Utopias and dystopias belong to a genre of literature called speculative fiction. It makes use of the existing world that surrounds the author and asks “what if?” This genre is similar to science fiction, fantasy and horror and can be a combination of any of the three.
What’s a utopia?
A utopia is a futuristic setting in which everything appears to be perfect. The problems that are encountered on a local, regional and global scale in the context of the author and/or the reader, including war, disease, inequality and discrimination simply do not exist. A utopia is categorised by a peaceful government, a safe environment, equality and access to education.
Star Trek is probably the best example of a utopia. The franchise followed the adventures of the crew of the starship ‘Enterprise’ within outer space during the 23rd century evolving into numerous films and television series. Throughout the franchise the technological advancements, inspired by the contextual advancements in technology, assisted the society in overcoming the problems confounding humanity. Everything appears to be perfect.
What’s a dystopia?
A dystopia is basically the opposite of a utopia. Although it is still a futuristic setting, a dystopia is the worst case scenario. Oppressive societal control is maintained within these texts through either corporate, bureaucratic, technological, totalitarian, or moral control. They are typically a satirical text that criticise a current trend, societal norm or political system in the context of the text and author.
The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, is one of the most recently published dystopian texts. The three novels and the four films of the franchise focus on Katniss Everdeen, a citizen of District Twelve in Panem, as she enters the hunger games and fights to the death against the tributes of all but one of the remaining districts. The Districts are controlled by the Capitol (totalitarian control), being used as pieces in a game for the entertainment of the wealthy citizens of the Capitol. Nothing appears to be perfect.
Huxley Vs Orwell
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, first published in 1932 and George Orwell’s Prometheus Hall of Fame Award Winner Nineteen Eighty-Four, first published seventeen years later explore the effects of technological advancements on the state of humanity. The former is a dystopian novel set in the year 2540 AD that depicts the World State, following the life of the protagonists Bernard Marx and John the Savage. The latter, also a dystopian novel, follows the protagonist, Winston, in his secret love affair with his colleague as he longs for truth and liberty within Oceania. While both novels can be viewed as a criticism of technology, there is a distinct difference in the effects of technological advancements on the societies depicted. Additionally, the two novels differ in their views on sex, their class or caste systems and the ways in which the society is controlled.
The totalitarian government in Brave New World relies heavily on conditioning to control the citizens within the World State. From a young age the citizens undergo what is known within the text as hypnopaedia. Hypnopaedia is “the principle of sleep teaching” (20). It is used within the text to mould the children within the society to hold particular views of the world in which they live. One of the initial lessons that the citizens learn is “Elementary Class Consciousness” (22) which conditions them into their caste system. The Beta children learn “Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able . . .” (22) and have the lesson repeated to them “one hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months” (23) before they are able to move on to more advanced lessons.
The children within this society are manipulated to believe that certain children, and later on adults, are better than others, while simultaneously being conditioned to appreciate their position in the caste system to prevent any disturbance to the order that is established. As the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning says, the children are conditioned “’Til at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too – all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides – made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!” (23). The children within the society of Brave New World are created for a purpose; They are created to play a role within the society. In their production/gestation they are exposed to particular amounts of alcohol which determine their class and position within the work force. The colour of the work clothes worn by the citizens is indicative of their position in the class system. The Alphas wear grey, the Betas wear mulberry, the Gammas wear green, the Deltas wear khaki and the Epsilons wear black. The use of the colour coded clothing reinforces the earlier conditioning. The conditioning of the citizens of the Wold State allow the government to control who they associate with resulting in maximum productivity and minimum disturbance to the norm.
While Nineteen Eighty-Four also has a class system, the way in which it was established and maintained is noticeably different. There are only three classes within the caste system of George Orwell’s novel: the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the Proles. The Inner party, identifiable by their black jumpsuits, are the highest class citizens who are above the law. They only make up 2% of the population of Oceania, but have the privilege of turning off their telescreen (the main device used within a household for the citizen’s thoughts and actions to be controlled), living in comfortable homes and being provided with good food and beverages. The Outer Party, a total of 13% of the society’s population, are the middle class citizens of Oceania. This class, recognisable by their blue jumpsuits, makes up the workforce for the state administrative jobs, working in the Ministry of Truth, the Ministry of Love, the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Plenty. They live in dilapidated neighbourhoods and are subject to rations. The remaining 85% of the population is the third and lowest class of the system. They have the most freedom, being excluded from the government’s spying, yet live in the poorest conditions. Within the text they are dehumanised, being likened to animals. As stated by the Party slogan, “Proles and animals are free” (83); they were not seen as a threat to the social system. The class of a citizen of Oceania is determined when they are born, however the government also considers ability within the class system.
To prevent any disruption to the class system that was created, they vaporise – remove from existence – citizens if their intellect is too high for their class. Within the book Winston reads, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, the reasoning behind the class system is explained: “Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other” (213). Goldstein, the author of Winston’s book, furthermore explained the reasoning behind the control of the intelligence of the proles. He stated, “if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away” (219), giving the Inner Party great reason to prevent the intelligence of the proles being above their expectations to maintain the class system. Through the act and threat of vaporisation, the totalitarian government within Nineteen Eighty-Four is capable of controlling the caste system.
