Something with tears

Sally - dystopia 1

In 1931 a man named Aldous Huxley wrote a shockingly prophetic novel, Brave New World, considered by many to be one of the best dystopian novels of all time. The façade of a peaceful utopia masks a world soaked in hedonism, pharmaceuticals and conformity – a world in which the beauty of culture in all forms is lost, in which true humanity is nearly non-existent. First introduced to the novel in AP English in the 80’s, I found it truly horrifying and amazingly profound (Disclaimer: the novel has mature subject matter). Over the three decades since I read Brave New World for the first time, I have often found myself pondering it and observing how Huxley would have shuddered to see how close we’ve come to his dystopia. I have found that dystopian literature, as well as post-apocalyptic literature (which focuses on a cataclysmic event and the survivors fight to rebuild in the aftermath, often resulting in a dystopia) can be some of the most compelling and thought provoking literature. There is much to be said about these types of novels and this is certainly not meant to be thorough! Rather, this is my attempt at an explanation for those who have requested my thoughts on this topic!

Even if you aren’t familiar with any of the dozens of dystopian novels (which are often, but not always science fiction), you have probably heard the phrase, big brother is watching you taken from another of the most popular dystopian novels of all time, 1984. Other popular dystopian novels include: Ender’s Game, Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, The Time Machine, The Hunger Games Trilogy, The Divergent trilogy, The Giver. For those not familiar with dystopian literature, I found this handy explanation written by Joseph Adams, an editor of anthologies, and coined the reigning king of the anthology world by Barnes and Noble.com:

“In a dystopian story, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist’s aims and desires. This oppression frequently is enacted by a totalitarian or authoritarian government, resulting in the loss of civil liberties and untenable living conditions, caused by any number of circumstances, such as world overpopulation, laws controlling a person’s sexual or reproductive freedom, and living under constant surveillance.”

Dystopian literature is certainly not for everyone and the themes can be disturbing, mostly because they are often far too close to the truth about our own modern lives. Yet, while dystopian literature isn’t enjoyably entertaining, there is something about it that actually inspires me more than most types of literature. Perhaps it is the idea of men standing up to a totalitarian or authoritarian government, fighting a society in which the most basic human rights have been stripped away? Perhaps it is the warning that when we give up certain aspects of our humanity, in hopes to gain utopia, we are simply steps away from dystopia? Perhaps it is the idea that no matter what happens to our society, no matter what type of government rules, that there will always be hope – men will rise up and fight for what it means to be human! Even in the midst of the worst of mankind, we find hints of the best of mankind.

Given my most recent blog about finding the beauty, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am actually suggesting looking for the beauty in dystopia. It really is all about perspective and beholding different kinds of beauty. The protagonist in a dystopian novel is often alone or sharing the fight with a select few – all hope seems lost. Still, these dystopian protagonists choose to cling to humanity and to fight against a society in which the majority of the people are blindly following, enveloped in the propaganda and lies. Dystopian protagonists fight against lies, corruption, conformity, censorship, absence of free will, loss of humanity, mind control and every other manner of oppression. Sound hopeless? Perhaps. Yet, for this reader, the protagonist’s fight itself still offers hope.

While dystopian novels may be dark, troubling and even disturbing, there is much light to be found in the struggle. In the dystopian novels I have read, I have found inspiration and hope. I have seen protagonists desiring to change the status quo, refusing to submit to evil, clinging to humanity, valuing truth, demanding freedom to think and to believe and to choose. This is what life is about, isn’t it? There is much to be said for the beauty in the struggle and there is no sacrifice where there is no cost.

The following quote is from Brave New World, chapter 17:

“My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended–there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren’t any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that’s what soma is.”

“But the tears are necessary. Don’t you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.’ There’s a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of Mátaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning’s hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn’t stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could–he got the girl.”

“Charming! But in civilized countries,” said the Controller, “you can have girls without hoeing for them, and there aren’t any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago.”

The Savage nodded, frowning. “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.”

He was suddenly silent, thinking of his mother. In her room on the thirty-seventh floor, Linda had floated in a sea of singing lights and perfumed caresses–floated away, out of space, out of time, out of the prison of her memories, her habits, her aged and bloated body. And Tomakin, ex-Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, Tomakin was still on holiday–on holiday from humiliation and pain, in a world where he could not hear those words, that derisive laughter, could not see that hideous face, feel those moist and flabby arms round his neck, in a beautiful world …

“What you need,” the Savage went on, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”

My other thoughts on literature are here: books that move me

A little comic relief because I found this hilarious:

Sally - dystopia 3

Category: Musings
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