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a response to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. How do they approach the ideas of Dystopia in similar and different ways?
Utopian fictions offer a vision of the future where, by some means, society has undergone change in an attempt to create an improved way of life for the inhabitants of that world. Often these improvements are brought about by technological advancements, changes in social hierarchies, organisation or government- but most importantly, as Brian Aldiss comments, they contrast in some way with our present; though they may not be intrinsically science fictional (Plato’s Republic (c.380BC) and Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) are early examples) “their intentions are generally moral or political”1 and are optimistic of a better future. The twentieth century has had a far more violent and nihilistic climate. It has witnessed war on a global scale, increased individualism, the rise of capitalism and aggressive regime changes. It is no surprise then, that “such sober and worthy plans as More’s for a better life on earth have become remote for us nowadays; our belief in the perfectibility of man and the triumph of altruism is less strong...[and] a desperate environmentalism has become the new utopianism.”2 The sanguine utopian lineage has tumbled into the realms of dystopian literature, of which George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1920) are the canonical works. The pessimistic futures depicted in these three novels are disguised as utopias where inhabitants are led to believe, by their respective leaders, that the societies in which they live have been established for the greater good of humanity. Each of these novels features a vision where rigid political and social controls are in place to regiment life and in these traditionally bleak dystopias the protagonist battles with their own morality and against the ideals implemented by the authoritarian regime. The ways in which they examine the themes of dystopia appear on the surface to be very
Brian Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree. (New York: Avon, 1973) pp. 75 Aldiss, pp. 77
We. ascending in importance. The earliest of the fictions. division. Ford himself is revered as God-like. pp. The society is based on the principles of the Ford Assembly line. The World State is Huxley’s setting for his dystopia. The inhabitants of the One State have “numbers” rather than names and live in a system according to “the Table of Commandments”.human beings are manufactured en mass via a process of eugenics and other biological techniques. A 200 year war had reduced the population to 0. who now live in a system constructed of scientific ethics “founded on subtraction. [and] multiplication”. the “Integral”. the dates are recorded as AF (After Ford) and his name is used in reference to oaths. who hope to destroy the Integral.similar though upon closer examination each differs in critical ways. Any unhappiness is counteracted by the 3 Yevgeny Zamyatin. is written in the form of protagonist and narrator “D-5032’s diary and set in the One State. The interpretation of the literary tropes in each novel will lead us to important conclusions about how closely each is a response to its predecessors. Alpha and Beta children are produced by fertilising one egg and allowed to develop naturally whilst other humans are created by a process which allows one ovary to spawn thousands of children and are chemically treated to stall psychical and mental growth. There are also Plus and Minus denominations of each. Betas. 30 5 . 21 4 Zamyatin. pp. with which the Benefactor wishes to extend their way of life to other planets.a nation built almost entirely of glass and led by the Benefactor. Bernard Guerney) pp. essentially a timetable– which is the “heart and pulse of the one state”4. All are indoctrinated by recorded voices which repeat slogans assuring them that they are well suited to their class. addition. (London: Penguin Modern Classics. We. trans. A “Green Wall” surrounding the state separates it from nature3.5 D-503 is a chief mathematician in this society. There is a revolutionary group. and Epsilons.2% of its original number. We. Zamyatin’s We. charged with the task of overseeing the building of a spaceship.a unified government which controls almost the whole planet.28 Zamyatin. Children are raised in hatcheries and then in conditioning centres and are chemically treated to develop into one of five castes: Alphas. Deltas. The Mephis. Gammas.
a province of Oceania. their titles examples of “Doublethink”: “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously. the way society and government are arranged in We. It is based on English but becomes abbreviated and shortened through time and is described in the story as being "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year". Superficially. when it becomes necessary again. create propaganda and survey the populous. to forget any fact that has become inconvenient. an Alpha Plus (though mocked for his unusually short structure). 5 7 Newspeak is the language developed by Orwell and used in Oceania. 2000) pp. a member of the “Outer party”. 8 Orwell. Here “Big Brother”. The Party’s leader. which Bernard. assisting The Party in implementing totalitarian control. Mustapha Mond is the World Controller and it is when John and Bernard return that his ideas are challenged. PP. 223 . 6one of three super states. to London. visits before bringing back a savage. (London: Penguin Books. 1984. works for the “Ministry of Truth”. his job is to alter and destroy information. The story is set in London “Chief city of Airstrip One” (previously Britain). Newspeak7 for English Socialism.. whose ideology is “INGSOC”. The government also operates several “Ministries” whose purpose it is to enforce the law. “The Savages” who are kept in “The Reservation”. There is a group of outcasts. 1984. The names of the ministries are ironic antonyms for their true purpose. an anti-depressant and hallucinogen. to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed”8 6 George Orwell. and accepting both of them. is our authoritarian figurehead. It assists in the removal or imagination or creativity which in turn may lead to rebellion. Any competitiveness within the classes is bred out as is the need for any imaginative thought thanks to the hypnotic conditioning. John. and then.To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them.. which use of is heavily encouraged by the government.. There is also a war which continually perpetuates. are not dissimilar from those in Orwell’s 1984.use of “Soma”. Winston. The protagonist.
