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Examine the manner in which George Orwell’s 1984 is a response to Aldous Huxley’s Brave

New World and both 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

1
Brian Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree. (New York: Avon, 1973) pp. 75
2
Aldiss, pp. 77
similar though upon closer examination each differs in critical ways. 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.

The earliest of the fictions, Zamyatin’s We, is written in the form of protagonist and narrator

“D-5032’s diary and set in the One State- a nation built almost entirely of glass and led by the

Benefactor. A “Green Wall” surrounding the state separates it from nature3. The inhabitants of the One

State have “numbers” rather than names and live in a system according to “the Table of

Commandments”, essentially a timetable– which is the “heart and pulse of the one state”4. A 200 year

war had reduced the population to 0.2% of its original number, who now live in a system constructed

of scientific ethics “founded on subtraction, addition, division, [and] multiplication”.5 D-503 is a chief

mathematician in this society, charged with the task of overseeing the building of a spaceship, the

“Integral”, with which the Benefactor wishes to extend their way of life to other planets. There is a

revolutionary group, The Mephis, who hope to destroy the Integral.

The World State is Huxley’s setting for his dystopia- a unified government which controls

almost the whole planet. The society is based on the principles of the Ford Assembly line- human

beings are manufactured en mass via a process of eugenics and other biological techniques. Ford

himself is revered as God-like; the dates are recorded as AF (After Ford) and his name is used in

reference to oaths. Children are raised in hatcheries and then in conditioning centres and are

chemically treated to develop into one of five castes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons,

ascending in importance. There are also Plus and Minus denominations of each. 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. All are indoctrinated by recorded voices which repeat

slogans assuring them that they are well suited to their class. Any unhappiness is counteracted by the

3
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, (London: Penguin Modern Classics, trans. Bernard Guerney) pp.
21
4
Zamyatin, We, pp.28
5
Zamyatin, We, pp. 30
use of “Soma”, an anti-depressant and hallucinogen, which use of is heavily encouraged by the

government. Any competitiveness within the classes is bred out as is the need for any imaginative

thought thanks to the hypnotic conditioning. There is a group of outcasts, “The Savages” who are kept

in “The Reservation”, which Bernard, an Alpha Plus (though mocked for his unusually short

structure), visits before bringing back a savage, John, to London. Mustapha Mond is the World

Controller and it is when John and Bernard return that his ideas are challenged.

Superficially, the way society and government are arranged in We, are not dissimilar from

those in Orwell’s 1984. The story is set in London “Chief city of Airstrip One” (previously Britain), a

province of Oceania, 6one of three super states. Here “Big Brother”, The Party’s leader, is our

authoritarian figurehead, whose ideology is “INGSOC”, Newspeak7 for English Socialism. There is

also a war which continually perpetuates, assisting The Party in implementing totalitarian control. The

government also operates several “Ministries” whose purpose it is to enforce the law, create

propaganda and survey the populous. The protagonist, Winston, a member of the “Outer party”, works

for the “Ministry of Truth”; his job is to alter and destroy information. The names of the ministries are

ironic antonyms for their true purpose, their titles examples of “Doublethink”:

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting

both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that

has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from

oblivion for just so long as it is needed”8

6
George Orwell, 1984, (London: Penguin Books, 2000) pp. 5
7

Newspeak is the language developed by Orwell and used in Oceania. 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". It assists in the removal or imagination or creativity which in turn may lead to
rebellion.
8
Orwell, 1984, PP. 223
The people are constantly bombarded with propaganda in order for The Party to maintain its iron grip

on Oceania- which is divided into three groups- The Inner Party, The outer Party and the Proles, who

make up the majority of the population. The “Telescreen” is the main form of surveillance- it monitors

the inhabitants in their quarters, but the “thought police” also have access to microphones, and

informants in order to root out those who commit “thought crime” and may endanger the survival of

The Party. There is a revolutionary group, “The Brotherhood” which opposes the party and is led by

Emmanuel Goldstein, author of “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” which

refutes and scorns the government and its practices.

Even from these brief descriptions we can easily spot the similarities in the settings of the

three novels, which will be examined further shortly; the totalitarian regimes and dictator figures (and

their opponents), the loss of independent thought and identity, the world outside of the regime, the

outsider, destruction of language and history, control of sexual tendency, and a revelatory text.

