How Dystopia Is Portrayed In Utopia, 1984 And Fahrenheit 451
Throughout history, many have imagined a world without war, poverty, or crime. Plato imagined an enlightened commonwealth ruled by philosopher kings, many religions profess bliss in the afterlife, and various groups have tried to create paradise on Earth. Thomas More’s 1516 book ‘utopia’ gave this concept a name, derived from the Greek word ‘no place.’ Though the direct translation means “impossible”, modern scientific and political progress has changed its meaning. However, time and time again, the concept of ‘utopia’ has turned into nightmares of conflict, famine and oppression. As philosophers began to question utopian thinking, the genre of dystopian fiction was born. One of the earliest examples is Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’ Throughout his journey, Gulliver meets fictional societies, some of which at first seem extraordinary and blissful, but turn out to be dangerously flawed. On the floating island of Laputa, scientists and social planners pursue extravagant and counterproductive projects while disregarding the people below. However, it wasn’t until the decades following World War II when modern dystopia began to take shape when writers wondered what new technologies like atomic energy, artificial intelligence, and space travel meant for the future of humanity. In contrast with popular ideas of progress, dystopian science fiction expanded to films, comics, and games. Robots turned against their creators, workers laboured in space colonies above the Earth depleted of its resources and overpopulated, crime-plagued cities. Today’s dystopian fiction continues to reflect modern anxieties about inequality, abuses of governmental power, and global epidemics. At their very core, dystopias are cautionary tales, not aimed at one particular government or technology, but of the idea that humanity can be moulded and shaped into a person’s ideals.
In 1949, esteemed author George Orwell published a novel by the name of 1984. It illustrates a dystopian future that takes place in the year 1984. Civilization had taken an unrecognizable shape. All remnants of what was, is no more, as the 20th Century took a horrendous turn. Orwell envisioned a society where totalitarianism reigned; individualism was nonexistent, even the prospects of reality and history, were simply a matter of opinion. In Orwell’s novel, the 20th Century was one massive catastrophe. The potential of humankind, along with the path of a prosperous civilization was completely destroyed in just a few decades. It all began following World War II and the dawn of the Cold War. The Soviet Union falls, nuclear war never happens, the downfall of communism, etc. However, in Orwell’s timeline, there was no decades-long tension between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Alternatively, in the early 1950s, World War III broke out, and nuclear weapons destroyed major cities around the world. In the aftermath of the war, the West unified into Oceania. However, sometime after 1954, Oceania fell into Civil War, between capitalism and a new homegrown socialist ideology. This new ideology won, and under this victory formed itself into a single party, INGSOC. The most prominent attribute of Oceania: is the control of information to such an extent that facts are not reality. And reality can be changed simply on the whim of Big Brother, and the Party, INGSOC. INGSOC controls everything. INGSOC seizes all. INGSOC destroyed society and remade it into something where only the INGSOC ideology could thrive. INGSOC killed western civilization and reconstituted it with a newly formed civilization where the Party is all-powerful. INGSOC removed every threat of the old world to solidify itself among fanatic new supporters by cutting off the population of both the Party and masses from history. INGSOC is able to have a monopoly on facts, for example, the Party says it invented the airplane. This is simply a fact now, and everyone believes it. The Ministry of Truth rewrites or destroys any evidence of this not being the case. Those in the Party who openly question this, simply disappear or are sent to the Ministry of Love for re-education. This continued until the whole population was indoctrinated and everything the party claimed became fact. Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning against the dangers of totalitarian governments. However, it is also worth noting that 1984 highlights the impact of political regimes on the evolution of language use. This is nonetheless more apparent than in Newspeak, the ‘official’ language of Oceania. While Newspeak is purely fictional, it man idea is used by politics today to influence the public and to further their agendas through restriction of language. This is, in fact, one of the most significant and often-overlooked themes in 1984. By taking control of the English language, the Party can manipulate the thoughts of the population. The objective of Newspeak is to ensure that the revolution is quashed, thereby enabling the Party to flourish. Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning against the dangers of totalitarian governments. However, it is also worth noting that 1984 highlights the impact of political regimes on the evolution of language use. This is nonetheless more apparent than in Newspeak, the ‘official’ (if there is such a thing) language of Oceania. While Newspeak is purely fictional, it man idea is used by politics today to influence the public and to further their agendas through restriction of language. This is, in fact, one of the most significant and often-overlooked themes in 1984. By taking control of the English language, the Party can manipulate the thoughts of the population. The objective of Newspeak is to ensure that the revolution is quashed, thereby enabling the Party to flourish. Orwell uses Newspeak to demonstrate the extremes of totalitarian control. However, the message applies to all people regardless of the types of government they live under: that language is instrumental in defining our liberty and freedom, and we must never allow those in power to manipulate it.
