Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 stand as two monumental works in the literary world, each painting a chilling picture of a dystopian society where individual freedoms are trampled under the weight of total control. These novels, written decades apart, explore the dark side of utopian dreams, illustrating the lengths to which governments might go to maintain order and stability. This essay will delve into a comparative analysis of these two classics, focusing on the themes of totalitarianism, control of knowledge. The central thesis is that both Huxley and Orwell, albeit in different ways, expose the potential dangers of absolute power, offering a stark warning against the loss of individuality and free thought.
To start with, in 1984, Orwell presents us with a grim depiction of a totalitarian society under the constant surveillance of the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, Winston Smith, lives in Airstrip One, formerly known as Great Britain, a province of the superstate Oceania. Society is under the control of the Party, which manipulates historical records to suit its needs, suppresses individuality, and punishes “thought-crime” – personal and political thoughts unapproved by the Party. The narrative follows Winston’s futile rebellion against this oppressive regime, his illicit love affair with Julia, and his eventual capture and tragic submission to the Party’s ideology. Brave New World, on the other hand, takes us to a future where humanity is ruled not by fear and coercion, but by pleasure and conditioned apathy. In this world, natural reproduction is replaced by a system of technologically-assisted procreation, with children conditioned from birth to accept their given roles in society. The drug Soma ensures that citizens remain in a perpetual state of happiness, thus eliminating the need for dissent or rebellion. The narrative unfolds through the eyes of John the Savage, a man born and raised outside this society, who struggles to reconcile his values with the norms of the brave new world, leading to a tragic conclusion.
In both 1984 and Brave New World, totalitarianism is a key theme, and it’s implemented by curtailing individuality. In 1984, the Party employs technology, such as the omnipresent telescreens, to instill fear and control over the citizens. The ever-looming phrase “Big Brother Is Watching You” signifies that there is always someone watching, thereby squelching individuality and preventing rebellion. The Party also manipulates information and alters historical records through the Ministry of Truth, creating a reality that fits its narrative. This manipulation extends to the very language people use, with the invention of Newspeak, a language designed to limit the scope of thought and prevent the formulation of rebellious or disobedient ideas (SparkNotes “1984: Plot Analysis”). In contrast, Huxley’s Brave New World achieves control not through fear, but through a technological process that makes natural reproduction obsolete. The Bokanovsky Process, producing clones of humans, effectively erases individuality, making rebellion virtually impossible. The World State also controls information by suppressing historical knowledge, preventing individuals from understanding the past and questioning the present. Moreover, the state uses technology to control reproduction and condition citizens, creating a society where individual happiness is defined as the ability to satisfy needs, and success as a society is equated with economic growth and prosperity (SparkNotes “Brave New World: Plot Analysis”). The methods of control in the two novels differ significantly. In 1984, control is maintained through fear, surveillance, and the manipulation of language. The Party uses psychological stimuli to overwhelm the mind’s capacity for independent thought, and physical control to keep its members in a state of exhaustion and fear. In Brave New World, control is achieved through pleasure, conditioning, and the manipulation of biological processes. The state uses science as a means to build technology that can create a seamless, happy, superficial world through things such as the “feelies”. The state censors and limits science, however, since it sees the fundamental basis behind science, the search for truth, as threatening to the State’s control (SparkNotes “Brave New World: Themes”). In both novels, the totalitarian regimes have effectively eliminated the possibility of rebellion by controlling every aspect of their citizens’ lives, from their thoughts and emotions to their physical actions. However, while the citizens of 1984 live in a state of constant fear and anxiety, the citizens of Brave New World are kept in a state of ignorant bliss, unaware of the true nature of their oppression. These contrasting methods of control serve to highlight the different ways in which totalitarian regimes can maintain power and control over their citizens (SparkNotes “1984: Themes”).