Sex is one of the most prominent ideas within both novels. In Brave New World the citizens of the World State partake in orgies on a regular basis with the act of sexual intercourse being encouraged with no emotion attached to it. Within this text sex isn’t a crime, nor is it deemed pleasurable. As children, the citizens of the Word State are taught about sex to become familiar with sexuality and to remove the possibility of forming emotional attachments to their sexual partners in the future. This includes the hypnopaedia lesson “Elementary Sex”, taught prior to “Elemetary Class Consciousness”, and the erotic play. The use of erotic play as a technique for conditioning is depicted as, “Naked in the warm June sunshine, six or seven hundred little boys and girls were running with shrill yells over the lawns, or playing ball games, or squatting silently in twos and threes among the flowering shrubs” (25), after which the reader is informed that “for a very long period before the time of Our Ford, and even for some generations afterwards, erotic play between children had been regarded as abnormal” (27). Lenina Crowne, one of the main characters who is romantically attached to both John and Bernard is desired by many within the society for her sexual reasons. She is valued for her sexual appeal which causes her to be incapable of having relationships without the foundation of sex.
Contrastingly, in Nineteen Eighty-Four the views on sex are opposite. Sexual intercourse is demoted within the society, “Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema” (75), and is hence viewed as a rebellious act. The negative attitude towards sex within Nineteen Eighty-Four is particularly evident in chapter five of part one: “[The Party]’s real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act” (75), “There were even organisations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes” (76), “The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it” (76). The conditioning of the citizens resulted in, evident within the relationship between Katharine and Winston, the disgust of sex, as though it’s a menial task that must simply be put on ones to-do list with no desire for it to be completed. The protagonist described his sexual encounters with an underlying distaste to the activity, “As soon as he touched her she seemed to wince and stiffen. To embrace her was like embracing a jointed wooden image. And what was strange was that even when she was clasping him against her he had the feeling that she was simultaneously pushing him away with all her strength. The rigidity of her muscles managed to convey that impression. She would lie there with shut eyes, neither resisting nor co-operating but submitting. It was extraordinarily embarrassing, and, after a while, horrible. But even then he could have borne living with her if it had been agreed that they should remain celibate. But curiously enough it was Katharine who refused this. They must, she said, produce a child if they could. So the performance continued to happen, once a week quite regularly, whenever it was not impossible. She even used to remind him of it in the morning, as something which had to be done that evening and which must not be forgotten. ” (77), allowing the reader insight to the effects of the totalitarian government’s conditioning.
Technology is used as the primary method of control within Nineteen Eighty-Four, alongside propaganda. Within the first three pages of the novel, the reader is introduced to both the propaganda and the use of technology for control. The propaganda poster is described, “At the end of [the hallway] a coloured poster, too large for the indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. … On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move.” (4), using imagery to allow the reader to sympathise with the protagonist and recognise that surveillance is a regular occurrence within the society. The caption that the poster reads “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” (4)
reinforces the idea of mass surveillance that is apparent within the text, and reminds the citizens of Oceania that they lack freedom of thought. The idea of technology as a use of mass surveillance and the importance of this as a means of control is explicitly stated through the description of the telescreen, “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard” (5). Furthermore, the citizens lack the awareness of when they are being watched, “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overhead, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised” (5), allowing the government control through fear, particularly when this fear of not knowing when one is being watched is accompanied by the possibility of being vaporised, “removed from the registers … You were abolished, annihilated” (22). Although technology is important for the control of the citizens of Oceania, it, along with science, is not evident elsewhere within the state. The reasoning for which is explained in Goldstein’s book, “Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society” (218). The technological advancements within George Orwell’s novel are used to control the citizens thoughts and actions, subsequently keeping the societal values and class systems intact.
Technology within Brave New World, however, is predominantly used in the process of making the children. Eugenics is used to create suitable children to work in each class to have maximum efficiency within the society. The production, or assembly, line which was first used in the mass production of the Model T Ford in 1913 was used within the text in the creation of the citizens. There is a clear scientific method to the production of the children, explained in chapter one, that demonstrates the particular temperatures required for blood, the time taken before a container in which a human was being created could be removed from the liquor and the concentration of the “free-swimming spermatozea” (3). As explained to the students by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, “”These,” he waved his hand, “are the incubators.” And opening an insulated door he showed them racks upon racks of numbered test-tubes. “The week’s supply of ova. Kept,” he explained, “at blood heat; whereas the male gametes,” and here he opened another door, “they have to be kept at thirty-five instead of thirty-seven. Full blood heat sterilizes.””, the process of creating humans is complex and precise, but achievable due to the technology available. The technological advancements that are used within Brave New World established the construction of the citizens and hence began the control of the government over the citizens. Further in the novel, a Synthetic Music Box is used throughout the text, particularly to calm the riot that occurs, through which a Voice of Reason convinces everyone to be “happy and good” (189). This reinforces the government’s ability to control the citizens through technology, allowing them to enforce the beliefs they choose.
Same, Same, but Different
Two of the most renowned dystopian novels, Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell, explore the effects of technological advancement on society and the ability of such technology to control the citizens of the society. The two novels differ in their views of sex, and their use of technology for control. They hold similar class systems, however they are maintained differently within each text. Each of these dystopian novels can be understood as a criticism of technology and the advancements of technology within the context of both the author and the reader.
Collins, Suzanne, The Hunger Games. London: Scholastic, 2012. Print.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Vintage, 2007. Print.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Penguin Group, 2012. Print.
Photos (In order of appearance):