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Reading Between the Lines: My dystopia is better than your dystopia

Eshaan Gupta | Interrobang | Lifestyles | April 8th, 2013



Everybody's go-to for dystopian fiction is either George Orwell's totalitarian Nineteen Eighty-Four or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. And why not? Both are landmark science fiction novels whose words and concepts have entered our daily lexicon. Nineteen Eighty-Four was a critique of the government, while Brave New World was more or less a criticism of the carefree flapper lifestyle of the 1920s. Which book got it right? Well, really, before all that, let's dive into story behind these books.

Ironically enough, being one of the most challenged books of all time, Nineteen Eighty-Four takes place in a hopeless future of propaganda and potemkin wars. The government is entwined in such nefarious deeds as spying on its citizens and mercilessly torturing and brainwashing dissenters. The book's protagonist, Winston Smith, is in charge of altering historical documents to better suit the party's everchanging manufactured story. Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of a government born out of madness and out of need, with the rest of the world already in shambles. Orwell, much like in Animal Farm, intended Nineteen Eighty-Four as a parody of Stalinism: the brazenly careless attitudes towards human feelings, the constant surveillance, the lies spread of profitable harvests in the fields, the beating down of the human spirit to a broken husk.

Brave New World, on the other hand, was less about parodying events than painting the future based on the direction Aldous Huxley saw it going in. Promiscuity. Simplicity. A subliminally conditioned enjoyment of one's meager or fantastic life, thanks to sleep learning. Due to the real story of the book beginning around its middle, and my refusal to spoil things, let's just say the first half of the book is based around establishing and explaining the seemingly utopian society of Brave New World.

Of course, now that we understand that Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World were very different, what can we really draw from this knowledge? Well, not much. The fact of the matter is, both books, rather than presenting opposing viewpoints, instead display ideas that more or less complement each other.

Both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World feature the censorship of works for being subversive, offensive or generally not complying with an arbitrary moral standard. While our society has not gone as far as outright government intervention on free speech, the shaming by the hands of so-called moral guardians in order to induce self-censorship is a movement gaining popularity.

The increase of surveillance into our private lives and affairs by the hands of Big-Brother-type government agencies has been accepted with normalcy. It is currently common knowledge that every email sent will likely pass through the grubby e-hands of some Bureau agent for scrutiny of any possible terrorist activity. And not just the government, but private entities, too. With all kinds of browser cookies tracking your habit and GPS-based tracking on our phones, our lives are becoming very concurrent with Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Let's not forget Brave New World in this messy mix. While it certainly did predict the increase of sexual promiscuity (or at least the openness toward it) in both genders, in today's more sexually liberated society, we don't necessarily accept it as a bad thing. Teaching young Jimmy or Marie about STIs, pregnancy and rolling on the rubbers is the best we can do without being imposing and restrictive of freedoms. But one thing that Brave New World did predict that will resonate with us is the promotion of self-centred apathy. The characters of the book are tuned to not care about those perceived of as a lower class, and, in general, have no concept of family due to the society being based around manufactured humans.

There are so many more topics these books discuss that I could compare to our society, like the destruction of words, our state of constant medication… far too many for this article. I suppose the rather grim conclusion is that we're a victim of both books' evils, not one over the other.

Reading Between The Lines explores books that you may have missed out on that are worth your while. If you have a book to suggest, email Eshaan at e_gupta@fanshaweonline.ca.
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