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West Chester University

Fall 2004and
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Spring 2003

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Course Information
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements
  LIT 165 Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assigmments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
  Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
  Notes on 'Before the Law'
  Samuel Beckett Links
  Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
  Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
  Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
  Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
  ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
  DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
  Suggested Readings: Independent Project
  Utopia/Dystopia Links
  Character Analysis: Brave New World
  Analyzing the Brave New World
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on the Brave New World
  A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Dante Links
  Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
  Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
  Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
  Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
  Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
  Introducing Canto I
  Approaching the Divine Comedy
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
  Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
  The Birthmark
  Leaf By Niggle
  Responses to Leaf By Niggle
  'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
  Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
  Analyzing the Mythic Tales
  The Four Functions of Myth
  Myth and Metaphor
  Myth - Links
  Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
  Allegory
  'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
  Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
  Alice In Wonderland
  The Metamorphosis

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
  Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
  Commentary: Following Up Your Response
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources
  What is Argument?
  Parts of an Argument
  Casebook Assignment Sheet
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
  Expressive Writing
  Short Stories About Identity
  Thoughts on Stories About Identity
  Poems About Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Mind-map: Identity

ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
  ENG Q20 Syllabus
  Frederick Douglass Excerpt
  Propaganda Analysis
  How to Detect Propaganda
  George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda Analysis Exercise

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ Embarking on the Brave New World ~~

How do we move from Dante's Inferno into Huxley's Brave New World? It might seem like a bit of a jarring transition. We're jumping ahead from 1321 to 1932, over six hundred years from the medieval era to our modern one, from an agricultural age to an industrial one, from brilliant poetry to flat prose. How can we bridge this gap?

One way to bridge this distance is to see some of the interesting parallels between the two works. Of course, they both present imaginary worlds, but beyond that there are some very interesting parallels (and perpendiculars) for us to note.

First, although the difference in time periods is striking, we've already noted that Dante, in his representation of the "self," the "individual," represents a kind of turning from the classical/early medieval view of the self. He is more modern than his dates might make him seem, and an attentive reading of the Inferno bears out his ability to create vividly human individuals who are more (and less) than grand embodiments of abstract ideas. In that sense, Dante may be the more powerful and even more "modern" artist than Huxley; though Huxley is closer to us in time, and equally as provocative, his characters seem less like individuals and more like types, like human cutouts in a philosophical puzzle.

There are many parallels and perpendiculars between the Inferno and Brave New World, between Dante's world and Huxley's, and this is a good time to explore them, as a way of setting out on our exploration of Huxley's novel.

PARALLELS, in no particular order

Both authors seem to agree that individual free will—individuality—is the root of all "sin" (immoral decision-making, bad choices), the source of all pain and suffering, as Dante's Poet might put it, and the source of all unhappiness and instability, as Mustapha Mond, Huxley's spokesman for the brave new world might put it. Individual free will, our messy individuality, is the source of every right and wrong moral choice, every good and bad decision, every sensible and stupid, helpful and hurtful thing we freely do. The pain, the suffering, the instability doesn't just affect individuals, however; it spills over into the entire society, affecting us all—so it must be dealt with. Therefore, both authors suggest, taking aggressive measures against the individual protects the whole society. There the similarity ends, as we'll see.

Both authors seem to believe there must be something better than this. Both seem radically dissatisfied by disturbing trends in their respective societies, and they are both powerful, visionary social critics, the likes of which are rarely seen. They seem equally fed up, determined to confront what's wrong with the social order surrounding them. Both create "utopian" and "dystopian" imaginary worlds to try to communicate with us, to try to raise our consciousness about diverting our course of action before it's too late. They both are highly critical of the prevailing social structure, and raise provocative questions that lead readers to challenge some of the deeply held assumptions that lie at the root of their respective cultures.

Huxley: What is the "pursuit of happiness"? (We know that's one of our "inalienable rights" but what does it mean?) What is "progress"? (Is progress always good?) What role should science play in helping shape society? (Is science always ethical?) In a brave new world that has eliminated history, art, religion, and individual autonomy, what does it mean to be human? What gives meaning to human life?

