: for heaven’s sake be careful about it” (Quinn).
The prolific author and essayist, George Orwell, had written one of the most popular novels centered around a utopian society, this being 1984. Orwell had lived through World War Two and even fought in the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War was considered to be a brutal testing ground for the new military technology. This war also caused great political divide. When Orwell returned to Barcelona, his wife told him to go into hiding. Orwell was so enraged that the government was instituting a state of terror within the country. He dictates his thoughts and opinions regarding his experience fighting in the war as a soldier and his experience after returning home from the front into an essay titled Homage to Catalonia.
Another essay Orwell crafted was titled A Hanging. Once again, drawing from his personal experience, Orwell speaks about a Hindu man put to death in Myanmar (Burma). He discusses the ruthlessness of capital punishment by describing the prisoner as weak and harmless. The prisoner doesn’t seem to know why he is being sentenced to death. Orwell also describes the apathetic attitude directed towards the prisoner, and the general topic of capital punishment. Doing so he is commenting on the government. In broader terms, Orwell is questioning whether the government is correct or not, and if it is ethical.
Both authors, Huxley and Orwell, agreed in the sense that in order to maintain an utopian society the government must control its people. The governments in Brave New World and 1984 contrast in the way that they choose to control its people. Brave New World focuses on bio-technological advancements, so it is logical that the way the government controls everyone is through a type of “medicine.” The government distributes a hallucinogen called soma to their citizens. It evokes a feeling of happiness that many become addicted to. Soma is derived from the Greek word “body.” It is also used in Vedic ritual sacrifices– it is an intoxicating hallucinogenic beverage made from a currently unknown plant that was made as an offering to the gods and consumed by participants of the ritual.
Huxley for a large part of his life was a humanist; he was against the concept of religious dogma. However, after the publication of Brave New World, Huxley became heavily involved with the Vedanta Society of Southern California (www.vedanta.org). According to their site, Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India. It is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal and is applicable to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds. Vedanta affirms that “the oneness of existence, The divinity of the soul, and The harmony of all religions.” A closer look at the word “Vedanta” is revealing: “Vedanta” is a combination of two words: “Veda” which means “knowledge” and “anta” which means “the end of” or “the goal of.” With this context the goal of knowledge isn’t intellectual the limited knowledge acquired through books. “Knowledge,” in this context, refers to the knowledge of God as well as the knowledge of our own divine nature. Thus, Vedanta is the search for self-knowledge as well as the search for God. The premier part is relevant as an important aspect of a utopian novel is self-realization that one is contributing to the machine that is the government. Huxley also later refers to a Vedantic tradition multiple times in his novel, perhaps insinuating humans are slaves to religion.
In Huxley’s world, when the citizens have a malicious thought they are told to have some of the soma tablets, when they go through a “harrowing” experience like being refused by a girl they use soma to wash away the unfamiliarities of pain. Soma is used as a crutch. When Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowe visit the Savage Reservation, Crowe is constantly itching for soma, and once she saw something unusual she self-induced a soma holiday. It is also a poison–taking years off a life. The reader can fully understand this after the Savage’s mother is placed in hospital care for a soma holiday. Outside the hospital, a man is distributing soma to the yearning masses when the Savage has a sudden epiphany on what he must do and tells the man to “throw it all away, that horrible poison.” YOU IDIOT CITE ME However, John the Savage would soon find out that these people were too far brainwashed and too addicted to listen to him. Soma enslaves these people to the government. However, in addition to this being a commentary on the government it also questions Christianity. Stating that the government will spread propaganda in order to garner confidence and support from the people. Also, the government may team up with religion to subdue its masse, stating perhaps that Christianity commands through pacification and suppression.
In Brave New World, apart from being genetically uniform, Huxley aimed to have a controlled society through careful brainwashing that occurs during their youth. Two of the brainwashed characters visit a “Savage Reservation,” in which people untouched by the modernization of the world live in. This is a direct connection to the theory of the “noble savage.” The modern myth of the noble savage is often attributed to the 18th-century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau believed that the original man was free from sin, appetite or the concept of right and wrong and that those society deemed “brutal savages” were not brutal but noble (). This noble savage was innocent of sin because it was not influenced by some corrupting organization.
The doctrine of “Community, Identity, and Stability,” seems more palatable. Founded on faith in technocracy and principles of Fordist efficiency, the society is dedicated to providing comfortable lives for all. The society is “founded on faith in technocracy and principles of Fordist efficiency to [provide] comfortable lives” (). Thus many citizens do not question the system/government. They are brainwashed as they enjoy the good health and prosperity due to the advancements of science. “They want nothing more than to which they have been accustomed to” ().
