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Utopian and Dystopian Thought
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The dystopian novels namely Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), the song “20th Century Man” (Ray Davies) and the dystopian movie “V for Vendetta” all bring out the theme of possibility or impossibility of individual autonomy from utopian and dystopian perspectives. The theme of impossibility of individual autonomy from utopian and dystopian ideas such as suppression of the political class and repressive social control systems are the predominant features that characterize fictional dystopian societies. A typical feature of dystopian societies is that members of working class, who also constitute the majority of population, are subjected to all forms of alienation in their respective societies so as to allow the corrupt and insecure ruling elites uphold their tyrannical leaderships. Exploitation of the proletariats to generate wealth for the selfish interests of the ruling elites and violation of the working class democratic rights by despotic leaders was commonplace. The police was extensively used by the top political class to supervise and monitor the activities of the masses for the fear of rebellion against political leaders whose exclusive interests the agency serves. Most imperatively, the few privileged ruling elites worked round the clock to see to it that the secrets and information of the state are well guarded against any possible leakage into the general public.
Considering that the dystopian novels and other related literary works are set in the oppressive social control systems’ background, whereby the ruling class exercises full control and takes charge of the poor and less influential working class, the theme of individual autonomy’s impossibility is common to all of them, contrary to the popular belief that leaders of the dystopian societies work for the common good of everyone including the working class. It has been widely observed that the masses of the dystopian societies were deprived of their liberty and freedom in their respective societies, assuming that their behaviors, philosophical and political ideologies are predetermined by their authoritarian rulers. It is sufficient to say that their liberty to choose what they want to believe in or to do. They are rather tossed back and forth by the rulers either directly or through the state police.
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the author brings to the fore the true nature of dystopian Oceania, where individual autonomy is lost to the dominion of oligarchic dictatorship, practiced by rulers of the state party. In Oceania’s Airstrip One province, the ruling party is known to have a full control of everything, including the people’s language, social behavior and history. In this manner, the people of Oceania cease to function as autonomous individuals, but become manipulated subjects of the ruling Party, and are expected to strictly dance to the fiddle of the inner party’s elites, like the Big Brother, as required the state. Rather than rely on their inherent judgment to decide on the course of their actions, the author is categorical that the people of Oceania look to Big Brother as the only legitimate authority to direct their actions. This explains why the bold caption “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU" (Orwell p. 3), which amounts to a dictatorial cult of personality, features in all public places throughout Oceania. Similarly, the extent of this repressive social control system is further aggravated by the heavy presence of the police, whose main aim is to command the civilians to obey the Party ideals within the public domains throughout Oceania. In one of the Orwell’s sentiments directed to the police, “One of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the Thought Police, the stability of the Party depended.” (pg. 23).
Additionally, the prevailing mind control and censorship, elaborated in both Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, accentuate the common idea of individual autonomy’s impossibility in the dystopian societies of the twentieth century. Both Orwell and Bradbury portray ruling authorities as the forces against the dissemination of knowledge within the public spheres. Fully aware of the revolutionary power behind knowledge, the rulers of the two dystopian societies establish various strategies to ensure that the commoners do not access crucial information that would aid them rise against the dystopian political regimes. For instance, a book is likened to a gun in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon” (Bradbury, p. 23). In Nineteenth Eighty-Four, for instance, the Ministry of Truth is charged with the responsibility of performing historical revisionism and propaganda generation, whereby the history of the state is re-written to match and support existing political and philosophical ideologies advanced by the ruling elites. As disclosed by the protagonist Winton Smith, Newspeak supports the worldview and mental habits of English socialism (Ingsoc), and aims to make all other undesired forms of thought unperceivable (303).
Fahrenheit 451 follows suit in proving a point on how the state gags civilians and denies public access to important information. Bradbury does a wonderful job in presenting an American dystopian society where books are not only outlawed, but are commonly burnt, despite their content and historical significance. The killing of reading historical literature promotes illiteracy among the commoners. This prompts the majority of loyal citizens to rely on hearsays and rumors gathered from the televised interactive programs. The loyal fireman Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451, a character best used by Bradbury to depict dystopia, is such an illiterate character despite his relentless search for books, “it is sheer pity that Guy Montag falls short of knowledge and instead opts to believe televised rumors and propaganda” (127). Bradbury uses Guy Montag to bring to fore the thoughtless manner of ransacking and burning books, Bradbury points out an imminent lack of an independent thinking capacity which is desirable of any civil society’s responsible member. Retrogressive cultures of this kind not only suppress critical independent thinking but it also perpetuates suffering of the public masses in the hands of few individuals.
The song entitled “20th Century Man” produced by the British band The Kinks is equally fundamental in highlighting major problems that beleaguer humanity such as unemployment, poverty and loss of freedom similar to those presented in Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four, although the lyrics fail to provide finer details of the dystopian societies that the artists allude to. Among the troubles Ray Davies portrays in the lyrics are the bureaucratic forms of government, which he claims have deprived him of privacy and liberty. Based on the sentiments of the singer in the song, “got no liberty” and “got no privacy” imply that there exist some authoritative governments, which tend to hold his life at ransom since he feels oppressed in all spheres of his daily life. His deepest desire to get liberated from the grips of these authorities hints at an impossibility of an individual autonomy in the 20th century, just like in any other dystopian society. At the bottom line, much of the troubles presented in the song
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