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Home Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004) ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
~~ 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 willindividualityis 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 allso 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.
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 withnot in Hell, and not as a trade-off for Paradise. Our humanity must travel with us everywherein 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
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