1984 versus Brave New World

Hello and welcome once again to The Young Reader’s Review! Winter has now arrived; wind blows and numbs our limbs, the trees have been denuded and the summer sky has been shrouded with lingering grey billows that darken our days. Yet, the relaxing holidays are approaching little by little. So sit back on your couch, drink a hot chocolate while you savor the warmth of the fireside, and enjoy this exciting new book review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley versus 1984 by George Orwell. If you haven’t read these books, either find them now to read as promptly as possible or go see my previous book reviews about them. 

If you have been among us for a while, you might know that 1984 was my very first book-blog review. Without this book, that is very sentimentally important to me, this blog would probably not have existed. A couple of weeks later, I reviewed another one of my favorite books: Brave New World. After this, I was officially hooked on dystopian literature. 

Dystopian fiction: an implicit insight into a forbidden truth

But what is dystopian literature? We’ve heard of it before, but what is it really? This genre is when the author denounces an economic, political or social problem by emphasizing one of the aforementioned in our society. It can be said to be a sub-genre of science-fiction. But contrary to for example Dune (go check out my book review on this book to know more!), these books convey an important message. Usually, the protagonist is part of a hierarchized propagandist society and gradually realizes that the heads of society are camouflaging the brutal reality. Dystopian fiction is the contrary of utopian fiction (a sort of Elysium: the story takes place in a world where everything is perfect), nevertheless we will see that, surprisingly, these two parallel worlds can meet in an eerie, but captivating manner. 

The authors: trauma, passion and revenge:

Let us start with how the infamous Big Brother came to be. George Orwell, a nom de plume for Eric Blair, fought against General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This war left an unhealable scar inside of him. He was disgusted by totalitarian regimes and by the inhumanity and violence of war. This disgust was most probably amplified by Josef Stalin’s dictatorship (he was a Russian communist dictator from the 1920s-1953 and was the General Secretary of the Soviet Union) and by Adolf Hitler's. The reason I want you to know this is because these themes are implicit and predominant in 1984 and it is always more interesting to know the “story behind the story”. 

So now for the “perfect world” where you can consume drugs brazenly and have sexual relations with whomever you want and without worrying about the menace of having to raise those nasty little creatures called “children”. Aldous Huxley, grew up piling trauma after trauma: his mother died of cancer, at the age of seventeen he was diagnosed with a chronic disease called punctate keratis (in short, it is an illness where cells in your eyes die making you partially blind) and then his brother committed suicide after struggling with depression.

The stories compared: 134 000 words that appalled, moved, and most of all, made people think:

Huxley’s utopian “brave new world” has more similarities with Orwell’s London, Oceania surveilled by the notorious Big Brother than you can imagine. 

The protagonists:

In Brave New World, the protagonist Bernard Marx is part of the society’s elites and finds himself submerged in a phase of boredom even though he supposedly has everything to be happy: soma (a sort of drug), a job that has been scientifically proved to suit him and his mental capacities, friends and sex. 

In 1984, Winston Smith is a clerk at the Records Department of the Ministry of truth: he either deletes history or creates fictional past events to embellish Big Brother. He finds it difficult to understand the use of doublethink (a part of newspeak, a language that limits people’s freedom of speech and indoctrinates people with lies) which is why he feels like a misfit and fails to understand the world around him. This is a part of the people’s brainwashing since the people engage in doublethink to subdue to peer pressure and the fear of the Thought Police). 

Already, Winston Smith and Bernard Marx have one thing in common: their names. Winston Smith is named after Winston Churchill (British statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during W.W.II.) and Smith is what you could call a typical English last name. So Winston Smith is supposed to be an ordinary person in a world of ordinary people, but, he has a rebellious side to him that fights against oppression (Just as Churchill fought against Adolf Hitler). The name Bernard Marx obviously comes from Karl Marx (German philosopher and economist whom is the father of Communism) and Bernard comes from the West Germanic bern-hard which means “bear-hardy” or brave. Therefore, Bernard Marx and Winston Smith have practically the same meaning; brave, ordinary, men who fight against totalitarianism. These types of protagonists, a common person that rebels, is a characteristic of dystopian fiction (another example could be Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451)

While reading Brave New World and 1984 you cannot help but relate to Bernard and Winston since they are, for us, “normal people”. We don’t understand either how these strange utopian and dystopian societies came to be, so it is somewhat reassuring to see that there is somebody in the book that feels the same as we do. This makes following their stories “mentally” simpler. 

The historical context:

In 1927, the car company Ford makes a revolutionizing step in industrialization with the Ford T-Model, a car financially accessible to the middle-class American and debuting mass-production and new technologies. Also, in the 1920s and 1930s, more and more people start to question the meaning of religion, morality and consequently, gender roles and sexual openness. These themes are recurrent in this book. But, Brave New World has an unsettling side to it: yes, it might have been published in 1932, but it prophesizes wars that were bound to come and problems in our modern society that were beforehand, unthinkable (e.g.: World War Two, the outburst of total mass-production and materialism, a warning about new technologies, today’s politicians…). Don’t you agree that this is borderline sinister?

Oppression and brain-washing:


Both of these books have the same general theme: tyranny. In Brave New World, Huxley imagined the fictitious leader of society to be Henry Ford (yes, just like the one that invented the Model-T), a man that in this book is praised as an absolute god and who doesn’t seem to be threatening anybody. In 1984, Big Brother, a despot that physically resembles Stalin, is said to be “watching you” at all times, being sure that you don’t do anything that could disgrace him. But then, how are these two books similar?

While reading Brave New World, I felt as if there was no direct danger, even no danger at all, even though society was strongly hierarchized and organized to the extreme. It’s a utopia: everything seems to be like a never-ending cycle of gears smoothly and unperturbedly meshing with other gears. But as we all know, this is impossible and that is what this book is all about. 

The biggest difference between 1984 and Brave New World is in how the brain-washing is executed. Big Brother uses the fear of the Thought Police and the fear that one day, you can just arbitrarily disappear and never come back, to control the population. We all remember the famous 1984 scene in room 101 where Winston was tortured with what he hated: rats. Meanwhile, Huxley writes how a dictator can attain supremacy with comforting the people with entertainment. These two points of view are completely antithetical, but still get the exact same result: authority. But, does this mean that Huxley thought that what we love can control us? Did Orwell believe that what we fear and detest can also control us? 

What struck me while reading these two books was the contrast between love and death. It is known that Winston Smith is in love with Julia even though such relationships are forbidden. Bernard Marx loves Lenina Crowe who takes soma to suppress emotions. In both cases, there is a barrier in the face of love. In 1984, even child-parent and parent-child love is nonexistent since children often report their parents to the Thought Police and Winston Smith doesn’t recall any attachment to his mother whatsoever. Love could only be directed towards the Big Brother Party or Henry Ford. 

In 1984, people just disappear, never seen again. In Brave New World, children are accommodated with the fact that death is pleasant. In extreme situations, such as utopias and dystopias, death seems to become something common with no sentimental value. Perhaps this was what Orwell felt when he was at war. 

To conclude, both of these amazing books have strong and virulent messages that have definitely had an impact on my view of totalitarianism.

So that is it for this week’s book review! I hope that you have enjoyed this new type of post, because I personally took great pleasure in writing it. Of course, I will also keep on writing book reviews on a single book but this war between the two biggest dystopian books of all time has been a very preoccupying subject for me. Don’t forget to like, share and follow me on Google + for book related posts! Have a great day (Credit to the arrests Stuart McMillen for the illustrations)! (☆▽☆)

Copyright © 2017 Margaux Emmanuel

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