Because of the relatively short periods of time between the novels and their superficial similarities,

there appear the beginnings of an argument for comparison- though it is a closer analysis which

reveals important distinctions in approach. 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, in response to Huxley as well.

Zamyatin wrote We in 1920 and was first translated to English in 1924 in the United States. It

was also translated into European languages and “it seems very likely that Orwell- and indeed Huxley

before him- 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 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, before Orwell had written 1984, he comments that the book had “roused [his] interest in

9
Aldiss, pp.244

Coincidentally Orwell studied French under Huxley at Eton, though this was in 1919, the year before We had
10

been written.
Zamyatin’s We” and was “interested in that kind of book, and even keep making notes for one myself

that may get written sooner or later” 11. Orwell had obviously begun to think about writing 1984 and

it is clear that We had certainly helped to spur his ideas forward.

Two years later, writing for the Tribune (4 January 1946) Orwell discusses Zamyatin’s

dystopia further and compares it to Brave New World. Though Huxley has denied he had taken

influence from the book, citing in a letter (25 October 1962) that “I had never heard of Zamyatin’s

book until three or four years ago”12. When we examine the approaches to anti-utopia, it will become

clear whether Huxley was telling the truth. Orwell is more sceptical:

“The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact- never pointed out I believe- that

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World must be partly derived from it...Both deal with the

rebellion of the primitive human spirit...The atmosphere of the two books is similar, and it is

roughly speaking the same kind of society that is being described.”

Orwell does not hesitate in suggesting that Huxley took inspiration from Zamyatin. Huxley denies

ever hearing of We, yet it is seems that it echoed some of the ideas that the Russian had included in the

anti-utopia. The influence of We on Orwell is admitted. It is not true that either of these novels is a

carbon copy of the other and Orwell, in the same letter makes the following important point:

“So far the resemblance with Brave New World is striking, but though Zamyatin’s book is less

well put together...it has a political point that the other lacks. In Huxley’s book the problem of

‘human nature’ is in a sense solved, because it assumes that...the human organism can be

specialised in any way that is desired...At the same time no reason is given why society

should be stratified in the elaborate way that it is described...There is no power hunger...Those

at the top have no strong motive for staying at the top...Zamyatin’s book is on the whole more

11
The Collected Essays, Journals and Letters of George Orwell (CEJL) (London, Secker &
Warburg, 1968) pp. 95
12
Christopher Collins, Zamyatin, Wells and the Utopian Tradition in The Slavonic and East
European Review, Vol. 44, No, 3 (July, 1966)
relevant to our own situation...It is the intuitive grasp of this side of irrational

totalitarianism...that makes Zamyatin’s book superior to Huxley’s.”

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, we can see why Orwell wrote such a politically motivated work

and identified more closely with Zamyatin’s perspective.

All three novels project into the future in satiric terms. Zamyatin writes in his essay on H.G.

Wells, 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. Zamyatin’s work however includes more ironic humour

than its descendants and is not as certain of extinguishing human prospects in the future. 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.

Huxley confirms his lack of enthusiasm for any kind of optimism as employed in Wellsian

utopias, being far more interested in writing a negative vision that he “forgot about Wells and

launched into Brave New World”14. Huxley is bitter in his outlook, juxtaposing conventionally

accepted aspects of the actual world, more aware of the future implications of emerging technology

and totalitarian governments during contentious times. 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. This supports the claim that Huxley was not as influenced by We as

had been suggested; Brave New World being far more predictive in nature than its predecessor. This is

not to discount the satire in Huxley’s novel, but it is a more precautionary tale.

13
Guerbert Uells, Epokha, 1922. Reprinted in Litsa pp. 103 in E.J Brown, Brave New World,
1984 and We: An Essay on Anti-Utopia
14
Collins, pp. 352
15
In Thomas Disch, On SF, (Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 2005)
Thomas Horan coins the term “projected political fiction...which refers to dystopian stories

which are both speculative and political”16. 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. 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, or it predicts what the seemingly unavoidable future might look like.