A further parallel between the two novels is the control of knowledge by the ruling powers. In 1984, the Party’s doctrine “Ignorance is Strength” signifies the intentional miseducation of the population. The government’s manipulation of historical records and language, Newspeak, serves to restrict the intellectual capacity of the populace, preventing any challenge to the established order. The Party’s psychological manipulation techniques, such as doublethink, allow individuals to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time, making it possible for them to believe anything that the Party tells them, even while possessing information that runs counter to what they are being told (SparkNotes “1984: Motifs”). Similarly, in Brave New World, the government controls knowledge by conditioning citizens from birth, and any form of high art or literature that could provoke emotional depth or critical thought is strictly prohibited. The World State uses science as a means to build technology that can create a seamless, happy, superficial world through things such as the “feelies”. The state censors and limits science, however, since it sees the fundamental basis behind science, the search for truth, as threatening to the State’s control. The citizens of the World State are conditioned to avoid strong emotions and to blur reality and fantasy. The use of soma, a drug that allows the user to escape pain and to have pleasant hallucinations, is encouraged and universal. This use of soma is a form of self-medication that replaces religion and mitigates the feelings of depression and social unrest that might lead to a need for change (SparkNotes “Brave New World: Motifs”). In both novels, the ruling powers have effectively eliminated the possibility of rebellion by controlling every aspect of their citizens’ lives, from their thoughts and emotions to their physical actions.
Both Brave New World and 1984 offer profound insights into the potential threats of totalitarianism, highlighting the perils of absolute control and loss of individuality. Despite the distinct dystopian visions they represent, both novels resonate with the same fundamental message: the importance of individual thought and freedom. Through the exploration of themes such as totalitarianism, control of knowledge, Huxley and Orwell bring attention to the intrinsic value of human individuality and freedom, and the dangers that arise when these are compromised. They serve as reminders of the human spirit’s need for freedom, and the lengths to which governments might go to suppress this need in their quest for order and stability. Thus, these works are not just novels but timeless warnings against the surrender of our individuality and the acceptance of authoritarian control.
Finally, drawing from the analysis in the article titled “Power and Control in Brave New World and 1984” by Molly Keisman, it is evident that both novels employ distinct strategies to manipulate and control their citizens, with the World State in “Brave New World” being more subtle and insidious than the Party in 1984 (Keisman, p. 1). The World State uses a form of education that is more discreet and less invasive, employing hypnopaedia or sleep-teaching, which prevents individuals from developing critical thinking skills. This approach makes the World State’s citizens even more mindless than those of Oceania in 1984, where people at least attended school at one point (Keisman, p. 11). Keisman also discusses the concept of the Panopticon, a theoretical prison designed by Jeremy Bentham, where all inmates can be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether they are being watched. Both societies in the novels apply this concept in their surveillance and control of citizens. However, the World State’s application is less conspicuous, as citizens are conditioned to abhor solitude and are unaware that this belief has been carefully constructed by the government. In contrast, the citizens of 1984 are acutely aware of the omnipresent telescreens, making the control more obvious (Keisman, p. 2). Furthermore, both governments employ Jeffrey Cohen’s monster theory, where they dehumanize their ancestors to justify their current systems. The World State portrays the past as monstrous and savage, while the Party in 1984 depicts capitalists as evil, instilling fear and loathing in the citizens from an early age (Keisman, p. 5).
In conclusion, both 1984 and Brave New World encourage readers to value their freedoms and to question and challenge the power structures that seek to limit these freedoms. In the end, they serve as stark reminders that the preservation of our individuality and the protection of our freedoms are crucial in preventing the dystopian futures they depict.
- SparkNotes. “1984: Themes.” SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/1984/themes/. Accessed June 2023.
- SparkNotes. “Brave New World: Themes.” SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/bravenew/themes/. Accessed June 2023.
- SparkNotes. “1984: Motifs.” SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/1984/motifs/. Accessed June 2023.
- SparkNotes. “Brave New World: Motifs.” SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/bravenew/motifs/. Accessed June 2023.
- SparkNotes. “Brave New World: Plot Analysis.” SparkNotes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/bravenew/plot-analysis/. Accessed June 2023.
- SparkNotes. “1984: Plot Analysis.” SparkNotes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/1984/plot-analysis/. Accessed June 2023.
- Keisman, Molly. “Power and Control in Brave New World and 1984.” Prologue: A First-Year Writing Journal, vol. 8, 2016.