and a revelatory text. the totalitarian regimes and dictator figures (and their opponents). Even from these brief descriptions we can easily spot the similarities in the settings of the three novels.may have picked up a copy of We in France”9 10 There is further evidence in a letter from Orwell to one Professor Gleb Strube. who make up the majority of the population. and informants in order to root out those who commit “thought crime” and may endanger the survival of The Party. The outer Party and the Proles.The people are constantly bombarded with propaganda in order for The Party to maintain its iron grip on Oceania. It was also translated into European languages and “it seems very likely that Orwell. Firstly though there is evidence in letters and reviews written by Orwell and Huxley that suggest that they may have been writing in response to We and in the case of George Orwell. he comments that the book had “roused [his] interest in 9 Aldiss. which will be examined further shortly. “The Brotherhood” which opposes the party and is led by Emmanuel Goldstein.which is divided into three groups. though this was in 1919. before Orwell had written 1984. who taught at the School of Slavic and Eastern European studies at London University and had given Orwell a copy of 25 Years of Russian Literature Written to Strube in 1944. 10 . control of sexual tendency. the world outside of the regime.and indeed Huxley before him.though it is a closer analysis which reveals important distinctions in approach. The “Telescreen” is the main form of surveillance. the year before We had been written. Zamyatin wrote We in 1920 and was first translated to English in 1924 in the United States.The Inner Party.it monitors the inhabitants in their quarters. Because of the relatively short periods of time between the novels and their superficial similarities. There is a revolutionary group. destruction of language and history. there appear the beginnings of an argument for comparison. pp. author of “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” which refutes and scorns the government and its practices.244 Coincidentally Orwell studied French under Huxley at Eton. in response to Huxley as well. the outsider. but the “thought police” also have access to microphones. the loss of independent thought and identity.
Secker & Warburg.” Orwell does not hesitate in suggesting that Huxley took inspiration from Zamyatin. In Huxley’s book the problem of ‘human nature’ is in a sense solved. because it assumes that.. it will become clear whether Huxley was telling the truth..The atmosphere of the two books is similar.. Zamyatin. Orwell is more sceptical: “The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact.. Orwell had obviously begun to think about writing 1984 and it is clear that We had certainly helped to spur his ideas forward. No.At the same time no reason is given why society should be stratified in the elaborate way that it is described. Wells and the Utopian Tradition in The Slavonic and East European Review.Zamyatin’s book is on the whole more 11 The Collected Essays.There is no power hunger. Though Huxley has denied he had taken influence from the book.... Journals and Letters of George Orwell (CEJL) (London.never pointed out I believe.. The influence of We on Orwell is admitted. 1968) pp. Vol.. When we examine the approaches to anti-utopia. but though Zamyatin’s book is less well put together.. It is not true that either of these novels is a carbon copy of the other and Orwell. Huxley denies ever hearing of We. and even keep making notes for one myself that may get written sooner or later” 11.. Two years later. in the same letter makes the following important point: “So far the resemblance with Brave New World is striking.it has a political point that the other lacks. yet it is seems that it echoed some of the ideas that the Russian had included in the anti-utopia... 95 12 Christopher Collins.. 3 (July.. citing in a letter (25 October 1962) that “I had never heard of Zamyatin’s book until three or four years ago”12.the human organism can be specialised in any way that is desired. 1966) . and it is roughly speaking the same kind of society that is being described. writing for the Tribune (4 January 1946) Orwell discusses Zamyatin’s dystopia further and compares it to Brave New World.Both deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit.that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World must be partly derived from it.Those at the top have no strong motive for staying at the top.Zamyatin’s We” and was “interested in that kind of book.. 44.
13 Guerbert Uells. more aware of the future implications of emerging technology and totalitarian governments during contentious times. 352 In Thomas Disch. 2005) 15 . but it is a more precautionary tale.G. In Brave New World Revisited he warns that “twenty years from now all of the worlds overpopulated and underdeveloped countries will be under some form of totalitarian rule”15. an author of several Utopian fictions that all such novels “use social fantasies almost exclusively for the purpose of revealing defects in the existing social order”13 and the three novels being discussed certainly exist in that vein. On SF. 1984 and We: An Essay on Anti-Utopia 14 Collins.. 1922. we can see why Orwell wrote such a politically motivated work and identified more closely with Zamyatin’s perspective.relevant to our own situation. (Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press. Huxley is bitter in his outlook. pp. This supports the claim that Huxley was not as influenced by We as had been suggested. It is without a doubt a satire of the communist establishment but its lack of intensity spurred Orwell and (questionably) Huxley to write far more pessimistic dystopian visions.” Crucial in our reading of Brave New World as a response to We and also in establishing Orwell’s position on the anti-utopia as satire.. All three novels project into the future in satiric terms.. Brave New World being far more predictive in nature than its predecessor. Brave New World. 103 in E. Wells. Epokha..J Brown.It is the intuitive grasp of this side of irrational totalitarianism. juxtaposing conventionally accepted aspects of the actual world. Zamyatin’s work however includes more ironic humour than its descendants and is not as certain of extinguishing human prospects in the future.that makes Zamyatin’s book superior to Huxley’s. Zamyatin writes in his essay on H. Reprinted in Litsa pp. Huxley confirms his lack of enthusiasm for any kind of optimism as employed in Wellsian utopias. This is not to discount the satire in Huxley’s novel. being far more interested in writing a negative vision that he “forgot about Wells and launched into Brave New World”14.
. I believe that it is clear that 1984 is a response to both these novels in its political motivation. secure in the upper classes. 244 Horan. Horan continues: “Projected political fiction is written for one or two not always mutually exclusive purposes: either it serves as a warning to the author’s contemporaries to help them avert an impending government disaster. especially as Brave New World. lacks as many political poignancies. pp. George Orwell’s 1984 is an obvious example of the cautionary form. 314 17 Horan. 48 no. pp.”17 This supports the distinctions in the response of both authors to We..which refers to dystopian stories which are both speculative and political”16.Thomas Horan coins the term “projected political fiction. pp. The idea is that the story acts as a thought experiment to cast light on the author’s dissatisfaction with current political systems or philosophies without seeming to exceed the limits of possibility. or it predicts what the seemingly unavoidable future might look like. as Orwell suggests. in Extrapolation. 315 Aldiss. never thinks to give us sight of the whip.while Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a more predictive Dystopia. pp.. 316 18 19 .” 18 As Thomas Horan elaborates: “Orwell also recognises that the seeds that produce enormous upheavals are always sown in the middle class because they are the only members of society with the perspective and incentives to connect smaller grievances to larger political issues”19 16 Thomas Horan. Revolutions from the Waist Downward.. for Huxley. I suggest that Zamyatin was writing a more cautionary tale. Vol. closer to Orwell’s message. Brian Aldiss points out that Orwell’s perception 1984 makes Brave New World appear “namby-pamby. 2 (Summer 2007).