George Orwell’s 1984 is an obvious example of the cautionary form...while Aldous Huxley’s

Brave New World is a more predictive Dystopia.”17

This supports the distinctions in the response of both authors to We. I suggest that Zamyatin was

writing a more cautionary tale, closer to Orwell’s message, especially as Brave New World, as Orwell

suggests, lacks as many political poignancies. I believe that it is clear that 1984 is a response to both

these novels in its political motivation.

Brian Aldiss points out that Orwell’s perception 1984 makes Brave New World appear

“namby-pamby; for Huxley, secure in the upper classes, never thinks to give us sight of the whip.” 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, in Extrapolation. Vol. 48 no. 2
(Summer 2007), pp. 314
17
Horan, pp. 315
18
Aldiss, pp. 244
19
Horan, pp. 316
Orwell was certainly imaginative and interested in politics which may be another reason why his book

remains the most obvious in its cautionary message.

Nevertheless all three stories are set totalitarian based states with controlling figureheads: The

Benefactor in We, The World Controller, Mustapha Mond, in Brave New World and Big Brother in

1984. 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. Freedom is sacrificed in

the ‘One State’ and the ‘World State’ to preserve unity, 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.

There are some similarities in the methods used to control the populous between the three.

Independent thought is criminalised in 1984 and deemed as unscientific and useless in Zamyatin’s We.

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. However Huxley is again set apart as those who think

outside of the collective unit are not investigated by a police-like force. The “Thought-Police” of

Airstrip One, and the “Guardians” of the One State, are both responsible for arresting those dissidents

who exhibit dangerous behaviour. Winston lives in constant fear of discovery after keeping a journal

in which he writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” (Orwell, p. 20). The fact that We itself is written

in the style of a diary is another more superficial assumption. D-503 also writes of his increasing

dissatisfaction with the State, blaming an emotional illness for his erratic behaviour and illegal journal

entries. (Zamyatin, p.84)

Both written and spoken words in these Dystopias are used as another method of control. The

journals kept by the two protagonists are obviously illegal, but the English used in both are unnatural.

Huxley may have indoctrinated persons repeating slogans like “Ending is better than mending”

(Huxley, p46.) but in 1984 and We language is far more powerful, particularly Newspeak, spoken in

Oceania.

20
Daphne Patal, The Orwell Mystique (USA: ACLS, 1984) pp. 220+
“Newspeak is satire and not prediction....it appeared in dystopian books which he [Orwell]

knew like Huxley’s Brave New World and Zamyatin’s We. The differences between these

books and Orwell’s are important. Zamyatin’s artificial language is reductionist like

Newspeak; but not obscurantist; instead it is rational to the pint of using equations and

syllogisms for expressing emotions.”21

Newspeak removes the ability to express emotions and imagination. 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.

The role of technology is an important feature of each novel in assessing whether they are

written in response to one another. 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. Orwell also notices

this in his review of the book noting it as “in affect a study of the machine- the genie that man has let

out of the bottle and cannot put back again”23. The political implications of technology are evident

firstly in We were it is used to assure the orthodox nature of society, making mechanisation the

priority, not creativity, the construction of the Integral regarded as a “grandiose mechanical ballet” for

the exact reason that it was “unfree motion” (Zamyatin, p.22). This extends to all parts of society in

The One State, 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 86,400 seconds will be included” (Zamyatin,

p.29). Orwell has a response to this. Instead of a system which is in place to implement happiness, his

“Telescreen” is a devious device intended to monitor and repress the inhabitants.

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. Huxley uses a big screen, Orwell- small. This is, on one hand, Orwell’s reaction to

21
W.F Bolton, The Language of 1984 (Blackwell: Oxford, 1984) pp. 152
22
Alex, M. The Life and Works of E. Zamyatin. (Blackwell, 1968) pp. 145
23
George Orwell, In Front of Your Nose. In CEJL Vol.4, pp. 75
experiences with the manipulative power of post war television; and Huxley’s satirical take on pre-

war America and the cinema culture. The ‘Feelies’- a cinematic experience where every sensation is

reproduced embodies the Fordian age- the synthesis between technology and social life. A love scene

on a bearskin rug where every hair on the bear is reproduced (Huxley, p. 30) is typical of what is

shown on the screen. The content of the images match the hedonistic lifestyle adopted by society. 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. The smaller screen of every private quarter in

Oceania, however, does not show films but instead propaganda. The ‘Two Minutes Hate’ airs daily

and consists of propaganda aimed against Goldstein, the leader of the rebellious Brotherhood.

