Dystopian Novels Compared… Orwell vs. Huxley

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “1984” by George Orwell are two of the most well-known dystopian novels, each painting a bleak picture of a future society controlled by a totalitarian regime. While both novels depict a world where individual freedom is curtailed, they approach the theme in different ways, with “Brave New World” focusing on a society where people are manipulated into compliance through pleasure and conditioning, while “1984” portrays a world where fear, surveillance, and brute force are used to maintain control.

In “Brave New World”, Huxley imagines a society that has achieved stability through technological advancements, mass production, and psychological conditioning. Individuals are conditioned from birth to accept their predetermined roles and are kept docile and content through the use of drugs, entertainment, and sex. The citizens of Huxley’s world are more focused on their own pleasure than on fighting for their rights or questioning the system.

On the other hand, Orwell’s “1984” presents a world where the ruling Party maintains control through the constant surveillance of its citizens and the brutal suppression of any dissent. The government manipulates language, history, and even the thoughts of its people, creating a reality where the truth is whatever the Party says it is. Fear and the threat of violence are the primary means of control, with the protagonist Winston Smith ultimately succumbing to the oppressive regime.

Both novels have had a significant impact on the world around us, serving as cautionary tales that warn against the dangers of totalitarianism, surveillance, and the erosion of individual freedoms. “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster, another dystopian work, similarly explores the consequences of technological dependency and the loss of human connection. J.G. Ballard’s “Memories of the Space Age” offers a collection of dystopian short stories that reflect on the psychological and societal implications of space exploration and the abandonment of Earth.

Huxley’s letter to Orwell provides insight into the author’s belief that the ruling elite would ultimately find more efficient ways to govern, like those presented in “Brave New World”, rather than relying on brute force. While both novels have examples in today’s world, such as surveillance and the manipulation of information, it could be argued that Huxley’s vision has become more reflective of our reality. The rise of technology and social media has created a world where people are constantly seeking pleasure and validation, often at the expense of privacy and critical thinking.

However, Huxley’s assertion that hypnotism and narco-hypnosis would become the primary tools of control has not fully materialized. While the manipulation of public opinion through the media and the internet is prevalent, the methods employed today are more subtle and varied than Huxley anticipated.

In conclusion, “Brave New World” and “1984” each offer a distinct and harrowing vision of a dystopian future, with both novels remaining relevant today as we grapple with issues of surveillance, censorship, and the erosion of individual freedoms. As Huxley suggested, our society has evolved in ways that increasingly resemble the world he imagined, yet the darker elements of Orwell’s vision continue to haunt us. The enduring legacy of these novels serves as a powerful reminder of the need to remain vigilant and protect our rights in an ever-changing world.

Letter from Huxley to Orwell:

Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large-scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley