Compare and Contrast: Brave New World and 1984Get Your
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George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are commonly classed together as distopian novels. The tenor of them are however markedly different, leading many commentators to find differences in their themes too. Some are even bold enough to suggest that Huxley’s vision of the future is not distopian at all, and could in fact be describing Utopia.
Orwell’s future, on the other, is never mistaken as such, and universally evokes horror. The contention of this essay is, however, that it is a mistake to look for either positive nor negative slants to these visions of the future, for the central message from both authors is that the future is inevitable, and is not the fault of any political party (in the case of Orwell) of social class (as in the case of Huxley). In fact, as the argument continues, the futures that they evoke are the same.
Huxley pictures a more distant future, for the events that he pictures begin in the year 2540. In this world humanity has become a product of a mass production factory, specifically that of the Central London Hatching and Conditioning Centre. Human eggs are artificially inseminated with male sperm, according to principles of selective breeding.
The embryos are them grown artificially, and in the process are conditioned so that, each according to its projected caste, they grow up with natures and behaviors that conform to an elaborately devised five-fold caste system. This is the civilized apex of humanity, which sits atop an expanse of savage humanity, who live in the wild and normally.
Orwell’s future, on the other hand, is proximate. The world is not yet uniform, politics is still alive with three super states contending each other for power, and the world of one of them, Oceania, is the focus of the novel. Technology is as yet rudimentary, electronic surveillance being the summit, and used to full capacity to establish an unbreakable police state, with media, education and drugs being also employed by the ruling party to control the population.
To compare the two, the first thing we realize is that Orwell’s world is still in a formative phase, while Huxley’s has reached its state of equilibrium. This is why the atmosphere is the latter is relaxed, while in the former tension is replete – both amongst the ruling elite and its subjects.
The elite must always be on the offensive, lest a single renegade upset the whole system. Thinking itself is nipped in the bud with the propaganda: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death” (2004, p. 38). The hedonistic population in Huxley’s future, in contrast, have no care in the world, or at the slightest suggestion of it take a dose of the soma drug a get rid of it: “A gramme is always better than a damn” (1998, p. 90). The social critic Neil Postman (1986, p. 1) voices this contrast poignantly:
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
We know that Huxley’s world is more secure then Orwell’s when we take notice of where the respective rebellions issue from. Winston Smith, the rebel of 1984, is actually a member of the ruling elite, though in the lower echelon of it. The first rebel in Brave New World is Bernard Marx, an Alpha citizen, so also a member of the ruling caste, but we later learn that his rebellion is shabby and mean-spirited.
In the latter part of the novel he is pitched into stardom, and as a result has the girls swarming over him. With this granted to him, his rebellion evaporates in an instant and he has conformed. Through the character of Marx, Huxley has made the statement that hedonistic Utopia has no latent heroism, and that the soma-swiggers can never rise above petty-mindedness and appearances.
Even among the savages there is no seed of rebellion. The real rebel is John the Savage, and he is a true outsider. Fathered by the Director of the Hatcheries, but raised among the savages, who ostracize him too, he is one whom fate has placed beyond the watertight caste system. Only John, with the aid of the wisdom of Shakespeare, has the heroic essence that is capable of rebelling.
The rebels in both novels, however, fail abjectly. Winston Smith not only accepts Big Brother in the end, but also loves him, and so has conformed, with no trace of his earlier rebellion left, just as O’Brien had predicted, when he had told him: “You are beginning, I can see, to realize what that world will be like. But in the end you will do more than understand it.
You will accept it, welcome it, become part of it” (Orwell, 2004, p. 335). In Brave New World, even with the magnanimity of John, he loses the argument with Mustapha Mond concerning the logic of Utopia, and is only left muttering, “But the tears are necessary” (Huxley, 1998, p. 238).
The only tears shed in the end are his own, and his suicide marks the complete extinguishing of his rebellion. Even though they deny the possibility of rebellion, by the very act of writing such distopian novels the authors are themselves rebelling against Utopia (distopia), even though they depict the advance towards it as inevitable. In the case of Huxley at least, G. K. Chesterton (1935) provides us with socio-political backdrop to such rebellion:
For the Slump the economic depression of the 1930’s brought even more disillusionment than the War. A new bitterness, and a new bewilderment, ran through all social life, and was reflected in all literature and art. It was contemptuous, not only of the old Capitalism, but of the old Socialism. Brave New World is more of a revolt against Utopia than against Victoria.
The attitude towards sex taken by the totalitarian states in both novels also reflects that they are in different stages of development of the same evolutionary process. In Orwell the ruling Party is trying to abolish the sex instinct altogether, on the pretext that it is the source of unguided passion, which is liable to deviate from strict Party lines.
