Control Mechanisms in Literary Works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell

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            Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are two literary greats that have two distinct similarities between them.  First, both are Englishmen, and were subjected to the same social and political milieu in the early part of the twentieth century.  Derbyshire writes, “Huxley and Orwell are men of their place and time.  They both had memories of the old order of England—the era of casual liberty and minimal government that ended with what people of their generation called the Great War” (4).  In fact, Huxley came from a rich and rather well-known Victorian family; he was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, a famous Victorian biologist (“Brave New World” 1).  Second, these men are considered literary giants, and are prominent for being purveyors of what can be called dystopian literature. 

            Huxley, which Heptonstall calls “an intellectual” (1), wrote Brave New World, published in 1931 (Niven 1).  His student, Orwell (Heptonstall 1), which Goodman calls “a skilled writer and supreme patriot,” (2) penned 1984 in 1948.  Taylor considers both works as “part of the long tradition of dystopian writing” (1).  That is one of the reasons why these literary gems have been widely read, studied and criticized.  Derbyshire observes that “it was common for high school seniors to be told to read both Huxley’s book and Orwell’s, then to write an essay comparing the two visions”(1). These books are quite controversial, and seemingly relevant many years after they were written.  This could be because both were rather prophetic, and offered us a glimpse of what the future would hold.  Someone even notes how amazing it was that Huxley predicted quite a lot in his book (Niven 1).  Huxley and Orwell presented a seemingly perfect society, one which is drastically altered to be self-regulating, but with consequences detrimental to the human nature.  Individuality is lost; the good of the state is the primary concern.  “Both show human beings bereft of liberty” (Derbyshire 1).  Emotions are eliminated; man’s capacity to experience the range of emotions is undermined.  The function of the human mind is also neglected, due to the relentless conditioning.  The biological nature of man is also altered, and men become more like “social insects rather than mammals” (“Brave New World” 1).  The list of characteristics of human decline goes on, and both books hold such characteristics.  However, the method used to render the said characteristics differs.  Huxley’s Brave New World uses pleasure as the control mechanism, while Orwell’s 1984 use pain.  This paper aims to discuss how both books are similar because of their underlying control mechanisms, and differ on the actual control mechanism used for each one.

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            Aldous Huxley’s work is very much influenced by biology and technology.  Aside from the obvious contribution from his grandfather, he was maintained relations with two other biologists: his brother Julian, and his dear friend J.B.S. Haldane.  So it was no surprise that his work was predominantly scientific in its prediction of the future.  The title was inspired by another literary gem from fellow Englishman William Shakespeare; The Tempest, to be exact (Derbyshire 1).  The character Miranda uttered: “O brave new world, that has such people in it” (qtd. in “Brave New World” 1).  In addition, the main character John the Savage apparently speaks poetry, for he was familiar with Shakespeare’s works (“Brave New World” 1).  The basic premise was that science is mostly responsible for the modification of human nature in the story.  First,

