In an ideal society, people are free and maintain the ability to be true to themselves. No one would want to be forced to conform to a harsh system of government and live under strict control and observation. However, it is a small minority that avoids the manipulation of their rulers.
Due to their “insight and resulting protest, only they are made to feel the punitive measures of the state” (Eldrich/UT Press). Such situations are depicted in three futuristic novels: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In each of these novels, citizens live in dystopian societies where they are forced to live under different types of governmental influences. In 1984, a man named Winston lives in Oceania under a totalitarian government, and struggles to divert from his life in the society and avoid being brainwashed. In Brave New World, people live by reproductive technology under psychological influence in a society called the World State. Handmaid’s Tale depicts a totalitarian society in which women are property of the state. 1984, Brave New World, and Handmaid’s Tale all depict dystopian societies that show characteristics of totalitarian government systems.
People are forced into societies they must conform to, even though they try to keep their own personal happiness and go against the government’s society. As a result, the government proves to be stronger than the individual. In 1984, Winston initially shows strength to rebel against the government and live as an individual. He proves his ability to escape the strict observation and control that citizens of Oceania have succumbed to. Everyone is being watched carefully by the Thought Police, who have even set up surveillance cameras all around town to ensure that nobody violates their laws against individual thought. Winston is able to secretly write a diary, avoiding the cameras placed in his apartment: “His eyes re-focused on the page. He discovered that while he sat helplessly musing he had also been writing, as though by automatic action.
And it was no longer the same cramped, awkward handwriting as before. His pen had slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals—DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” (1984/Orwell/pg.18)Winston’s actions prove the power of the individual, as it is shown that his thoughts are occuring naturally.
At this moment, there appears to be hope for the indivual, since Winston can express his own ideas while the other citizens are being brainwashed. Through this capacity to dictate the events in the history of the community, the ruling party can make false claims and lies as societal truths, thus allowing them to exert authoritarian control over the populace. Winston attempts to revolt from the ruling regime in the novel 1984 on several occasions. For instance, Winston begins to keep a record in his diary, which is a direct violation of the statutes laid out by the governing authority. However, despite all his attempts, Winston finally fails to achieve his desired freedoms and ends up conforming to the rule and authority of the governing party.
One of the main instruments that the ruling party controls to limit the individual development of the population is the media. By controlling the flow of information, the ruling party can dictate the beliefs and truths of the society and retain their authoritarian control of the community:”This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, soundtracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance.” (1984/Orwell/p. 40)This shows the power that the ruling party has in dictating the flow of information to the public. By controlling the contents of all forms of mass media including television and print, the ruling authority can modify the beliefs and history of the society to suit the agenda of the regime. In the end, the members of the public do not stand a chance of attaining their individuality in a regime governed by authoritarian control. Therefore, the ruling regime is stronger than the ordinary citizen in influencing societal and individual perceptions as well as beliefs. The story of Brave New World is another description of a society where the ruling regime or government exercises control over the freedoms and privileges of the population as a strategy to reduce incidences of revolt and create a fully submissive community.
The reader is presented with a selection of characters who fail to fit into society due to their place of birth or their physical differences. The ruling regime in the novel maintains the belief that peace and stability in the community cannot come from a pursuit of equality. Instead, the ruling authority believes that suppressing the creativity and eliminating elements of beauty in the world remain the surest ways of maintaining happiness for all citizens. Mustapha, one of the rulers of the World State, claims his commitment to maintaining stability in society: “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery.
And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” (Brave New World/Huxley/p.
194)However, certain characters in the novel live unhappy lives in the society that they cannot avoid. One character named John shows how restrictions in the societal structure compel individuals to fit into a community regardless of their opinions and views on social issues. Since he is a part of both Savages and the community, John faces rejection from all divides of the society. One of the outstanding differences about John that motivates the rejection he faces is the fact that he is the only one born naturally among the Savages. As a result of the constant rejection John faces in his community, he results to other strategies in an attempt to escape the harsh reality. Part of the strategies that John uses to escape the rejection includes reading Shakespeare and often using his imagination. However, none of these attempts is successful in erasing the plight that John faces in his community. In the end, John undergoes a lot of mental suffering and begins to loathe himself, due to all the things he has done contrary to the expectations of the society.
