The Themes and Ideas in 1984 and Brave New World

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Dystopian Visions: Orwell and Huxley's World
  2. The Battle for Identity Against State Control
  3. Orwell's Critique of Socialism and Totalitarianism in '1984'
  4. The Mechanisms of Control: '1984's' Psychological Manipulation
  5. 'Brave New World': Consumerism as Control
  6. The Role of Religion and Worship in Dystopian Societies
  7. Contrasting Endings: The Fate of Individuality
  8. Conclusion: The Price of Societal Efficiency Over Individuality

Introduction to Dystopian Visions: Orwell and Huxley's World

In both Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, authority attempts to obtain complete control over their citizens, through destroying their sense of identity. The novels present the battle between individual consciousness and the State’s wishes for society. When ‘Brave New World’ was written in 1931, between the First and Second World War, the world was looking at massive technological advances, which both inspired and scared Huxley, as he imagined how these developments could be abused, for a more ‘efficient’ society. Huxley himself held the opinion that global issues be could be resolved through individual enlightenment, that a society functions best when individuality is honoured. Orwell was writing in 1949, in reaction to the events he witnessed in the Russian revolution up to the Second World War. The revolution began with the lower classes, revolting against Tsar Nicholas, nicknamed “Nicholas the Bloody”, and his oppressive government. Vladimir Lenin lead the revolution and established the Soviet Union, a communist government. Stalin came to power and created a totalitarian state, betraying the beliefs of communism. This lead Orwell to explore the boundary between socialism, where the State provides for the public, and a State which overlooks it’s citizens for control and efficiency.

The Battle for Identity Against State Control

Both novels show a culture in which individual identity is overlooked and destroyed for societal efficiency. Huxley’s world describes how the government entices citizens into obeying through superficial, pleasure-driven promises. Orwell, however, creates a brutally oppressive regime which achieves ultimately the same result, societal efficiency with the sacrifice of individual consciousness.

Orwell's Critique of Socialism and Totalitarianism in '1984'

Orwell himself supported socialism, hoping it would bring poorer classes better living conditions. He turned against communism and became anti-Stalinist when he saw how Stalin manipulated communism’s core values, absolute equality of power and wealth, to inflict his totalitarian regime. Some interpreters note that his beliefs resonate with a kind of socialism called ‘ethical socialism’, appealing to socialism on moral grounds, providing a fairer alternative to capitalism. The novel can be understood as a dystopian critique of socialism. The political organisation Orwell describes in the novel, 'Ingsoc', means English socialism, a system in which social services, such as the NHS, founded the year before the book was published, are government run. Orwell identified as a democratic socialist, which supports governments providing services and benefits, using the term ‘Ingsoc’ suggests that England is just as susceptible to totalitarian dictatorship as other nations. Orwell wrote in 1949 that the novel was intended to be a warning, suggesting that totalitarian rule maintains power by refusing citizens a sense of individuality, eliminating independent thought with propaganda and fear. In the final torture scene, Winston finally accepts Big Brother and loves him, initially he trusted his logic and believed that the party was wrong. O’Brien tortures him, eventually taking him into Room 101, where he faces his worst fear, rats, all so that Winston would learn to reject his individuality for the Party’s political agenda, “Double think” in the novel, which makes citizens obedient party members instead of individual people.