the advances in science were responsible for the drastic change in creation.  With the advent of cloning, there is no need for parents.  “Human eggs are fertilized in laboratories then incubated under varying conditions for the mass production of people” (“Brave New World” 1).  In the light of this method of reproduction, parental involvement is non-existent.  This is where the loss of emotions begins.  If love between a mother and child is obsolete, how can other lesser emotions subsist?  Social conditioning is also the driving force in this scientifically advanced society.  Each and every member of society is assigned a specific role to play, and since there are no choices other than what is chosen for them, the people are happy and content.  For example, take a job applicant in this world.  One goes to the trouble of getting dressed, ready to be interviewed, hoping to get the job he or she desires.  However, the path to getting employed is not an easy one.  There will be other applicants who want the said position.  There exists some kind of unspoken competition between all other applicants.  Thus, several emotions will occur within the entire recruitment process.  One can feel fear of not being qualified.  One may feel excitement if the interview goes well.  One may be disappointed to find out he or she was not accepted. To those who have been persistent job seekers, frustration will be experienced if one has been looking for a job for quite some time and still has not been called back.  In Huxley’s World State, this would not be a problem.  Each individual is assigned a task suited to one’s needs.  One need not look for a job; a job will be given to him or her.  Ergo, one would not feel any emotion.  There is no need. To begin with, what is there to feel? Everything is spoon-fed to the people, there is no choice.  With this kind of social structure, it may be said that there will always be social order.  Nonetheless, if something becomes amiss, there is one perfect solution: Soma.  Just in case anyone feels down or unhappy, the drug will deal with it.  The drug “induces blissful euphoria” (“Brave New World” 1) while Derbyshire describes it as “a freely available narcotic with no side- or after-effects” (1).  This is how the state used pleasure as a control mechanism.  The social structure is solid, and to maintain this seemingly perfect condition, it has to be realized that the people involved should always stay happy.  They should remain in a “state of contented hedonism” (Derbyshire 1).  To this, one must provide an easy fix, the happy pill.  As long as they are drugged, as long as they are soaking in the illusion of happiness, they are controlled.  They can also be controlled in the sense that they can be given something to feel pain and anxiety, so that they can come and ask for the soma.  Mustapha Mond, one of the Controllers, said: “Regularly once a month.  We flood the whole system with adrenin.  It’s the complete psychological equivalent of fear and rage” (qtd. in Derbyshire 2).  The state gives out what is called the Violent Passion Surrogate, one that unleashes unhappiness, so that one will resort to the soma.  Moreover, in this given state, no room is left for morality.  Since there are no familial relations, promiscuity reigns.  Sexual relations with multiple partners are allowed.  They do this without fear of judgment, because they do not have a notion of religion.  There is no need for religion because there is no pain.  “There is no interest in traditional art or religion, because people have never felt the intense suffering or conflicts that are presupposed by art and religion (“Brave New World” 1).  There is no harm in doing senseless acts because they do not feel they are sinning.  They probably have no notion of sin at all.  They need not worry that God will punish them for promiscuous deeds because there is no god to speak of.  It is quite unnerving yet not surprising that such a society presupposes that to acknowledge some form of religion, one must be faced with the premise of suffering.  After all, science and religion were never a compatible mix.  Given these conditions, mankind devoid of emotions, choices and a notion of morality can be referred to as “soulless animals” (“Brave New World” 1).  Men are made like robots; they move about and function, and when the nuts and bolts get rusty and the robots get jumpy, they get oiled.  Or in Huxley’s case, drugged with soma.  People are controlled to submission by an artificial dose of pleasure.

            It is quite fascinating and alarming that at this day and age, Huxley’s combination of science and fiction had become fact at present.  Derbyshire believes this is the reason why anti-depressants are still widely used to this day; a modern day soma for those people who are feeling rather low.  He adds: “Soma-strength narcotics can be obtained by any American who wants them badly enough” (4). This is also rather evident in the fact that self-help books are flying off the shelves and are usually included in the best-sellers list.  It is not a drug, but people seek at least temporary solutions for their modern day problems.

            Upon closer inspection, one might see that the future Huxley tries to paint is not far from what is happening right now.  It may not be a conscious imitation of Huxley’s ideas, and he may not yet be a soothsayer of sorts, but the world today is drastically different from world a few decades ago, scientifically speaking.    In the past few years, man had been responsible for several technological advances that would directly or indirectly affect human nature.  Take stem-cell research, for instance.  It is a debatable and controversial issue now, but it is feasible and highly probable case in the future.  Cloning is another scientific advancement that seeks to alter human nature, and it has been tested on animals like sheep.  In vitro fertilization is also a hot topic of late, and many parents opt for this if the natural methods cannot be used.  Derbyshire thought these three were reminiscent of Brave New World, and that they were examples of “intervention of science in the fundamental processes of life” (1).

            The title of Huxley’s book has become a phrase that heralds a cultural revolution of sorts.  It has become “synonymous with major cultural transformations, especially those dependent on modern science and technology” (“Brave New World” 1).  Popular culture was not spared from the influence of this book; movies and music with this kind of theme appeared (“Brave New World” 1).

            Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is highly influential up to this day in reference to its use of pleasure as the state’s control mechanism.  So how does George Orwell’s Oceania in 1984 control its citizens? Unlike Huxley, there is no intoxication involved.  Derbyshire writes, “In Orwell’s dystopia the human spirit had been raped; in Huxley’s, it had been seduced.” (1).  This is a fitting description.  Huxley seemingly seduces mankind with drugs, while Orwell defiles them with pain.  Pain is Orwell’s control mechanism of choice for his 1984.

            The story is about a man named Winston Smith and the totalitarian society he lives in.  Winston lives in Oceania, which has Big Brother as dictator, and leader of the Party (Mistral 1).  He struggles with the rigid society he is in, tries to rebel against the system but fails nonetheless.  Big Brother has complete power over everything; people live in round the clock surveillance and every action is monitored.  It is quite overwhelming to think that a society can be under absolute control of a “benevolent leader…seen only in television; he never appears in public” (Goodman 1).  The government is paranoid to every single disruption; “citizens are detained and arrested on the merest suspicion of espionage” (Goodman 1).  Every movement is regulated, every act is closely supervised.  Goodman narrates, “Personal surveillance is unceasing and relentless: TV cameras that receive and transmit simultaneously are everywhere” (1).  Furthermore, there exists a Thought Police, because even anti-Party ideas are prohibited.  “The political-correctness police listen in on every conversation to match speakers to the profile of a potential saboteur” (Goodman 1).  Since the state operates on paranoia, it has formed a number of institutions that can help assist it in its totalitarian implementation.  There exists a Ministry of Love, wherein Winston and his lover were sent (Mistral 1).  There is also a Ministry of Truth which Goodman describes as “vigorously promoting lies” (1).

