Orwell vs Huxley

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They have imagined fantastic flying machines and wild forms of entertainment, constantly making and occasionally fulfilling their prophecies. While most visions of the future predict a glittering, peaceful utopia, in keeping with the historic trend of steadily improving lifestyle, some visionaries have produced darker, grimmer visions of the world our descendants should live in. Two of the most iconic authors to write ‘dystopian’ novels are George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Although on the surface, their visions of the future are almost polar opposites, a close reading of both will find that they tackle remarkably similar themes. Both authors worried that society was going in the wrong direction and fashioned works that they hoped would change humanity’s course before it was too late. In their novels, Brave New World and 1984, Huxley and Orwell, respectively, use symbolism and irony in order to demonstrate that absolute truth and absolute control are mutually exclusive ends. One of the major symbols in 1984 is the paperweight that Winston purchases from Mr. Charrington. Winston clings to it because it symbolizes a connection with the past, proof that beauty existed at one time or another. The symbolism is enhanced by the very nature of the object: the coral contained within the cloudy glass cannot be touched, just as Winston cannot reach out and touch the solid history through the somewhat transparent, semi-reliable veneer of his own memory. When the paperweight is crushed by the Thought Police, Winston remarks about the coral contained therein “How small… how small it always ways!” (Orwell 184) Once the coral’s transparent shield was removed, it seemed small and insignificant. Allegorically, this represents how The Party can control the abstract past by manipulating the concrete record of it. Once Oceanian society has destroyed historical records, the abstract past at its core exists only in one’s memory and is of little significance to The Party. Orwell uses situations such as these to show the reader how dedicated the authoritarian party is to controlling information, or absolute truth, because knowing the oppressed knowing an oppressor is wrong is one of the greatest threats to any tyrant. Huxley uses a similar symbol in his novel to represent the elimination of absolute truth. The ‘Brave New Worlders’ constantly use an opiate-like substance known as soma in order to effectively escape from reality. The World State uses soma to replace conventional morality, and the drug is twice compared to Christianity throughout the course of the novel. Mustapha Mond calls it “Christianity without tears” (Huxley 238). In effect, soma prevents conflict by quelling negative feelings. This is exactly the type of order and stability that the World State encourages and promotes. However, when John tosses the days soma rations out the window, he also tosses out the aforementioned order and stability. Huxley thusly shows that soma holidays, or escapes from truth and reality, have become absolutely necessary to London’s status quo, and that citizens seeing the truth is counterproductive to the World State’s goals. Ultimately, Orwell’s symbolism proves more effective than Huxley’s. The many layers to the paperweight’s meaning offer rich opportunities for interpretation and analysis and Huxley’s soma looks remarkably one-dimensional by comparison. That is not to say, however, that Huxley’s symbolism is not effective, because as a satirical device, soma effectively critiques contemporary society’s penchant for self-medication and dodging the truth. Even so, the reflection of the paperweight’s symbolism onto The Party’s frightening ability to alter the present by controlling the past offers a far more emotional experience, especially through the later chapters, for the reader of 1984. The two authors also make use of irony to communicate their themes. Indeed, the very nature of Oceanic society envisioned by Orwell is, by necessity, ironic. For...
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