Four literary dystopias by Zachary Sunter

We have all heard of and read 1984, but George Orwell’s acclaimed novel is merely the tip of the iceberg for renowned dystopias in literature. For centuries, writers have provided perspective on what they envision a dystopian future to look like; typically in terms of an oppressive government that restricts individual freedoms and suppresses human rights. However, every dystopia is unique and different from another, even if grounded in the same violation of basic principles that we take to be common rights in our modern society.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is easily one of the most famous dystopian novels after George Orwell’s 1984, precisely because the reader is able to recognise the immoral and distorted facets of the society while being able to empathise with the majority of characters who simply do not know any better. Huxley takes the utilitarian stance of attempting to obtain maximum happiness for as many people as possible to extremes, in terms of rampant drug use and promiscuity. The ‘brave new world’ that Huxley envisions is a world that defies our moral and ethical conventions yet is able to appeal to the primitive human psyche, where faithfulness and intellectual stimulation are secondary to happiness and pleasure.
Huxley’s Brave New World portrays a world that reinforces societal class boundaries with biological ones, deciding the future jobs of every human through genetic engineering. Furthermore, every individual is psychologically conditioned to respond positively and negatively to certain stimuli, leading the reader to question what defines each person as individuals when their feelings, thoughts and fears have been manipulated by someone else.

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is perhaps best known for its adaptation into one of the best horror films by arguably one of the best directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick. However, Burgess’ novel is, in itself, a masterpiece that probes into the boundaries a government is willing to stretch in order to maintain power. A Clockwork Orange is simultaneously simple and complex, using words mostly borrowed from Russian to simulate a language used by the youth of the future, while telling a story of the rehabilitation rebellious youth – Alex – who enjoys rape, pillage and slaughter.
Burgess draws upon the concept of conditioning, similar to Huxley, imbuing the futuristic super-state with a capacity for evil by extending this concept from electric shocks to visceral film footage of murder and carnage. To an extent, the experimental technique involving exceedingly violent images used on Alex is a kind of brainwashing, with the objective of forcing him to reevaluate his personal beliefs about his actions. The method achieves some success, causing Alex to feel nauseous even when considering the act of murder. However, the reader is forced to question the ethics and morality methods employed by the political regime that push social and scientific boundaries in pacifying dissidents and maintaining power.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is simple and funny, yet clever, self-aware and powerful, a book about a future in which books are censored by a totalitarian regime. Where Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange are centred around the attempts of a government to control individual freedom and liberties, Fahrenheit deals more directly with the censorship of information and knowledge and the profound effects that this change has on human civilisation. Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman – he burns the books inside houses instead of putting out fires. However, when he a girl named Clarisse, he acquires a new perspective on his job and reconsiders the harm that he is causing to society. Bradbury argues that books are integral to an educated and fully-functioning society, and Fahrenheit is a scary image of what is to come if we prevent the circulation of information due to censorship.
Ray Bradbury’s greatest fear in Fahrenheit 451 is society’s eventual lack of interest in books, a fear that is becoming more relevant in our modern age as the mediums of TV and movies become increasingly popular. This is exemplified through the character Captain Beatty, who arguably is of greater symbolic significance than Guy Montag himself. Beatty grew up as a child enthralled with books, but is unable to find the answers that he truly desires within them as he grows older, and begins to develop a hatred for one of the things that he once loved. Beatty becomes a captain of the fire brigade, willingly burning books that contain countless amounts of information, stories, poetry because he despises the act of reading. Perhaps, Bradbury’s fear will soon be realised, as we continue to progress away from books towards digital media.

Feed – M.T. Anderson

 

Feed stands out on this shortlist as a modern young-adult novel compared with the three other older dystopian novels focused towards older audiences. However, Feed has a specific power, and that power is much like A Clockwork Orange – language. Anderson uses language typical of the youth of the current generation – superfluous ‘like’s and so on, but also introduces words like ‘mal’ (bad) which are unfamiliar to signify a linguistic transformation in parallel to a time-based and societal one. Unlike Clockwork Orange, the words are more easily inferred by context, and forces you to concentrate on what Titus is attempting to say without being swamped by incomprehensive and needing to use look up the words online. Anderson flawlessly implements a language that is very similar to our own, yet has its subtle differences, and it is these differences that prompt us to the realisation that the world he has created is different from our own.
Anderson’s use of language is what truly allows the reader to visualise a future in which people have become so integrated into the digital world that it literally exists as a physical part of their body. The ‘feed’ is a chip planted into your brain; a full-body implementation of what we currently have as laptops, smartphones and TVs. It allows you to listen to music, what ‘feedcasts’ (the equivalent of TV shows) and access information wherever you are. However, the feed is a business-motivated initiative, and allows advertisers to promote their products at all stages of your life, and waters down individual preference and taste to a single monoculture. By attempting to promote goods and services that promote to a wide audience, individuality is collectively reduced to form a society that is seemingly similar to our own, but without true individual expression or freedom. Feed is perhaps more terrifying than the other books I have listed because the future it portrays is easily imaginable and seemingly not that far away, a distant possibility that can occur when capitalism is permitted to literally invade our bodies and control our thoughts and decisions.

Posted by Zachary Sunter

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