Orwell has a different take on utopias. While he maintains Huxley’s idea of brainwashed citizens, Orwell focuses on a utopia without biological advancements and slightly more technological advancements, and a society motivated by propaganda and false information. The government within 1984 focuses on brainwashing the youth and turning the citizens against each other. This type of government is most familiar to us and recognizable as a harsh totalitarian state that was present in World War Two. This is no mistake as Orwell later publishes an essay and states that “‘Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism'” (). Citizens are under the illusion of free will. For example, the citizens within 1984 are allowed to have free time but it is a mandated section of time and simply another opportunity to spy on each other.
The reason authors create works of fiction in the genre of utopia is to comment on their own surroundings. To paraphrase Orwell, one of the reasons people write is to push their political agenda on to others. 1984 and Brave New World both comment on the technological advancements of their times. Both of these fictional pieces recognize that technology can be considered evil.
In 1984, there are multiple Telescreens placed seemingly everywhere. They are highly invasive and are another means to control and spy on citizens. In one instance, Winston is following the exercise program being played on the screen and begins to stop and slack off. He is called out by the instructor and told to get back to work. These Telescreens blare Party propaganda and spy on conversations occurring in a room, these telescreens are an obvious symbol as well as the direct means of the Party’s constant monitoring of its subjects. They represent the tendency of totalitarian governments to abuse technology to further their own ends instead of improving the general living standard. Orwell recognized that media can be censored to change a society’s thoughts and opinions. These screens are violating the people’s rights to privacy. In addition to these screens, the Party takes advantage of the children in order to control their parents who have potentially lived a few days without the government and Big Brother. They supply children with ear trumpets that amplify their ability to hear. Many governments recognize the value of teaching children their core values and form youth groups. 1984 was written after World War Two and was reflective of the tense political climate. The dictators in this war utilized youth groups to instill their ideologies, spread propaganda, and to gain support and popularity of future generations.
To supplement the telescreens, there are microphones hidden throughout the community. “In general you could not assume that you were much safer in the country than in London. There were no telescreens, of course, but there was always the danger of concealed microphones by which your voice might be picked up and recognized” (Orwell 117). All of the technology is meant to make citizens obedient to the Party. It creates a great sense of fear of technology, government, and each other. As previously mentioned, Orwell was heavily impacted by the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. These wars were different from the First World War as technology had exponentially improved, and more atrocities were committed as a result of the growth of technology. Orwell must have recognized the malicious ways technology was being used and the distrust between citizens and decided to combine these two ideas into the Telescreens.
Orwell creates his government to rely upon heavy surveillance and harsh and extreme punishment. The aforementioned Telescreens are monitored by the “Thought Police” who are similar to the Gestapo used by Hitler in World War Two (). These officers patrol using terrifying tactics that range from public execution to vaporizations (in which the person disappears leaving no traces) to find “thoughtcriminals” who may have the slightest inkling of a defiant thought.
While the government in 1984 is reliant upon terror and surveillance, it also wishes to control its population by changing their thoughts and information. Their main doctrine is “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, AND IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” This slogan is repeated everywhere to ensure that the message is drilled into the citizens’ minds. This message is less palatable than Huxley’s “___” and strikes more fear into both the citizens’ minds and the readers’ minds.
While 1984 focuses on technology in the form of engineering and electrical feats, Brave New World looks at the more biological aspects of technology. The government present in Huxley’s world chooses traits of the population to determine their role in society. If the government deems one to be inept, they are then sent to do menial labor and usually tedious manual labor. The social commentary within this concept is very obvious. People who may seem inept are not allowed a proper chance to succeed in the world.
While the majority of the novel focuses on advancements in the field of futuristic biological technology, a rather mundane piece of technology is incorporated. The fictional government incorporates the electric fence. The purpose of a fence is to separate. However, the purpose of an electric fence can either be to protect or to cage in the citizens. Governments can claim to be protecting citizens, but since they are controlling the population’s thoughts and creating a culture of self-mutilation, it seems that there is more harm done. The government can convince their citizens that they are correct, and that the outside world is a threat to their lives and general well being.
In addition to commenting on technology, both novels comment on sexuality. In 1984, a scarlet anti-sex sash is considered a way to display one’s devotion to the Party and its ideals. However, Julia, a seemingly model of virtue, hides under the sash. She meets with many men to exploit them. Julia is a surprisingly rebellious character, and thus motivates the main character to create rebellious pieces of writing.
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