The Mechanisms of Control: '1984's' Psychological Manipulation

In ‘1984’, O’Brien describes the bleak future he sees for their society, saying that “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”. The dynamic verb ‘tearing’ connotates violence and force, intended to scare Winston and remind him that his clinging on to reality can only work temporarily, eventually his mind will be broken by confusion and fear which the Party force onto him, and he will become another mindless follower of Big Brother. This quote demonstrates not only that the individual’s mind can be broken and morphed, but that the Party maintains power not through citizen’s obedient actions, but through dominating their minds. O’Brien uses a rhetorical question to emphasise that the future is in the hands of the Party and not rebels like Winston, “…what kind of world we are creating?”. The pronoun ‘we’ suggests that the Party need the population, and that without them they have nothing, however, seemingly the majority of the population have morphed into Big Brother ‘drones’ with no individual thought, making it impossible for a mass revolution. The juxtaposition between what O’Brien mentions ancient civilisations were founded upon “love or justice” and what theirs is founded upon, “hatred”, compares two types of societies highlighting their opposing core values. This demonstrates how their people are controlled by fear and brutality, and the State’s radical approach to societal efficiency, that contrasts from any previous Society. O’Brien is suggesting that the world they are creating is completely individual, by creating its own sense of identity that its shares with it citizens, its citizens no longer need their own identity as a part something bigger. O’Brien’s speech consists primarily of sentences written in a declarative mood, “There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother.” The constant declaratives overload Winston with O’Brien’s version of ‘fact’ so that when he’s mind and beliefs shatters, Winston is fed with information that goes against his old hopes for the future creates a sense of hopelessness. “No love” helps create this sense of hopelessness, connotating fear and bleakness. At this point, Winston O’Brien’ breaks Winston’s belief system, his identity. His biggest fear, rats, ruins him completely, his mind is shattered, which allows O’Brien to pick and choose how he puts it together, to love Big Brother. The repetition of “always” enforces this further as it adds to the feeling of impossibility and lack of power that Winston feels.

'Brave New World': Consumerism as Control

Brave New World creates a society which controls its people three mass consumerism and pleasure, unlike Orwell’s society. However, they are identical in that they prioritize efficiency and power over individuality. The Director, publicly tries to embarrass and fire Bernard, for not blindly fitting into the seemingly perfect system. Bernard is called many different vocatives, but not his actual name, “man”, “colleague”, “Alpha-Plus” among others. This shows the disgust the Director feels towards someone who attempts to find their own identity. It is symbolic of the labels that society tries to put on him, and Bernard’s struggle to find who he actually is. The capitalisation in this extract is particularly interesting, for example, “Society”, and “Order and Stability” and “Civilisation” are capitalised showing their importance to the Director. This supports the idea that societal function comes above everything, even freedom, Bernard is seen as an outlaw because of his curiosity towards freedom. The Director uses repetition throughout his speech to enforce his points into Bernard, and serve as a warning to those watching, he repeats “dismiss him” creating a sense of tension and drama. He, in many ways, performs his dismissal, addressing the crowd with “Ladies and Gentlemen”, this acts as an entertainment-based warning to not act like Bernard. The State system feeds of pleasure, because as long as it’s people are content, they wont fight the system. However, for some, like Bernard to be content isn’t enough, he seeks freedom. This demonstrates that although this world is utopian on the surface, seeming idealist and perfect, it doesn’t allow for individuals with individual dreams, only those who conform to what they’re given. ‘Brave new world’, and ‘1984’ are dystopian novels, describing a world where nothing is perfect, the opposite of utopia. Orwell’s society, unlike Huxley’s, isn’t on the surface perfect, Winston is unhappy in the bleak world he lives in, despite the Government feeding the population constant falsities that suggest their society to be a marvellous. Regardless of their differences within the dystopian genre, both novels have proved to be a couple of the most famous in dystopian fiction.

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The Role of Religion and Worship in Dystopian Societies

Both novels contain a sense religion in which is symbolic for the loss of individual thought, to be replaced with a shared group mentality. In 1984, Big Brother becomes, in many ways, a God to the people, the telescreen represents the all seeing eye of God, its extremely difficult to get away from the eyes of Big Brother. The novel doesn’t clearly state if Big Brother is the Party leader or a personification of the government. He’s regarded almost as a religious figure, for example, during the two minutes hate, the noun phase “majesty of Big Brother” connotates royalty and worship, demonstrating how Big Brother is worshipped without question. Lexical sets in the text also connotate religion and worship, “hymn” and “chant” suggest being in a kind of trance, in which only Big Brother matters. One woman calls out “My Saviour!” in exclamatory mood, emphasising her gratefulness towards Big Brother. The noun “prayer” is used also, showing that they may believe that Big Brother is so powerful that he can answer their prayers. If they hold the belief that Big Brother has that power but chooses not to, and are still utterly grateful, they are placing complete trust in Big Brother. When worshiping something that they believe is more important than themselves, it eliminates their own individual thought as Big Brother is prioritized above all else.