Orwell’s state runs in a similar vein with Huxley’s: the welfare of the state is the priority, emotions do not exist, self-regulation is the result of relentless surveillance, and mankind is conditioned as such that they cannot think for and by themselves; rather, they are completely manipulated.  However, while Huxley’s soma is used to eliminate feelings, Orwell’s state does not allow such feelings to appear in the first place.  For example, a person is sick.  This person will be given medicine to alleviate whatever pain it is he or she is feeling.  The soma is the medicine; it makes people feel better.  Big Brother, on the other hand, does not allow his people to get sick.  If you reside in Oceania and begin to have negative thoughts about the government, Big Brother will not provide a pill to eliminate those thoughts.  The fear he will instill in people would be enough to eliminate those thoughts.  The anticipated pains that will come from the very existence of those thoughts are the same ones that will render it obsolete.  The mere fact that those thoughts exist are grounds for punishment.  Mistral writes, “O’Brien takes charge of the process of ‘re-integrating’ Winston, torturing and brainwashing him until he fully believes in the Party and its doctrines” (1).  Big Brother then resorts to pain to condition its people.  It is like saying, “Do as I say, or you will be hurt.”  Striking fear into the citizen’s hearts is an effective way of conditioning them.  People would be too scared to disobey anyone who promises extreme torture and intolerable pain.  According to Goodman, “Ordinary citizens live in constant fear of arrest and imprisonment for terrorist activities” (1).  If Huxley’s World State offers an antidote to fear and sadness because they want their people to be happy, Orwell’s Oceania offers the people a reason to fear them.  Big Brother does not need happy citizens; he demands loyal and obedient ones.  He wants the people to be aware of the severe punishment they will experience.

It was thoroughly discussed that Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are two great minds with an uncanny talent to write about their respective views on dystopia that seemingly resonates until now.  They are clearly visionaries, painting us both feasible and terrifying picture of what the future might bring, leading to the destruction of human nature and ruin of the human spirit.

Both stories disregard individual needs for the sake of communal welfare.  Only the state exists; families and other relationships are unheard of.  Emotions are altered, modified, if not prohibited all together.  The human mind ceases to function at all; it is either exposed to certain substances to achieve desired effect, or it undergoes relentless brainwashing.  The body has become mechanical; every action is dictated, calculated and manipulated.  For a society to manifest such characteristics, the state should have a control mechanism to maintain its status quo.  Pleasure is Huxley’s choice, while Orwell opts for pain.

Brave New World introduces the soma, the provided drug that makes people happy whenever they are feeling any other emotion.  This brings them back to cloud nine, and pleasure is what they feel again.  As long as they are in a happy state, they are controlled.  1984 uses pain as its controlling mechanism.  The pain that comes with the punishment of breaking the rules is enough to strike fear in people and discourage disobedience all together.

They are two different mechanisms, but they achieve the same thing.  They enable people to be controlled.  Both texts are fictional; they are products of talented minds with great ideas.  However, the horror of such a distorted image of the future is not to be ignored.  Our society is not Oceania, or Huxley’s World State, but it pays to pay attention to what the future will bring, especially if it leads to the destruction of man.

Works Cited

“Brave New World.” Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics.  2006 ed.

Derbyshire, John. “Huxley’s Period Piece: Brave New World turns 75.”

National Review 5 Mar. 2007: 1-4.

Goodman, David. “Orwell’s 1984: The Future is Here.” Insight on the News

             31 Dec. 2001: 1-4.

Heptonstall, Geoffrey. “The Intellectual behind Brave World- Aldous Huxley:

An English Intellectual.” Contemporary Review Sept. 2002: 1.

Minstral, Gabriela. “1984.” BookRags Book Notes. 2006 ed.

Taylor, DJ, Nicholas Murray and Alastair Niven. “Encounter: Orwell and Huxley;

Two  Prophets of our Dystopian New World.” Independent [London] 18 Oct. 2002:1.


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Control Mechanisms in Literary Works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. (2016, Aug 19). Retrieved from

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