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Nineteen Eighty-Four vs Brave New World

Updated on January 16, 2014

Dystopian Novels

The dystopian novels Brave New World and Nineteen-Eighty Four depict fictitious societies which satirise the customs of their day, by focusing on the futile efforts made by a few individuals in rebellion against a government which has enforced a uniform, repressive way of life on its citizens. Huxley and Orwell present various methods of social control employed by the respective states namely: psychological manipulation, control of information and history and physical control. Despite all being key devices in the authors’ depiction of social control, arguably Huxley and Orwell present the control of language of central importance to human thought, and thus, state control of it is the major instrument through which individual identity can be controlled.

Control of Language in 1984

In both dystopian worlds language is presented as the predominant means through which individual identity is diminished. In using the invented figure of “Comrade Ogilvy” Orwell demonstrates the level to which state control of language is effective in facilitating the onslaught on individual identity. Orwell introduces “Comrade Ogilvy” to the reader, a heroic character created by Winston to convince the population that Withers was an “Unperson” and “had never existed.” Ogilvy is designed as a comprehensive exemplification of the ideologies of the party. Here Orwell’s deployment of an omniscient third person-narrator is effective as it serves to heighten the sense of distance between the reader and the emotions of individuals. This is demonstrated by the matter of fact narration concerning the description of Winston’s invention of Comrade Ogilvy: “It was true that there was no such person as Comrade Ogilvy, but a few lines of print and a couple of faked photographs would soon bring him into existence.” Considering the unacceptable nature of Winston’s action in the society of most readers, the mundane tone with which this action is narrated heightens the reader’s sense of the comprehensive nature of state control of language, considering it has infiltrated every day activities of individuals. Moreover Orwell’s use of lists and repetition heightens the reader’s sense of the complete loss of individual identity: “At the age of three Comrade Ogilvy had refused all toys... at six... he had joined the spies.” The fact that Orwell uses this listing to describe Ogilvy’s life, albeit an invented one, coupled with Winston's “military”-like dictation emphasises the regimentation and strict regulation with which the party desires people to live their lives, reminiscent of the conformity and repressiveness of Soviet Russia in the Stalin era. Furthermore the repetition of actions associated with war, namely, his possession of a “sub machine gun” at three, his design of a “hand grenade” and his eventual ‘death’ “in action...” demonstrates the way in which the Oceania Government will indoctrinate and militarize children, which for a modern reader is reminiscent of the child armies of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, in order to establish social control. The fact that the episode concerning Ogilvy directly precedes Syme’s description of Newspeak again emphasises that control of language is central to diminishing individual identity. The two are linked by virtue of the fact that Winston uses language to create and incite a very specific patriotic emotion whereas Syme explains that “We’re destroying words” thereby “Narrow[ing] the range of thought”. Thus the fact that Orwell presents language as a power of both creation and destruction demonstrates the degree to which language can impact individual identity. Because if we narrow the range of thought and expression then we become more alike, less individualized, de-personalized, even de-humanized and those with smaller vocabularies become increasingly like children, unable to articulate their hopes, fears, or thoughts; which makes them more susceptible to internalise the repressive message of the government. Orwell decided to place these events next to each other, possibly occurring within a short space of time; to depict that control of language occurs commonly and is thus endemic within the society.

Control of Language in Brave New World

Likewise in Brave New World comprehensive control of language is the primary means through the state control individual identity. In Huxley’s society hypnopaedia is used to condition people to be content with their position and it’s through this control of language that the state can establish a totalitarian regime. The commonly recited phrase “a gramme is better than a damn” is used to prevent the expression of frustration, instead directing people to relieve their stress through the consumption of Soma thus promoting a sense of emotional stability throughout the population and warding off free-thinking, dissent or rebellion. Moreover the repetitive, predictable and even the mechanical internal rhyme of these proverbs contributes to the notion that the control of language is central to the state onslaught on individual identity. The fact that Orwell uses the adverb “mechanically” to describe her speech demonstrates that reciting the slogan and adhering to it has become an automatic action and she has internalised the message leading to the abolition of her identity. Huxley, in chapter 6, depicts a conversation between Bernard and Lenina, one in which Bernard comments that “[He’d] rather be [him]self”, which demonstrates his desire to seek his identity to which Lenina responded “A gramme in time saves nine,”- referred to ironically by the narrator as a “bright treasure of sleep-taught wisdom.”Orwell’s use of irony here serves to heighten the apparent discrepancy between Lenina and Bernard which augments the reader’s sense of admiration for Bernard’s distinction from his society. The contrast Huxley fashions between the two characters leads us to admire Bernard, albeit momentarily, for his seemingly high level of understanding, in so much as he seeks to have an individual identity. However this leads to a deeply disappointing anticlimax as his sense of individuality expires after he “began to fondle her breasts” and eventually “swallowed four tablets of soma”. Huxley uses this bathos to elevate the reader’s understanding as to the impossibility of resisting the “sleep learning” and thus demonstrating the absolute control of language over individuals. Furthermore the narrator adopts a highly descriptive tone when illustrating Lenina’s dismay at “the rushing emptiness of the night”. Lenina cannot express why she thinks “it’s horrible” which demonstrates her inability to think for herself, and the fact that the omniscient narrator describes the emotion which she cannot herself articulate indicates that she is unable to express personal feelings in any depth. Therefore the State’s tight control of language , demonstrated through the internalisation of the slogans, leads to their complete domination over individual identity.

