The body of dystopian literature is rich and provides an excellent opportunity to examine how human beings and society can be manipulated. “1984” by George Orwell and “A Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley are often used for this purpose as they both represent a future in which a totalitarian governments control every aspect of human life, but do so in a drastically different way. While they do not capture the entire spectrum of human action, they represent the extremes.
This paper will examine the role of children in the oppressive government regimes created by Orwell and Huxley. Children and parenthood are very emotional topics for the readers, and in both novels, the children become part of the government apparatus rather than loyal members of their family. In “A Brave New World,” the family unit completely dissolved, whereas in “1984” the children are simply indoctrinated and encouraged to turn in their parents for the slightest infraction of the rules. By looking at the roles of the family unit in both “1984” and “A Brave New World,” as well as the education systems in both novels, this paper will show that children are a crucial part of the oppression exerted in these dystopian futures.
It is impossible to describe the children in “1984” between than Winston Smith when he said, “nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages.” (Orwell 9) The children in “1984” are mainly viewed by Winston in the form of his neighbor Parsons’ kids. They are often described much like contemporary children would be. They run around, play with toys, and pretend to be authority figures. This characterization endears them to the reader, yet as we see later on, they maintain no loyalty to their parents. While the family unit continues to exist, the Party has usurped its role as the object of love and loyalty. While in the Ministry of Love, Winston encounters Parsons, the party loyalist, who was turned in by his own daughter for speaking against the Party in his sleep. Despite this obvious treachery, he is seemingly proud of his daughter, going as far as to call her “pretty smart for a nipper of seven.” (Orwell 208)
This removal of filial loyalty and parental love is representative of the strategy of the Party to maintain complete control over society. By removing potentially seditious organizations such as the family unit and opposing political parties, the possibility of rebellion was nearly zero.
While “1984” represents the oppressive positive totalitarian version of a dystopian future, “A Brave New World” imagines a world where everybody is happy and unconcerned with any pain or concern and simply wallow in pleasure. While Orwell’s vision has dissidents crushed under jackbooted thugs, Huxley’s characters would never think of rebellion, there is simply no reason to do so. To enable this, an extensive program of fertilization, modification and indoctrination is implemented to create placated toddlers adequately prepared for their jobs, and nothing more.
The family unit is completely destroyed, a central plot element of the story, but also demonized. The process of actually birthing and raising a child is horrific to these people. When the Savage was brought back to London, it is noted that Linda will not be looked up kindly, because “to say one was a mother–that was past a joke: it was an obscenity.” (Huxley 153)
Not only is the family unit dissolved to remove all loyalties (similar to the concept of removing monogamous relationship), but also as children are being brought up, they are explicitly manipulated to instill certain qualities. It is beyond traditional concepts of brainwashing as many fetuses are chemically dulled to ensure they do not possess unnecessary characteristics. Epsilons, according to the Director of the Hatchery “don’t need human intelligence.” (Huxley 15)
Finally, the complete elimination of loyalty to other human beings in “A Brave New World” creates a society of individuals, concerned only with their own pleasure, an emotion that is supplied to them in droves through soma and cheap entertainment. This begins with the concept of erotic play by children. In the third chapter we are introduced to an idyllic scene of little boys and girls playing in the garden under the supervision of the Director. The scene becomes less familiar when the children are revealed to be naked and a nurse considers it out of the ordinary that one “little boy seems rather reluctant to join in the ordinary erotic play.” (Huxley 31-32) Characters in this new world find it strange when the Director tells them that young people used to be sexually abstinent with the exception of “a little surreptitious auto-erotism and homosexuality.” (Huxley 33) This early removal of current social norms just reinforces the social pressures to be an individual and not rely on others for relationships or support.
In conclusion, children and the family unit are recurrent themes in dystopian novels. In both “1984” and “A Brave New World,” they are manipulated so that the oppressive government is able to maintain complete control over their population. While on the surface it seems that Orwell’s creations maintain the same family structure, it quickly becomes evident that the family unit as we know it in the modern era is dead. In fact, it may be worse to modern sensibilities as children are actively turned against their parents.