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Although they seem to portray two completely opposite dystopias, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 are two sides of the same coin, as they both warn of the dangers of an all-powerful government. Both their personal lives and the social climate in which they lived in contributed in the shaping of their novels into the disturbingly brilliant pieces of literature that are praised today.
Huxley’s childhood provides great insight into some of the many influences of his work. Born in July 26, 1894, Aldous Huxley lived in England up until the age of 43. With a schoolmaster as a father and a biologist and Darwinism advocate as a grandfather, Huxley was heavily influenced and surrounded by science as a child. Being taught by his father in his botanical laboratory, he grew to become extraordinarily intelligent. (TheFamousPeople.com Editors) Growing up in this lab may have also inspired him to make up “Bokan ovsky’s Process” (Huxley, 7), a fictional human cloning process similar to manually pollinating and fertilizing a flower. He also faced great trauma in his youth, as he lost his mother to cancer at fourteen years old.
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Six years later, his brother hung himself due to depression. (Biography.com Editors) These two significant experiences were translated through Huxley’s work, as the protagonist, John, watches his mother die of a soma-overdose, then later hangs himself. For three years during this time, he suffered from keratitis punctata, which left him partially blind. Although he originally studied science at Eton College, this disease hindered his goals of becoming a scientist, so he later went on to graduate from Balliol College in Oxford with a degree in English literature. Huxley was also known for his involvement in the Vedanta Society of Southern California, where he promoted the legalization of psychedelic drugs like LSD and ecstasy. Perhaps, his experiences with these hallucination-inducing, euphoric sedatives influenced his description of soma. (Hartney)
Huxley’s award-winning novel, Brave New World, was written in 1932. Although he lived in England at the time, the social climate of America significantly influenced Huxley’s work. After World War I came the roaring twenties. Morale was very high for America, as they faced an economic boost due to the many technological advances taking place. A notable figure during this industrial surge was Henry Ford with his creation of the assembly line, which heavily impacted the consumerism of America. Ford’s impact on America’s economic flow directly relates to Brave New World, as Huxley depicts Ford as a god for his ground-breaking invention that set the foundation for the brave new world’s society. This new-found consumerism was beneficial for the economy, but also led to citizens relying too heavily on credit and go into debt. This carelessness unfortunately lead to the Great Depression.
Huxley shows his views of America’s mindset before the Great Depression through the values that the citizens of the Brave New World held. Even Linda, an outcast of the society, understood this, as she says, “And look at these clothes. This beastly wool isn’t like acetate. It lasts and lasts… Besides, it never used to be right to mend clothes. Throw them away when they’ve got holes in them and buy new”. (Huxley, 81) With the roaring twenties being a time of prosperity, society also began to have looser morals. Therefore, came introduction of flappers, who drank and smoked freely, tried controversial fashion choices and were less conservative all around, just like the citizens of the Brave New World. The society of Brave New World portrays these same loose morals in phrases such as “Hug me till you drug me, honey; Kiss me till I’m in a coma; Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny; Love’s as good as soma.”(Huxley, 111) Huxley’s choice to make these comparisons may have been both to criticize America and to warn them of what could happen if their current behavior went too far.
Unlike Huxley, George Orwell was born in Motihari, India by a different name, Eric Arthur Blair. Since his father worked as an official in the Indian civil service, he was brought up as a lower middle-class citizen, having enough to get by, but not living lavishly, like the protagonist of 1984, Winston. (Woodcock) After living in England for much of his childhood, he decided to go back to India at 19 to work in the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma. This did not last for long though, because he soon quit his job in disgust of the imperialistic government and British colonial system.
Instead of being apart of the oppressive system he witnessed, he chose to live a life of poverty in London and Paris. Later, he served in Spain as a second Lieutenant for the Civil War and worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation, where he witnessed officials administering unconstitutional treatment towards the citizens, similar to what was written in his novel, 1984, such as the public executions, constant surveillance, forced labor, torture and propaganda. Orwell’s experiences both with the oppressed Burmese citizens and the lower-class citizens of Europe shaped the society seen in 1984, from the “swarming, disregarded masses” (Orwell, 89) known as the proles, to the “ambitious members” (Orwell, 264) of the Outer Party. Orwell died in 1950 on the remote island of Jura from tuberculosis.
1984 was published in a few years after the end of World War II. The Central Powers in which Orwell served to fight against were being led by Adolf Hitler, who came into power by using propaganda, violence and the poverty in Germany to his advantage. Orwell’s portrayal of Big Brother as an all-seeing, austere, yet just leader reflects the projected image of Hitler in Germany during the War. Orwell also created the oppressive, controlling government of 1984 to criticize the totalitarian and communist views of the countries aligned with the Central Powers. Despite the looming threat that communism bore during the war, there were a few beacons of hope that fought back. One prominent figure was Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain, who strove to bring peace to all and stood as a figure of resistance and freedom. Perhaps, Orwell’s choice to name Winston, who was ultimately defeated by the oppressive government, after Churchill, a symbol of freedom and rebellion for the world, served as a warning of what can happen if the totalitarian regime continued for much longer.
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