Dante: What is sin? What is justice? In a world bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, what gives the chaos of existence meaning and purpose?

Both authors pursue a vision of "paradise." Although it may not be obvious in the Inferno, it is only Part One of The Divine Comedy. But even in the Inferno, we realize we are only on the first stage of a longer journey, and that even at this stage there is a kind of "paradise" of perfection: perfect justice. Brave New World, on the other hand, is a satire of "paradise." But because it is a satire, and we can recognize it as such, we can realize that here, too, we are only on the first stage of a journey: Huxley challenges us to continue thinking about how to improve society, to continue the process of envisioning a real "utopia" to replace the dystopia he's unveiled.

Both authors seem to agree that total conformity is inhuman. That individuality is a necessary human ingredient, a natural human element we can't part with—not in Hell, and not as a trade-off for Paradise. Our humanity must travel with us everywhere—in Hell as well as in Paradise, or there can be no Paradise. Without individuality, the utopian brave new world is dehumanized, a nightmare, a dystopia. Although Dante would have everyone acting morally, he's aware that there's no universal prescription, no one-size-fits-all morality; each individual soul must wage his and her own unique battle. Even Dante's worst sinners never lose their individuality; they never "conform." The dehumanized conformists that populate Huxley's Brave New World indicate that Huxley believes the same thing: utter conformity is not human. Bernard Marx, John the Savage, Helmholtz Watson, Lenina Crowne, and even Linda are all glimpses of a kind of debased individuality that all together form the basis of Huxley's satire. Only Mustapha Mond, one of the "world controllers" seems fully "human" in his ability to choose, and he has chosen to support the dehumanized brave new world, a bitter irony.

Both authors explore what it means to be human. The dehumanized environments they vividly bring to life help us ponder this question very meaningfully.

PERPENDICULARS, in no particular order

Inferno
Brave New World

Individual free will is insisted upon. All choices are meaningful; they create identity, responsibility, consequences. You are either rewarded or punished for the choices you make. There's a moral order that provides meaning.

 

Individual free will is violently obliterated with shock therapy, alcohol in the test tube—whatever it takes. This may seem brutal, but it's in the service of society, which will be "happier" and more "stable."

Individuality, your personal identity—your unique emotions, your personal history, etc.—is what makes you human. Your identity, your individuality endures even in the deepest reaches of Hell. No matter how horrible your choices are, no matter how disgusting an individual you are, your choices are what ultimately define you and make you human.

 

In the absence of choices, individuality cannot exist. If you aren't able to make any decisions about what's right or wrong, then you are a "program" operating under someone or something else's will, and you are not fully "human." You've submerged your personal identity to the larger "state identity."

Dante's Inferno implies that in the absence of moral order, moral consciousness, society suffers; our earthly lives can become like a living hell; we create hellish conditions for ourselves when we could be creating heavenly ones. The individual isn't the only one affected by his or her bad choices (sins); the whole society suffers.

 

We can bypass the whole issue of the need for moral consciousness by waging outright war upon the individual. We can create heavenly conditions, a paradise, a utopia, here on earth by eliminating the individual's ability to make immoral choices. We have to obliterate individual consciousness, individual free will, but it's worth it if it means society will end its suffering.

An earthly paradise is only possible if people become more conscious of the consequences of their actions. Raising consciousness can bring about better, more reasonable, more moral behavior—because people are rational beings who will act in their own best interests if given the chance. Being aware of the consequences, believing that our actions have consequences, that you may damn your immortal soul to hell (or your earthly body to hellish conditions) by the bad choices you make may encourage you to live morally, take the straight path. That would be paradise: lots of people making moral choices.

 

Earthly paradise can only be achieved by obliterating everything in ourselves that we associate with being human. We have to obliterate all emotion, all intelligence, all autonomy. We have to eliminate art, history, religion, and even science (selectively). People may have to be forced to relinquish these things, but the means of forcing them are available.

 



 

 

 

     

 


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