p46. p. The journals kept by the two protagonists are obviously illegal.84) Both written and spoken words in these Dystopias are used as another method of control. Each employs different techniques of oppression though it is only in 1984 where the efforts of the government are to subdue its population rather than to achieve stability.) but in 1984 and We language is far more powerful. Mustapha Mond. The “Thought-Police” of Airstrip One. blaming an emotional illness for his erratic behaviour and illegal journal entries. However Huxley is again set apart as those who think outside of the collective unit are not investigated by a police-like force. 20). Nevertheless all three stories are set totalitarian based states with controlling figureheads: The Benefactor in We. Freedom is sacrificed in the ‘One State’ and the ‘World State’ to preserve unity. are both responsible for arresting those dissidents who exhibit dangerous behaviour. but the English used in both are unnatural. in Brave New World and Big Brother in 1984. particularly Newspeak. Huxley may have indoctrinated persons repeating slogans like “Ending is better than mending” (Huxley. The fact that We itself is written in the style of a diary is another more superficial assumption. Independent thought is criminalised in 1984 and deemed as unscientific and useless in Zamyatin’s We. and the “Guardians” of the One State. D-503 also writes of his increasing dissatisfaction with the State. (Zamyatin. The World Controller. 220+ . There are some similarities in the methods used to control the populous between the three. The inhabitants of Huxley’s world are conditioned and hypnotised via a process called ‘hypnopaedia’ and usually too dosed up on the prescribed anti-depressant Soma to make any individual choices outside of what they have been taught to accept.Orwell was certainly imaginative and interested in politics which may be another reason why his book remains the most obvious in its cautionary message. The Orwell Mystique (USA: ACLS. security and happiness but Orwell “implicitly breaks with this pattern by presenting a vision of the immediate future in which no moral justification of any kind is offered for the control exercised by the party”20. 1984) pp. Winston lives in constant fear of discovery after keeping a journal in which he writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” (Orwell. p. 20 Daphne Patal. spoken in Oceania.
The way in which the television screen is used in Brave New World differs from 1984 (which is a clear response to the timetable used in We) but also demonstrates how Orwell viewed Huxley’s novel and adapted his own dystopia to create a far more critical examination of a totalitarian political system.. pp. making mechanisation the priority. 152 Alex. instead it is rational to the pint of using equations and syllogisms for expressing emotions.small. on one hand. his “Telescreen” is a devious device intended to monitor and repress the inhabitants. Orwell has a response to this. (Blackwell.F Bolton. 1968) pp. 75 22 23 . Zamyatin.400 seconds will be included” (Zamyatin. The Life and Works of E. the construction of the Integral regarded as a “grandiose mechanical ballet” for the exact reason that it was “unfree motion” (Zamyatin. In CEJL Vol. It is an inert part of Ingsoc totalitarianism and its corresponding technologies and is in part due to Orwell’s reading of the dystopian canon. 1984) pp. but not obscurantist.“Newspeak is satire and not prediction. M.”21 Newspeak removes the ability to express emotions and imagination. 145 George Orwell.it appeared in dystopian books which he [Orwell] knew like Huxley’s Brave New World and Zamyatin’s We. In Front of Your Nose.. The political implications of technology are evident firstly in We were it is used to assure the orthodox nature of society. This extends to all parts of society in The One State. We are described as a “warning against the two fold danger of hypertrophic power of the machine and the hypertrophic power of the state”22. The differences between these books and Orwell’s are important.. The Language of 1984 (Blackwell: Oxford. p. The role of technology is an important feature of each novel in assessing whether they are written in response to one another. Huxley uses a big screen. Orwell also notices this in his review of the book noting it as “in affect a study of the machine. Orwell’s reaction to 21 W. not creativity. p.the genie that man has let out of the bottle and cannot put back again”23. This is.22).29). Zamyatin’s artificial language is reductionist like Newspeak. Instead of a system which is in place to implement happiness. who are guided by the Table of Hourly Commandments – the “heart and soul of the one state” and D-503 hopes for the day when “all of its 86.4. Orwell.
faithful to the current political system. however. As Gottlieb points out the solicitous bond of love is a determining factor in these novels: “Falling in love with a woman who offers affection. dispensing with the need for repression as they do not think for themselves.experiences with the manipulative power of post war television.the synthesis between technology and social life. Dystopian Fiction. The content of the images match the hedonistic lifestyle adopted by society. Overpowered by lust (in the case of We) the docile character is swayed to the rebellious ideals of the other partner.21 . is led astray by a subversive lover who holds more radical views. The smaller screen of every private quarter in Oceania. there is a fundamental and important difference: The methods in Brave New World dull the wits of the people. The ‘Feelies’. Each novel is weaved around a relationship where one character. The ‘Two Minutes Hate’ airs daily and consists of propaganda aimed against Goldstein. an essential step in building resistance against the regime”24 24 Erika Gottlieb. Though both texts strongly denounce visual conditioning and its political uses. Sexual repression is a common feature of each novel.a cinematic experience where every sensation is reproduced embodies the Fordian age. the leader of the rebellious Brotherhood. and Huxley’s satirical take on prewar America and the cinema culture. 30) is typical of what is shown on the screen. The ‘Feely’ is intended to provide some sexual gratification in order to further oppress any primal instincts of the people in order which may lead to rebellion. Goldstein is always the subject of the two minutes hate and his image creates a violent uproar and animal like reaction but which was impossible not to join in with (Huxley. Though the techniques differ it is the idea that rebellions are somehow kept at bay by curtailing sexual emotions which is shared. 14). p. 1991) pp. passion or merely an intimate bond is essential to the protagonists awakening to his private universe. East and West (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. A love scene on a bearskin rug where every hair on the bear is reproduced (Huxley. whereas in 1984 you think what you are told to think and you are being watched as well. does not show films but instead propaganda. p.