‘It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.’ Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 envisions a world where books are forbidden in all aspects of life and possessing, let alone reading them, is prohibited. The heroine, Montag, is a ‘fireman’ who is responsible for the burning and destroying of books. As the book progresses and his enjoyment gives way to query, the novel asks a few critical questions of how one can protect their mind in a civilization where free will, self-expression, and curiosity is constantly under fire. In Montag’s world, government-controlled media possesses a monopoly on information, erasing all capacity for individualistic thought. In this world on the subway, announcements blare out of the cars. At his home, Montag’s partner Mildred listens to the radio around the clock, and three of the four walls in their apartment are plastered with screens. Fahrenheit 451 portrays a world ruled by surveillance, robotics, and virtual reality. An idea that proved exceptionally cautious but also spoke to the concerns of the time. The novel was published during the height of the Cold War during the Macarthur trials and subsequent red scare. During this time, widespread paranoia and fear were commonplace throughout the continental United States, amplified by the suppression of knowledge and unmerciful government investigations. The red scare targeted artists and writers who were suspected of having Communist sympathies. Bradbury was shocked by this widening crackdown, as he felt it set a dangerous precedent for censorship in the future. These events were akin to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the book-burning by the Nazi regime. In various dystopian stories such as 1984, the government imposes restrictions on unwilling subjects. Fahrenheit 451 deviates from this path, and instead, it was the indifference of the population that gave rise to the current regime. The government merely capitalized on short attention spans and the appetite for mindless entertainment, reducing the circulation of ideas to ash. As culture disappears, imagination and self-expression accompany. Fahrenheit 451 is a representation of the dumbing down of independent thought and a society that is just as much to blame as the government for its own destruction.
Utopias are based on individualized versions of a perfect society. As aforementioned, the word utopia means ‘no place’ because when a flawed being ‘human’ attempts perfectibility through either personal, political, economic, or social change, they fail. Thus, the symbolic mirror is that utopianism will inevitably become dystopian. The idea that human ideals of perfection lead to unavoidable and consequential mistakes is when ‘a perfect society’ is designed for and by an imperfect species. During the 19th-century utopian ideas were relatively harmless because they had a small number of members and lacked the political and economic power needed to influence the masses. However, at the turn of the century, this changed as utopian socialist ideologies manifested themself into large scale political ideologies. With Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist in Russia (1917-1989), Fascist Italy (1922-1943), and Nazi Germany (1933-1945), all large-scale endeavours to achieve political, economic, social, and even racial perfection, resulted in tens of millions of people being murdered. They were perceived by the orchestrators to be blocking the road to their version of utopia. As a result of this so-called utopia, approximately 94 million people died at the hands of revolutionary Marxists and utopian communists in the USSR, China, North Korea, and other states and a staggering number 28 million were killed by the fascists. To achieve a dream of a utopian society, you have to kill or suppress people; by this, you have created a dystopian nightmare. To conclude, there is no better way to live life because of variation in the way people want to live. There is no singular society, only multiple variations on a handful of ways as prescribed by nature.
Today’s dystopias are cautionary tales, are not aimed at one particular government or technology, but of the idea that humanity can be moulded and shaped into a person’s ideals. Do you think today we are living at the start of a dystopian future where we are told that opposition media are full of false facts and that facts in history are becoming a matter of opinion? If we are to look at United Daughters of the Confederacy they are a group of women that have changed the narrative of the American civil war, presenting an image that the war wasn’t about slavery but States rights. Try to imagine your own utopia, do you imagine a world without war, poverty and crime? Now think about what it would take to achieve this? How would you make sure that people would cooperate? And how would you ensure it would be carried out and continue into the future? Does that world still seem perfect now?
Throughout history, humankind has strived for perfection in every aspect of humanity, yet it has never been attained. There is a very fine line between perfection and disaster and the result is ultimately based upon the decisions made by people in authority. In dystopian societies where individuality is considered abnormal or wrong, the line between order and repression is easily blurred; as evidenced in the texts divergent and the giver. The two texts Divergent and The giver are both set...
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