লেখক: Debraj Moulick
শিল্পী: Team Kalpabiswa
Science Fiction has been successful in instigating imaginary futures for humanity. The two most distinctive features include utopia and dystopia. Utopia refers to a perfect society, whereas dystopia refers to a social order without the value of human life in a general sense. It is an invented world in which ominous tendencies of our present social, political, and technological order are projected into a catastrophic society in the future.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1952), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) are regarded as some of the finest examples of dystopian science fiction.
It is time to delve into the first two dystopian classics, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
William Shakespeare, in his play The Tempest (1611), utters the phrase ‘Brave New World’ in an ironical manner to represent the evils of an island, the setting of his above-mentioned play:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t. (The Tempest, Act V, Scene II)
Aldous Huxley, an established writer of social satire, derives the title of his fifth novel in order to offer a futuristic society aided by scientific supremacy and technological terrorism. There is no place for love or human emotion. There are hardly any crimes; there are no protests or revolutions because there are no voices left in society. The capitalist way is the way of life, for there is one thing in abundance: the curse of consumerism. The whole society is like a big manufacturing unit where babies are produced (natural deliveries are not allowed by the state) in test tubes with modern technologies. People are safe; they are content with materialistic output with the help of the Happiness Agency; pleasure is abundant; sex has become a commodity; and just a tap is needed. Are you able to relate to it? Then you are a citizen of the same new world order. There’s plenty of everything for everyone. God is symbolised as the corporate superpower, T. There are no books. The filtered information is conveyed to the citizen through the preordained ways of the state. Then, there are drug-induced therapies. People never look for anything; they are never in need, and more importantly, they lack the ability to feel and think.
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” (Brave New World)
The novel comes up with some remarkable characters. Ford is one of the most promising characters in the novel, but you are going to loathe him. He is the uncrowned king with godly status in London, 632 AF, not AD but AF, where F is for Ford. It is a society where caste is predetermined in factories, and people have ample opportunity for pleasure and social buffoonery. Max and his girlfriend, during a visit to a faraway land, experience the notion of being human, born into a natural womb, suffering from diseases, displaying emotions, and, more importantly, practising religion. It is in total contrast with the society in which they have been living for years. Max meets John, an educated person who has read actual books. He is well-versed in the works of William Shakespeare and science. However, ironically, books are absent in the mainstream society of the New World. Max plays the vital character of a psychologist who questions the way of the new world; he opposes the state’s unethical and unwritten policy of supplying citizens with intoxicating drugs.
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four sets the totalitarian state of the tyrannical leader Big Brother. The plotline revolves around Winston Smith, a mid-level ordinary worker at the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One, former Great Britain. Winston Smith’s frustration with the ways of the party led him to the discovery of the resistance group Brotherhood and a formidable relationship with Julia. Oceania is in a state of eternal war with the other superpower, Eurasia. However, midway through, it is revealed that the real enemy is East Asia. The novel depicts a society under a totalitarian government aided by the Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Love, and Thought Policy; thinking is again a crime in this dystopian society. The government constantly toils to publish fabricated facts and ideologies in books.
Big Brother is the holistic symbol of surveillance who watches over every individual through a technologically advanced gadget like a television set and mauls over the privacy of the people with a recurring statement:
“Big Brother is watching you” (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
The party’s rule is like a holy sermon that cannot be ignored, and if someone is flouting the rule, some terrible ways of torture are reserved for them. Winston discovers a book, and it exposes the actual facts of history. The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein is a banned book within a book that provides a contrast between reality and the textual attitude in the book. The narrative follows the ordinary journey of two lovers fed up with the false propaganda of the ruling body and their subsequent victimisation owing to treacherous entities within the resistance group.
The novel is inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s WE (1924), a Russian dystopian classic about a totalitarian society. Orwell’s book is a social commentary about the pitfalls of totalitarian reign in the distant future. It has been influential in coining phrases like ‘Orwellian’, ‘DoubleThink’, ‘ThoughtPolice’, and ‘Newspeak’ in popular culture. The book was conceived at a critical time (1949) of the post-atomic age when humanity was still in the horrible hangover of the destructive possibilities of human greed with the aid of science and technology. It is still a horrifying portrayal of a dystopian future where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. The democratic socialist state of Oceania has been modelled after the authoritarian states of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany.
Contrary to Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World presents a glimpse of an ideal society. The inhabitants of Huxley’s universe are not starving to death and are living life to the fullest. Huxley’s civilisation lacks the continual danger of approaching war, whereas Orwell’s society is perpetually at war. There is a sense of peace in the Brave New World. In 1546, Sir Thomas More’s novel Utopia was published, which emphasised the creation of an ideal society by eradicating human suffering. Huxley creates a utopian society on two different levels, primarily on a physical level and then a psychosomatic level. The development and unprecedented advancement of genetic engineering and psychological conditioning created a social sphere devoid of frustration, ambition, and jealousy. People are constantly engaged in unbiased and frequent sexual acts, thereby eliminating crimes of passion and, more importantly, any kind of strong emotion in people. Drugs developed by the state also check the growth of sentiment and passion in civilians. The World State created by Huxley offered an almost faultless society without psychologically traumatised people, criminal activities, perpetual war, and, most importantly, unhealthy individuals. But it was a utopia on the surface because people were actually the lab rats in the labs of a totalitarian government with overall power over mind, body, and human nature. Brave New World is a way darker abyss in the world of dystopian literature. It is the postmodern projection of human society relying heavily on the capitalist nature of consumerism, almost identical to the society we live in.
The omnipotent figures Ford and Big Brother channel their authority in two distinctive ways in Oceania and the United States, respectively. The former offers pleasure to the population, while the latter induces fear in the mind of the citizen. The citizens of the World State are busy consuming the ecstasy offered by bioengineering, psychological pills, education, and physical pleasure, while the people of Oceania are living in a constant state of paranoia, fear, forced ideologies, and, most importantly, pain. The totalitarian government is extremely paranoid about knowledge; thus, books are non-existent in Huxley’s world, the facts of books are altered in Orwell’s world, books are reduced to ashes in Bradbury’s1 world, and most of the great books are banned in Dick’s2 world. Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four do not offer a sneak peek into the future, but they provide an almost first-person experience of futuristic societies. The notion of individuality is a myth in the societies depicted in these texts. In both cases, the state is an all-powerful body regulating each and every aspect of human life with the help of technology. Science fiction has been identified as one of the most influential genres to influence the world of scientific and technological advancements in human life. From Verne’s Nautilus3 to Bradbury’s Huge Television and Fingerprint Reader to Star Trek’s Original Series’ Mobile Phones4, the list goes on. It seems to be a fertile bed of imagination and a place for exciting features. But with the publication of the two classics, the readers were stunned to learn about the flip side of scientific and technological advancements. So, what happens when an all-powerful state controls its people with the aid of technology? Find it out in the definitive work of Huxley and Orwell.
- Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Gallimard, 1989.
- Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle. Penguin Classics, 2001
- Verne, Jules. Twenty thousand leagues under the seas. Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Booker, M. Keith. Star Trek: A cultural history. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.