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