Sex.. and it is lust for I-330 which drives D-503 forward in We. it is important do look at these themes and how the authors have approached them in different ways.. adultery.normal intercourse practiced for its own sake. Huxley makes the point that sexual liberation can still lead to rebellion against political subjugation. propaganda and over prescribed anti-depressants are all realities for us. In Brave New World and We sexual desire is satiated by the government rather than repressed. is monitored. Though Lenina in Brave New World is not a radical. p.. homosexuality. 309) We now live in a time where the use of technology is potentially oppressive. The most obvious point to make is that all ..Though love is the eventual outcome between Winston and Julia. We differs slightly in the same way that Orwell does from Huxley. Our world is heavily monitored and maintained: the use of CCTV sensationalised media. It is only legal in the context of procreation and is otherwise a punishable by death: “Sexcrime covered all sexual misdeeds. When considering whether George Orwell’s 1984 is a response to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and both a response to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.. awaken him to rebellious impulses. Though there is a clear argument that Orwell and Huxley both took inspiration from Zamyatin. even after the novel has ended. because the human is not entirely lobotomized means that here is still room for lust to develop into a revolutionary force. ‘Everyone belongs to everyone else’ in the World State and the constant variety of sexual partners means that the dangerous passion which comes with developing emotions or attachments to another individual is stopped short. It is clear that political insurrection lies in the potentially liberating instability induced by sexual passion. the idea of love is antagonistic for John the Savage in Brave New World: the frustrations of his wanting to bed Lenina.. In Orwell on the other hand sexual desire is repressed by the state for no reason other than because its potential to lead to rebellion is noticed by the government.all equally culpable and punishable by death (Orwell. This is because in Huxley. they also wrote in response to what they observed in society. the masses created by industrial process will hold no concept of desire whereas Orwell and Zamyatin allow for the seed of revolution the potential to grow elsewhere amidst the populous. like everything else. though perhaps not to the degree in these novels.fornication.
Orwell’s ambiguous ending. whose future seems 25 E. Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.An Essay on Anti. At the same time it is a response to both We and Brave New World in its narrative structure and projected social system.which is written in the past tense.of these futures exhibit a world where a totalitarian government is in control.”26 This reinforces Thomas Horan’s idea that ‘projected political fiction’ acts either as a warning or a political satire and not just as a future prediction. There is also a strong argument that Huxley’s novel was not written in response to We. The price for stability is imagination and individual thought and all the authors assume that this is the direction modern governments were heading. Brave New World. His response is more of an examination of extreme repression. It is Orwell who writes in response to Huxley.his essay on ‘newspeak’. We see from his letters and reviews that this was his intention and he is quite transparent in his motive. However if we are to examine critically the content of each book then we must take into consideration that they: “Are drained of much of their power if we attempt to read them not as complexly critical estrangements of actual tendencies in Soviet and Anglo-American society. suggests that there may have already been some kind of successful revolution. 1984 and We. 2000) pp. What is not so obvious is that all three imply that the more complex and highly organized a society becomes. Ann Arbor. Orwell clearly wanted to write a novel which would fit into the dystopian genre and followed We and Brave New World as models. He has removed any ironic humour that can be read in We and develops a far more interesting and plausible social dynamic than Huxley. Though each is speculates the future (such is the nature of utopias and its opposite) I believe that 1984 is the most politically satirical. Michigan. the less individual and free its members are25.Utopia (Ardis. 1976) 26 Carl Freedman. but as factual futurology.developing the idea of technology as a force for subjugation. From the evidence. 55 . There are very superficial elements on which the novels relate to each other but they remain separated by a combination of authorial intent and different messages about hope for mankind. J.of whose novel Orwell may well have viewed as being unsatisfactory. Brown.
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