death by paper cut

{December 2, 2010}   Books Reviews of Late – Dystopian Texts

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

This book is dystopian literature that depicts what becomes of a society that prizes progress and efficiency above all else. Nothing has sentimental value, private aspirations are not permitted and people are harvested and genetically modified at the Social Predestination Room to fulfill their cog-in-the-wheel destiny.

Why bother to hope if you can control the outcome by means of passing everything and everyone through an assembly line production and more essentially, when you can determine the maximum potential for each individual and make that known from the beginning?

I’ve read three dystopian literature this year: The Giver, Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World.

One common thread between all the depicted societies in that literature and history are banned or not made available. The novels then show how people are conditioned to be ignorantly happy and contented with life as it is now as the be all and end all.

More tellingly, the people depicted are all drugged to varying extents. In The Giver, people take “the pill” everyday to suppress urges of any kind. In Brave New World, people take “Soma” to feel high all the time. In Fahrenheit 451, the drugged induced are further made drowsy with mind-numbing white noise of media. In all cases, the awareness of sadness and dissatisfaction are banished.

You are living a lie, but if you don’t know that its a fraud, what wrong with being blissfully happy albeit very shallow.

Interestingly, The Giver and Brave New World deal with sexual desires in diametrically opposite ways. While the people in The Giver have sexual urges suppressed, people in Brave New World learn to have sex from the time they are toddlers having “erotic play.” In both scenarios, sex or the lack of has no sentimental value and do not result in procreation.

The idea is that without emotional attachment, there is also no maudlinness or tearful departures upon death which also comes at an appointed time according to schedule.

Books like Brave New World discuss the values of organised society. What do we prize more? Individual ambition, romance, art and compassion, at the risk of failure, dissatisfaction, uncertainty, and possibly (oh-god-forbid) inefficiency?


The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

Written in the first person, The Chrysalids accounts for David Strorm’s realisation and implications of his telepathic abilities in a tightly knit agrarian society where the slightest differences are punished and banished in the quest to distill Purity. The overarching theme for me is the definition of Man. Man as defined by David’s puritanical and fundamentalist society begins with outlining outward appearances and continues to imply anything “deviant”. This definition is contested as the reader is made to be sympathetic to the “deviants” themselves.

The text warns against extremism and blind bigotry that in this case renders the staunch religious-right inhuman in their treatment of people who are different and therefore inferior or contaminated. Although the text is a response to post WW2 traumas (Holocaust, Third Reich, Nuclear explosion and its aftermath), parallels can also be drawn to the harrowing realities of the decimation of Aboriginal people in Australia and coercive sterilisation practices such as Mississippi Appendectomy in the United States.

The text ends on an optimistic note when David, Rosalind and Petra are rescued by a highly developed civilisation with telepathic abilities. However the happy ending is balanced by Michael’s earth-grounding decision to remain behind with Rachel. This underscores that the solution is not always to stay separate from those who are different or even cruel to you but to find a way to co-exist and embrace change, evolutionary or personal.


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