If not for the purposes of procreation it would have been banned altogether. Only the proletarians are allowed unfettered and passionate sex, they being always under the thumb of the Party. In Brave New World the problem of procreation has been solved otherwise. But instead of the sexual act being banned promiscuity is encouraged and has indeed settled down at an extreme level, each cohabiting with the proximate next with gay and carefree abandon, very much like wild animals. But here lies the clue.
Because it is animalistic, it is emptied of all human passion, and therefore is harmless to the State. It is only a distraction, and as such it is indeed useful to it. “In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain,” says Postman, “In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure” (1986, p. 1).
The rebels in both novels are shown to be seeking passionate relationships, Smith with fellow employee Julia; John with Alpha citizen Lenina. In both cases the relationships prove to be the catalyst that brings about instability and the ultimate undoing of the participants.
Smith adventure begins when Julia slyly passes to him a note saying “I LOVE YOU”, a message that conveys to him real passionate love (Orwell, 2004, p. 136). Lenina cannot understand why John cannot accept the sexual act as a routine biological function. To John, Lenina is a whore (Huxley, 1998, p. 194).
The characters who divulge, in the end, the official State philosophies, in each novel, are embodiments of that philosophy too. Oceania is still at the political stage of its development towards Utopia, and therefore O’Brien, the mouthpiece of its doctrine, gives a thoroughly political explanation of Utopia.
As he tortures Smith in room 101, while at the same time giving to him the rationale of a totalitarian state, his demeanor is one of political ruthlessness. On the other hand Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller of Western Europe, is a philosopher, and at times is pleading a philosophical case, and wants John to understand, not to accept.
He could even be Plato, arguing the case that the philosopher-king should be the arbiter of the State. Indeed the Utopia he describes bears uncanny resemblance to the one described in Plato’s Republic. When John asks him why they don’t all become Alphas and dispense with misery altogether, he gives an explanation worthy of Plato of why stratification is unavoidable, and therefore must be built-in in any Utopia. Art and science has been banished because these are all marks of human passion and creativity, and therefore bear the seeds of instability:
But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead. (Huxley, 1998, p.230)
He readily accedes to John’s outburst that humanity is such a state is horrible and squalid, but insists that for the sake of happiness humans pay the price with their very humanity. Much of this is reminiscent of the “doublespeak” found in Orwell: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” (2004, p. 10).
It is a Kantian reality that O’Brien expounds to Smith, where contradictory states are harmoniously interposed. The logical build-up to this, however, is not metaphysics, but rather politics. The proletarian revolution and the overthrow of the capitalists, as predicted by Marx, never did realize. Instead the middle classes – the managers of capitalism – take the reins and effect, what James Burnham has called, the managerial revolution. In his seminal essay of 1946 “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution” Orwell (2000, p. 160) wrote:
The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.”
This is exactly the State that O’Brien defends. The War functions only to eat up the surplus production so that the proletariat is never able to rise above its station. It also lends purpose to existence that has been otherwise rendered meaningless. Both functions are indispensable for the sake of stability, and in this sense, O’Brien explains, “War is peace.”
Finally, we discuss the place of God in these totalitarian States. Ian Slater, commenting on 1984, says, “That Big Brother has replaced God is obvious throughout the novel” (2003, p. 226). It is tempting to think that God has been banished from these kingdoms, with the ruling elite having usurped the place of God.
But neither Mustapha Mond nor O’Brien are heard to deny the existence of God. In fact, we find that the perception of God of Mustapha Mond is greater that that shown by John. When he begins to quote Cardinal Newman, or William James, we feel that there is more godliness in him than in John, whose Shakespearian quips are no match. When asked on how God manifests himself in this Utopia the Controller answers that He “manifests himself as an absence; as though he weren’t there at all,” and then goes on to elaborate:
Call it the fault of civilization. God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. (Huxley, 1998, p. 234)
It is a response that contains a profound sense of religiosity, and answers John’s query with such finality that he does not press the issue further. It is not a denial of God, and is neither a usurpation of His place. It is rather a claim of divine appointment, very much in line with the traditional precept of Christian kings, who had claimed “divine right to rule”.
A similar analysis applies to O’Brien’s claims to divine authority: “We are the priests of power. God is power” (Orwell, 2004, p. 330). It comes across as a political slogan too, because politics is the milieu of O’Brien. The Nietzschian Will to Power is also an element, which is heard in the following refrain:
Always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face …for ever. (Ibid, p. 334)
Smith does not believe in God, but O’Brien does, for his claim over Smith is a claim of divine authority. It is again God manifesting Himself by absence. People do not believe in God, so the state assumes a divine omnipotence, or exercises divine power, as a proxy. This is what underlines O’Brien’s statement, “God is power.”