Government in 1984

Within 1984 the purpose of the Hate Week is said to satisfy the citizens' subdued feelings of angst and hatred from leading such a wretched, controlled existence. The Oceania Government organised “Two Minutes Hate” which was designed to redirect these subconscious feelings away from the Oceanian government and toward external enemies, the Party minimizes subversive thought and behaviour thus acting as a tool to establish social control, akin to Kenneth Burke’s “scapegoat mechanism”. The state regulates people’s expression of anger to create an atmosphere in which language is replaced by “sub-human chanting of ‘B-B!...B-B!” Clearly the sub-human gibbering and chanting animalizes the participants, like lambs for the slaughter, here Orwell presents an image of absolute loss of individual identity. The way in which Orwell focusses on the vivid description of the event, commenting on the “deep, slow, rhythmical chant”, and highlighting the “long pause between the first ‘B’ and the second-...” reinforces its “hypno[tic]” nature, reminiscent of the kind of brainwashing, mind-control and psychological manipulation used by totalitarian regimes against prisoners of war . Therefore unlike Huxley, who uses hypnopaedic conditioning to provoke a precise reaction, Hate Week incites an intense vague emotion of anger which can be channeled by the Government towards a more convenient target.

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Individual thought in Brave New World

Through the figures of Winston and Helmholtz, Orwell and Huxley demonstrate the ways in which state control of language has diminished their faculty of individual expression and how this is significant to gaining social control. We are first introduced to the character of Helmholtz Watson in chapter four and it’s key that immediately Huxley describes that “Helmholtz [was] so uncomfortably aware of being himself” because he sets up Helmholtz as a character who will try to resist the state control of language and express himself as an individual. In chapter twelve Huxley chooses the form of poetry, which is traditionally the most expressive, lyrical and eloquent form of communication, in doing so he heightens our sense that language is vital to the Helmholtz’s search for individuality. Building on his desire to be “himself” in his poem Helmholtz condemns the “crowds” and the completely unfulfilling “copulation” but praises “silence”— by which he means the capacity to be individual. Despite this, however Huxley chooses not to depict Helmholtz as having the utmost level of expression in order to emphasise the way in which the State can gain social control through control of language. The fact Huxley has chosen the form of poetry immediately juxtaposes Helmholtz’s with Shakespeare; through this contrast Huxley heightens the reader’s understanding as to the wholly incomplete nature of Helmholtz’s level of expression but also Helmholtz’s use of unwittingly ugly language. This is also reinforced by the archaic use of the word “ah”, traditionally associated with evoking intense emotions, which is however bathetically undercut by the subsequent word, “posteriors”. There is an ironic humour about his deep emotional connection to the word “posteriors” which serves to demonstrate the lack of his personal sense of beauty. Clearly Huxley hints at the limitations of Helmholtz’s expression which is supported by virtue of his inability to understand Romeo and Juliet. It’s poignant that Huxley presents Helmholtz’s attempt to express himself individually but undercuts it by showing his inability to use, and appreciate, beauty. Consequently through the control of language, the state have infiltrated individual thought.

Winston's diary in 1984

A parallel to Helmholtz’s desire for individual expression is that of Winston conveyed through his diary. Orwell chooses the form of a diary as a vehicle through which Winston is able to communicate his private emotions. Thus the inarticulate way in which he begins his diary demonstrates the difficulty with which Winston expresses his individuality and his lack of a sense of personal beauty. He is unable to write using any syntax as demonstrated here: “they'll shoot me i don’t care they'll shoot me...”. In doing so Orwell shows that the government not only control public expression, as shown through “hate week”, but also the most intimately private expression, as revealed in Winston’s grammarless, syntactically muddled diary. This is reinforced by virtue of the fact that “Winston stopped writing... because he was suffering from cramp” and his reference to the “pen”, the purest symbol of expression, as “archaic” because it demonstrates that people under this totalitarian state have lost the ability to express themselves Moreover, the style in which Winston’s diary is written, to begin with, can be likened unto that of Newspeak. The repeated use of “then” in his first entry highlights the mechanical, and slightly forced, way in which he is able to express himself which reinforces the reader’s sense of the incomplete nature of Winston’s expression. Moreover Within the first diary entry Winston provides a grotesque image of a totalitarian state in which it’s “it’s impossible to show any true feelings” which is reinforced by the ugliness of his language: “bloody organizations” and “rat on any person”, this develops the reader’s understanding that control of an individuals sense of beauty leads to a control over their identity. Both writers demonstrate the limitations of these characters through the contrast with genuine expression of individuality to heighten our understanding of the state power over individuality resulting from control of language.

Social control in dystopian novels

Both Orwell and Huxley’s dystopian worlds highlight language as the predominant instrument of control of individual identity. In terms of Newspeak and Hypnopaedia both control language to incite emotional reactions as desired by the party; thus freedom to express emotions is removed. Likewise both Winston and Helmholtz’s seemingly heightened level of individual expression, in fact, emphasises the control both states have over language due to Winston’s language eventually accommodating the desires of the party and Helmholtz’s inability to understand the language of love. Linking to Helmholtz’s incomplete understanding of love is the relationship both authors construct between aesthetics and language and its role in demonstrating the state onslaught on individual identity through the control of people’s exposure to beauty in language. Therefore due to the all-encompassing nature of language, in both novels it’s presented as a major instrument to gain social control.


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