After escaping to a lighthouse, John whips himself, feeling guilty and angry. The next morning, he commits suicide. This decision is the result of John’s difficult situation, where he was unable to escape his society.
One of the repetitive thematic elements that emerges in the story of Brave New World is the idea that the ruling authority amasses from exercising various restrictions on the privileges of its citizens. These citizens are specially designed for their supposed roles in society at the Conditioning Center factory, run by the Director. When he is introduced, the mantra echoed by the ruling party centers on the limiting of human leisure and creative thinking to create the illusion of happiness and peace in society: “And that is the secret of happiness and virtue- liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aimsat that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.” (Brave New World/Huxley/p. 12)This notion indicates that the government retains their control over the population by creating a scenario where the freedom of the citizens remains limited to the expectations of the community. The declaration shows a situation of perceived normalcy with no room for change or development away from the systems set up by the ruling party.
The story of The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian depiction of a society where members must conform to the unfair restrictions defined by the ruling class to maintain some resemblance of order and peace in the society. The women of the society are treated as objects whose only value lies in their ability to bear children. The main character, Offred, experiences despair at the realization that her main worth in the community is nothing more than her womb: “I used to think of my body as an instrument, of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an implement for the accomplishment of my will . . .
Now the flesh arranges itself differently. I’m a cloud, congealed around a central object, the shape of a pear, which is hard and more real than I am and glows red within its translucent wrapping.” (Handmaid’s Tale/Atwood/pp.
73-74)The society that Offred lives in presents a future where the structure of the societal hierarchy changes after the ruling authority decides that the old system was harmful to the human race. The rights of women are restricted by the patriarchal male-dominated regime. Among the restrictions is the sexual freedom of the female population. Owing to the rising infertility rates, the males get a handmaid assigned to them for the purposes of reproduction. This statute is the premise behind the sexual relationship between Offred and her Commander. While this declaration restricted the sexual freedom of the females, the ruling males saw it as a measure to ensure continuity of the population and to maintain morality. In keeping her violations under wraps, Offred goes to show the level of intimidation and fear that the population, especially females, has towards authority in the society. The first instance emerges when she does not oppose the proposition by her doctor to impregnate her since the Commander may be sterile.
“‘I could help you,’ he says…Whispers. ‘What?’ I say … ‘I could help you.
I’ve helped others’ …
‘the door is locked. No one will come in. They’ll never know it isn’t his.’ … ‘Most of the old guys can’t make it anymore …, or they’re sterile.’ I almost gasp: he said a forbidden word, sterile. ‘It’s too dangerous,’ I say. ‘No I can’t.
‘ The penalty is death. I put on my clothes again behind the screen. My hands are shaking. Why am I frightened? I’ve crossed no boundaries, I’ve given no trust, taken no risk, all is safe. It’s the choice that terrifies me. Away out, a salvation.” (Handmaid’s Tale/Atwood/pp. 70-71)Offred does not seem to be in opposition to this idea.
After three attempts with her Commander, there was no success in getting pregnant. As such, Offred was afraid that she seemed unable to complete her duties as a handmaid to bear children. However, it also emerges in the story that the validation behind Offred’s violation of the common law is an attempt to achieve her individual goals. Despite all this, Offred is caught in violation of the law and is taken away before the abrupt end of the novel. Brave New World, 1984, and Handmaid’s Tale all depict situations where the ruling regime does not allow citizens to have any independent thoughts that may cause them to forsake the ways stipulated by those in charge. In all three situations, the strength of the ruling party over the individual’s attempt to break free from the ruling regime’s statutes emerges clearly. In each novel, there is always an apparent “option of either freedom and anarchy or repression and security” (Ingersoll/Journal of the Fantastic). The three novels also show the ulterior motives that drive the strategies used by the ruling regime to limit the freedom of the citizens.
As such, the three books serve as an indication that dystopian societies thrive on limiting the personal happiness of their citizens, since this gives them significant control over peoples actions and even their minds. This assures the government unquestioned loyalty.