There’s a comic that’s been floating around on the Internet for a long time titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Stuart McMillen that compares the future that George Orwell feared in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley feared in Brave New World. I’m not quite sure when I first ran into this comic, but it led me to read Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World at around the same time.
These two books are fairly well known, but I still want to include their descriptions from Goodreads on here just in case someone doesn’t know, or remembers, what these two books are about.
The description for Nineteen Eighty-Four says: “Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .”
And the description for Brave New World says: “Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…”
It’s easy to see why these two books are often compared: they’re both dystopian novels that take place in totalitarian regimes and feature main characters who begin to question the world around them. It’s also easy to see why people compare the state slogans of “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” with “community, identity, stability.” I can also understand why people are comparing these books to what is going on in the world today. For example, the phrase “alternative facts” that has recently been introduced into everyday usage has obvious parallels to the Ministry of Truth (they control information and ensure that Big Brother is always right) in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Personally, I’m not a fan of either of these books. I don’t really know how to explain why I don’t like them, I just know that reading them was not an enjoyable experience for me.
Of these two books, I found Nineteen Eighty-Four to be easier to get through. It’s not that Brave New World isn’t easy to follow, it’s that there are a lot of scenes that leave you thinking “wait, what did I just read?” or “wait, did I just read a sex scene? Was that a giant orgy? Are giant orgies considered sex scenes?”
Brave New World fits well into the science fiction category. It focuses a lot on technology and it describes a world that exists hundreds of years in the future; one where humans are created and conditioned in a laboratory and where everyone is so distracted and conditioned to believe that everything is great.
Nineteen Eighty-Four fits more into the political commentary category (if that can be considered a genre). It also takes place in the future and it describes a world that can easily be linked and compared to the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and the fears that people may have had at the time it was written.
Overall, I prefer Brave New World over Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is partly because Brave New World is more science fiction than Nineteen Eighty-Four and I enjoy a good science fiction novel from time to time. This is also because I find Huxley’s prediction about what will happen to the world to be more plausible than Orwell’s prediction. In the comic that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the final panel says “In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” I don’t think that the world is ever going to be controlled by the “World State” or that humans will be created and conditioned in laboratories, but I can appreciate the idea that the sheer number of distractions and the search for pleasure could lead to people becoming dangerously passive about the world around them.
Rating: Brave New World -> 3/5 stars!
Rating: Nineteen Eighty-Four -> 2.5/5 stars!