In conclusion, both 1984 and Brave New World are novels of distopia that project a sense of inevitability. The message is that progress is synonymous with dehumanization, and it is futile to resist this march. The plots focus of isolated rebels, and continue to show that the best efforts at rebellion are quashed with such comprehensiveness that they may never have existed at all.
The fault is shown to be in human nature, is not to be projected onto isolated individuals or political movements. The only difference is that Orwell shows us the proximate future, whereas Huxley a more distant one. As a consequence Orwell is still concerned with politics, whereas Huxley shows a more developed stage in which politics have been overcome and technology has overtaken the whole process of dehumanizing humanity.
Chesterton, G. K. (1935) Illustrated London News. Issued May 4.
Huxley, A. (1998). Brave New World. London: HarperCollins Publishers.
Orwell, G. (2000). George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters. Ed. Ian Angus, Sonia Orwell. Boston: D.R. Godine.
Orwell, O. (2004). Nineteen Eighty Four. Fairfield, IO: 1st World Publishing.
Postman, N. (1986). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books.
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Slater, I. (2003). Orwell: The Road to Airstrip One. Charlotte, NC: McGill-Queens’s Press.
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Compare and Contrast: Brave New World and 1984
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If you haven’t read Brave New World or 1984, I encourage you to take a look at both books; they’re required reading in many school systems, and both are thought-provoking, well-written works of fiction. Also, there will be spoilers galore. That being said, if you don’t care to read either book, I’ll let you know the differences between them now. In 1984, a totalitarian regime reigns by fear, using mass surveillance and the media to impose its authority on the populace. Those who step out of line risk having their existences erased. Rebellion is quelled by force.
In Brave New World, eugenics has created a society in which people are bred for their jobs- when workers are needed, they are cultivated as clones. A person’s rank is to determined before birth) Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc.) and the most intelligent are given the least alcohol as fetuses that they might develop with the most intelligence. Unlike 1984, in Brave New World, mass surveillance is unnecessary- rather, people are controlled by their desires; promiscuity is encouraged, people are given endless supplies of narcotics, and there’s entertainment galore. There’s no force to quell a rebellion, because one could never happen.
In most discussions of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, the two books are viewed as conflicting, each host to their own opposite, incompatible ideas. While it’s quite true that Huxley and Orwell imagined very different worlds, they shared a few common elements- ultimately, a careful reading of both reveals that their message is the same, in spite of the differences in execution. In my opinion, the world as we know it more overtly resembles that of Huxley’s Brave New World– just flip on your nearest television. I fear that I may be biased in favor of Huxley’s work, and I’d like to apologize early; it might show in this article. Nonetheless, I feel that there are some important, oft-overlooked parallels between 1984 and Brave New World that deserve attention.
Standing out is frowned upon in both Brave New World and 1984. While this is generally part of most dystopias, it’s notable that this particular element is pivotal to the plots of both books. In 1984, the thought-police who hunt people downfor violating a vague set of rules haunt Winston, who fears that they’ve taken note of his unusual behaviour- in Brave New World, the “savage” who clings to chastity, has self-discipline and control, unlike the world around him.
Even the solitude that allows individuals a chance to think alone and for themselves is frowned upon in both 1984 and Brave New World– in the former, it’s a thing known as ownlife, when a person becomes eccentric, different- unique. Orthodoxy is the way to avoid being singled out for destruction. In Brave New World, all activities are group activities- this includes coming into existence. In Brave New World, people are cloned en masse for their respective jobs. Individualism has all but been abolished.
In both books, the only activities that seem to exist as solitary ones were sleep and the drinking of Victory Gin, or the taking of soma. The latter activities existed primarily to dull the senses- those drinking alone to drown their sorrows, or those taking soma in solitude to forget some terrible event, like the sold-out feelies. The only time a person in either world is alone, his or her thoughts are being put in a cage, stored away until the return of sobriety, and the return to society.
Erasure of the Past
One prevalent theme of both books was the destruction of history- in 1984, the history Oceania’s war with Eurasia, for instance, is blurred and smeared- in the minds of the people, it has always been. Winston, of course, knows better, and is aware that in spite of the fact that the past is concrete and unchanging, the government seems able to reach back through time and change the knowledge of the past, thus making it seem as if the war has always been so. His attempts to catch the past in many ways fail him, and yet he doesn’t want to accept the ideas of doublethink, that the indefatigable Party is able to alter the unchanging past he vaguely remembers.
In Brave New World, knowledge of the past is also hard to come by; few are aware of the way the world once was, but most don’t care. The knowledge of the past is more or less buried, and most people couldn’t be brought to care about it- they’re just interested in the next of the feelies, the next hit of soma, the next round of electric bumble-puppy- their view of time is myopic and stunted. There’s no past in BNW, because nobody thinks that it matters.
No Time to Think
In both books, there’s plenty of media to go around. In BNW, Huxley was more fantastical and daring in the new mediums he invented- movies had gone from talkies to feelies, allowing audiences to experience what was going on in the movie via some sort of connection to the nervous system. Orwell, on the other hand, was a bit more conservative, sticking to televisions that watch and listen to you, while broadcasting empty propaganda.
At the end of each long day in 1984, Winston came home exhausted. He’d drown his sorrows in the acrid Victory Gin, dulling his senses as mentioned before; as mentioned before, he could never be left alone with his thoughts. The little time he had that wasn’t spent working or drinking was consumed by rigorous (and rather invasive) exercises, pointless Hate Rallies, and other activities that left him weary, stupid, and ignorant.
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
In Brave New World, on the other hand, all the shiny distractions keep the people entertained and having fun, but never actually happy. They’re taught to believe that the next feelie, the next distraction or the next fun thing is all there will ever be to life, and that anything else is unnecessary. They don’t know happiness, because they don’t know how to seek it and ultimately do not care to.
No Time for Love
“We have cut the links between child and parent, between man and man, and between man and woman.” – George Orwell, 1984
The above quote is from 1984, and it is yet another common element between the two dystopias- in 1984, married couples are as good as emotionally divorced from one another, children are taught to suspect and police their parents, and nobody is to love another outside of a few token words. All loyalty is to Big Brother and the dreadful Party. Brave New World, on the other hand, seems immediately different- the promiscuous attitude advised and instilled certainly appears to run against the intentionally hateful behavior in 1984. Still, interpersonal relationships in Brave New World are little more than a formality- nobody really loves one another, or has a deep, committed relationship.
While everybody is for everybody in Brave New World, what that ultimately means is that nobody is for anybody. Just as the absence of war is not the presence of peace, so too a lack of hatred does not mean the existence of love. In Brave New World, relationships are shallow and, ultimately, just as meaningless as the cold, formal things in 1984.
What is one of the simplest links between the two books is also the one with what are quite possibly the most terrifying implications. In 1984, “doublethink” rules the people- FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, WAR IS PEACE, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH- these are the chains that bind the people at their collective mind. They accept what is black as white and what is white as black- cognitive dissonance isn’t a problem, it’s a solution. It’s facilitated by “newspeak”, which is a new vocabulary that cuts words from language. The goal of newspeak is to make unorthodox communication and thought impossible.
In Brave New World, on the other hand, psychological condutioning is heavily employed early in life. The rule in Brave New World is not entirely without fear- but it is employed early in life. People are taught as infants to fear and hate things that they are to stay away from- books, for instance. While newspeak eliminates words and the meanings behind them, the conditioning in Brave New World works to preserve them, but make them “wrong”, in a sense.The world in 1984 is incredibly assertive in how black is white and left is right- but in Brave New World, the ignorance that the world of 1984 so furiously pursued seems to be ultimately accomplished in BNW. People are simply aversed to the concepts espoused by such words as “mother”- the language didn’t need to change, but the implications and ideas surrounding it did.
Where do Brave New World and 1984 diverge? The former is about what’s wrong with people; the latter is more about what’s wrong with government. Depending on your point of view, it could be the other way around.
Brave New World sets itself aside from 1984 in several ways, however, chief among them being that the prime tool of oppression is pleasure. The people of Brave New World have no time to think; thinking, to them, hurts. All their time is consumed in the pursuit of many and various pleasures. In 1984, however, pleasures are few and far between- in one of the book’s earliest scenes, for instance, the tobacco falls from Wintston’s cigarette to the floor. I’m no smoker, but I’m going to assume there was very little to smoke in the first place. In 1984, people constantly fear that their pleasures will be, in some capacity taken away, while in Brave New World, nobody cares to do anything that would lead to the loss of pleasures. With the exception of a very small few, nobody really complains- those that do do so on account of their having been able to think for more than a few minutes about their predicament, and about their lives.
Of course, there’s plenty of discussion as to how the two books are in may ways dissimilar, and approach similar ideas from alternate angles- in spite of the differences, however, the message remains the same: the instillation of ignorance is the most powerful weapon any oppressor can yield over the human spirit.
Recommended Reading, Watching and Playing
Fan of Brave New World and (or) 1984? I have a suspicion you’ll enjoy the following as well:
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver
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