Friday, September 19, 2008

Huxley and Orwell

According to A Book of Days for the Literary World, Aldous Huxley began his teaching career on September 18, 1917, when he was hired as schoolmaster at Eton. Among his pupils was Eric Arthur Blair, probably better known by his pen name, George Orwell.

Aldous Huxley is the author of one of the two best known dsytopias in the English language, Brave New World, published in 1932. It is set against the backdrop of a benevolent dictatorship, which keeps the population under control by early childhood conditioning, easy access to soma, a happy drug, and the promotion of sexual behavior with many partners. The second dystopia is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, which depicts a repressive regime that rules with terror and fear. It's image is that of a boot, perpetually grinding a face into the dirt.

The two works differ considerably, so there has been little discussion about possible influences the two may have had upon each other. Most discussions have been on the differences between the two tales and on the likelihood of either coming more or less true.

Both novels give the impression that the situation is permanent with little possibility of change. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the more outwardly repressive of the two, seems to be closest to the repressive regimes in Hitler's Germany and the Soviet Union under the communists. Later events showed that both had flaws which brought about their downfall.

Huxley's Brave New World on the other hand relies not on repressive measures, on terror, and on outright elimination of possible opponents. Instead, the state provides a wide diversity of activities which keeps the populace under control. Secondly, the state also uses conditioning techniques, possibly based on research by American behaviorist, John B. Watson, beginning in early childhood to make the populace happy and satisfied with its lot, whatever that may be.

Another significant difference is that Nineteen Eighty-Four has no refuge for those who may wish to escape, for the entire planet is divided into three warring camps, with little difference among them. Opponents or dissidents, when captured, are tortured and brainwashed into publicly confessing their crimes and declaring their complete support for the State, which is reminiscent of the trials in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

However, in Brave New World, the State has set aside an island for those who are dissatisfied and are likely to be a disrupting influence, where the inhabitants are left on their own. Secondly, in North America, there is the reservation where the inhabitants are also allowed to live as they choose. However, the reservation is also a tourist attraction, and visits there are encouraged by the State so that its citizens can experience first hand the poverty and disease and misery that the State is protecting them from.

Of the two, I would judge Brave New World as the most likely to succeed. It's hard to argue against a regime that works so hard to keep its people happy, well-fed, and satisfied. The populace is safe and secure--so who needs freedom?

21 comments:

  1. It has been forty years plus since I read these books but I still recall them.

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  2. mel u,

    Yes, both works remain with one for a long time, in spite of their obvious differences. I still wonder which of the two awaits us. Perhaps some combination of both?

    I have a copy of "Brave New World Revisited" gathering dust somewhere around here. I should dig it out and reread it.

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  3. Absolutely off-topic: Have you read "The Host" or watched its film adaptation?

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  4. Di,

    No, I haven't. It sounds like a variation of Finney's _The Body Snatchers_.

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    1. I haven't read that, but I guess it does.

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  5. It's not as good as his _Time and Again_. but it has an interesting alien takeover premise.

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  6. OK.
    Just to clarify, I mentioned "The Host" not because I like Stephenie Meyer (shoot me), but your last paragraph made me think of the film. Of course it hardly has any merit, but 1 of the main issues is that "The Host" fails to make us see why we should be on the side of human beings.

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  7. Di,

    Interesting. Are the aliens that good, that takeover would be beneficial or the humans that bad?

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    1. It has been quite a while, and after watching the film I didn't write a post about it, only a few lines on fb, so I only remember the overall impression.
      However this guy pretty much sums it up: http://www.wafflemovies.com/host.html

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    2. Di,

      Looks like the teen romance issue, inserted for the teen audience, has taken over the show. Or, perhaps the director or the powers-that-be aren't clear on what they want to do yet. Or, perhaps they aren't concerned with anything except grabbing an audience.

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    3. It's based on a book by Stephenie Meyer, so there's no surprise.
      I don't know what I thought when buying the tickets...

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    4. I haven't read anything by her. I was never interested by the blurbs and reviews.

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    5. Ah. Well, I've read "Twilight" and "New Moon", watched "Twilight", "New Moon" and "Eclipse".
      At the time I read in my own language, so it didn't take much time, and I was not very demanding then. Only in recent years have I decided not to read books that I know aren't worthy of my time.
      However I don't regret reading those Stephenie Meyer books. For 1 thing, I knew what my classmates were talking about. And other reasons.

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    6. Di,

      If you hadn't read those books, then you wouldn't be able to form an substantiated opinion about them. Your rating of them is superior to mine since I've never read any of them and base my opinion solely on blurbs, comments by others, and reviews.

      I remember that I always read the sports pages in the newspapers so I could understand what my fellow co-workers were talking about and could even take part in the conversation, more or less intelligently, if "intelligently" can be said to characterize sports talk.

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    7. Ah, right.
      (That reminds me, I'm soooo excited about World Cup. I guess you don't care that much?)

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    8. I know about it and I think that there's possibly some scandal there. Or am I confusing that with the next Olympics? Or was it the last Olympics?

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    9. Guess I was wrong, then.

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  8. This http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/us-brazil-worldcup-cuiaba-idUSBREA4K0HN20140521?
    Or were you thinking of the Cricket World Cup http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/cricket/10074786/Key-World-Cup-will-be-unaffected-by-scandal?
    I'm only interested in soccer.

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    1. Di,

      Could be. I just know that it was some sort of scandal or possible scandal involving a major sports meet in a foreign country.

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