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, p. 14).

Though both texts strongly denounce visual conditioning and its political uses, there is a

fundamental and important difference: The methods in Brave New World dull the wits of the people,

dispensing with the need for repression as they do not think for themselves; whereas in 1984 you

think what you are told to think and you are being watched as well.

Sexual repression is a common feature of each novel. Though the techniques differ it is the

idea that rebellions are somehow kept at bay by curtailing sexual emotions which is shared. Each

novel is weaved around a relationship where one character, faithful to the current political system, is

led astray by a subversive lover who holds more radical views. Overpowered by lust (in the case of

We) the docile character is swayed to the rebellious ideals of the other partner. 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, passion or merely an intimate bond is

essential to the protagonists awakening to his private universe, an essential step in building

resistance against the regime”24

24
Erika Gottlieb, Dystopian Fiction, East and West (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University
Press, 1991) pp.21
Though love is the eventual outcome between Winston and Julia, the idea of love is antagonistic for

John the Savage in Brave New World: the frustrations of his wanting to bed Lenina, awaken him to

rebellious impulses; and it is lust for I-330 which drives D-503 forward in We. It is clear that political

insurrection lies in the potentially liberating instability induced by sexual passion.

In Brave New World and We sexual desire is satiated by the government rather than repressed.

‘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. Though Lenina in Brave New World is not a radical, Huxley makes the

point that sexual liberation can still lead to rebellion against political subjugation.

We differs slightly in the same way that Orwell does from Huxley; because the human is not

entirely lobotomized means that here is still room for lust to develop into a revolutionary force, even

after the novel has ended. This is because in Huxley, 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.

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. Sex, like everything else, is

monitored. It is only legal in the context of procreation and is otherwise a punishable by death:

“Sexcrime covered all sexual misdeeds...fornication, adultery, homosexuality...normal intercourse

practiced for its own sake...all equally culpable and punishable by death (Orwell, p. 309)

We now live in a time where the use of technology is potentially oppressive. Our world is

heavily monitored and maintained: the use of CCTV sensationalised media, propaganda and over

prescribed anti-depressants are all realities for us, though perhaps not to the degree in these novels.

Though there is a clear argument that Orwell and Huxley both took inspiration from Zamyatin, they

also wrote in response to what they observed in society.

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, it is important do look at these themes and

how the authors have approached them in different ways. The most obvious point to make is that all
of these futures exhibit a world where a totalitarian government is in control. What is not so obvious

is that all three imply that the more complex and highly organized a society becomes, the less

individual and free its members are25. The price for stability is imagination and individual thought and

all the authors assume that this is the direction modern governments were heading. 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, but as factual

futurology.”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. Though each is speculates the future (such is the

nature of utopias and its opposite) I believe that 1984 is the most politically satirical. At the same time

it is a response to both We and Brave New World in its narrative structure and projected social system.

From the evidence, Orwell clearly wanted to write a novel which would fit into the dystopian genre

and followed We and Brave New World as models. We see from his letters and reviews that this was

his intention and he is quite transparent in his motive. His response is more of an examination of

extreme repression- developing the idea of technology as a force for subjugation. Orwell’s ambiguous

ending- his essay on ‘newspeak’- which is written in the past tense, suggests that there may have

already been some kind of successful revolution. He has removed any ironic humour that can be read

in We and develops a far more interesting and plausible social dynamic than Huxley- of whose novel

Orwell may well have viewed as being unsatisfactory. There is also a strong argument that Huxley’s

novel was not written in response to We. 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. It is Orwell who writes in response to Huxley, whose future seems

25
E. J. Brown, Brave New World, 1984 and We- An Essay on Anti- Utopia (Ardis, Ann Arbor,
Michigan, 1976)
26
Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press,
2000) pp. 55
almost bearable in comparison, developing further his idea of technological control and writes a direct

response to We, suggesting that in fact there is far more to fear from totalitarian control than Zamyatin

expects. Orwell writes not just in anticipation like Huxley, or for satire, but also writes a response to

the other great anti-utopias which preceded his own novel.

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