In Brave New World, religion is replaced by Ford, consumerism and pleasure, be it through sex or drugs, it could be argued that addiction is their religion, ‘Soma’, for instance, becomes their most important thing, above everything, individuality and freedom. Soma is described using asyndetic tripling “Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinaut”, the use of tripling is intended to make the drug sound more appealing to Bernard. Bernard becomes more of an issue to society, when he’s one of the few not dependent upon the drug. It’s described to have “All of the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.”, showing that it quite literally is a replacement for religion and purpose, and implies that although alcohol addiction may be beneficial for society in the same way soma is, alcohol would make the population rowdy, unlike soma which calms them down. Henry used repetition with imperative “Take it” to encourage him, showing how society pressures individuals.

Contrasting Endings: The Fate of Individuality

The endings of the two novels end almost entirely oppositely, 1984’s finds Winston brainwashed into being a devote Party supporter, changing into what he despised, while Brave New World sees Bernard refusing to conform, and in turn allegedly deported to an island with others of similar beliefs where he is happier, while John is driven to suicide by society. Winston’s state of mind is reflected in the change of mood and language, the beginning of the final chapter, before he admits to loving Big Brother, is filled with tension and bears a violent atmosphere. The lexical set “violent”, “war”, and “fear” show the inner conflict as his mind is broken by O’Brien’s brainwashing. Throughout the novel, Winston’s core beliefs have gone against the Party completely, his individuality was found through opposing the State, Orwell uses this language to stress how important it is that individuality is eradiated for the State to achieve absolute power because any individual thought is potential opposition. At the end of the novel the simile “white as snow” is used to describe his soul when being dragged through the Ministry of Love. Use of “white” connotates his newfound innocence an d purity, Orwell is indicating that Winston’s sense of self is completely lost, he has been made a blank slate for the Party’s taking. As well as “snow” which suggests the coldness of the scene, as Winston’s humanness is stolen, while he is blissfully at peace with his new beliefs, which is shown through the heavenly imagery of “walking in sunlight”. The bullet described with the premodifier “longhoped-for” symbolises the death of Winston’s identity and showing that although he is completely gone, it took a lot of time and resources to do so. It would be extremely difficult for the Party catch and do this to everyone who rebels or thinks differently, and therefore extremely difficult for the party to obtain absolute power over everyone.

Brave New World finds Bernard in a better place on the island than he was when integrated into normal society, however this could be a government lie as the reader is never shown this. The reader is shown however how John comes to an end, hanging himself following indulging in what he regards as sinful practices of society, an orgy. He does this because he believes that truth is better, even when it involves suffering than a fake existence of pleasure, he’s failed his own belief system and identity through temptation. John dies when he betrays his own identity whereas Winston’s dies when his identity is taken and destroyed.

Conclusion: The Price of Societal Efficiency Over Individuality

In conclusion, in both dystopian novels, power and societal efficiency is placed above individuality. It’s almost impossible to maintain an identity in a system which attempts to eradicate individual thought. The loss of individuality is replaced with a substitute for religion, be it Big Brother or Ford. However the novels reach these conclusions differently, Huxley’s ending is filled with the guilt of betraying ones own identity for the temptations of societies luxuries, however, finds Winston refusing to give up what he believes in until his mind is completely destroyed by O’Brien for the State. Orwell was writing to condemn the Soviet’s communism, as a warning to the future that individuality must be honoured above a highly functioning society. He even made records of people he believed were Soviet spies, even writing in 1946 'Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.

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