A-Level header

if you decide to copy my essay instead of doing your own writing, more fool you

Module Five

To what extent and by what means do Huxley and Orwell make these two novels convincing as stories?

The narrative style Orwell uses is in some senses a traditional one: he has a single focus character, Winston Smith, through whom we learn about the society of Nineteen Eighty-Four, at the same time as we learn about Winston himself. The story is, in fact, what happens to Winston, and events are mostly seen from his point of view, and given in the third party narrative form. However, the presence of the narrator is not to be forgotten, and there are interpolations here and there which do not represent Winston's point of view: "The Ministry of Truth—Minitrue, in Newspeak—was startlingly different from any other object in sight." Winston would simply refer to the building, indeed has already done so, but Orwell wants to introduce the concept of Newspeak, and does so here, using a footnote. This is unusual in a novel, and is part of the stylistic approach taken by the author.

However, Orwell is not primarily interested in telling a story. Although Nineteen Eighty-Four is basically a progressive narrative, the story line is filled with interruptions. The most obvious, and the most jarring, is the insertion of Goldstein's Book. This is presented with no concessions to the novel-reader: Orwell does not employ any ameliorating devices to integrate it into the action— he does not, for instance, insert his main character's thoughts and reactions to the content, or break it up with actions, except briefly, when Winston tells Julia about it and starts to read it to her. Not surprisingly, she falls asleep. There is also the appendix on Newspeak, which is interesting but plainly not a part of the narrative as such—and indeed, the reader obtains a sufficiently clear understanding to grasp the concept of the purpose and practice of Newspeak through its appearances within the narrative. Perhaps Orwell was so excited by the concept that he needed to write it out in detail—like a grimmer version of Tolkein's appendices on the Elvish language.

There are also many flashbacks during the story itself. Winston remembers incidents which have some resonance with his current situation. These frequently serve to emphasize that Winston is not a very admirable character, for instance, he bullied his mother and sister, and seemed to have no emotional attachment to either of them. His memories of this subject are mixed in with general reflections on why people behave as they do, and what difference the Party has made; this is generally true of references to Winston's past—they tend to lead primarily not to expansions of the storyline or insights into his character, but rather to thoughts about the society in which he finds himself. Instead of making an appeal to the reader's emotions here, Orwell maintains a distance between Winston and the reader, and keeps the attention focussed on the world in which Winston lives.

Orwell presents most of the story in a very brusque way. He disliked sentimentalism, and took great pains to keep it out of this novel. The scenes and actions depicted are bleak and monochrome for the most part, and the style of his writing is mostly matter-of-fact. Many sentences are straightforward statements: "The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously." "His body was held down at every essential point." However, the starkness of much of the prose is varied at need—the description of the Inner Party dwelling is much more lush with adjectives: "The passage down which he led them was softly carpeted, with cream-papered walls and white wainscoting, all exquisitely clean." And the description of the countryside into which Winston ventures for a rendezvous with Julia is positively romantic: "Winston picked his way up the lane through dappled light and shade, stepping out into pools of gold wherever the boughs parted." Goldstein's Book is presented as an analytical essay; the history book is simplistic and laughable; Winston's own attempts to write in his 'diary' are incoherent babble. Orwell varies the details of his prose style to enhance the particular subject matter, subtly increasing the effectiveness of these details.

Another stylistic device is the recurrence of certain motifs—the coral paperweight which is linked with Winston's relationship with Julia and is shattered as the Thought Police take them; and the gradually-pieced-together nursery rhyme which seems to promise wonderful things but ends with 'a chopper to chop off your head'.

Huxley's narrative does not focus on a single character, but shifts point of view constantly. The most dazzling example of this is in Chapter three, when the Controller addressing the tour group, Lenina talking to Fanny, and Bernard listening to Henry Foster and the Assistant Predestinator, are intermixed in progressively smaller segments, rather like a modern pop video, giving the effect of mad, bewildering, whirling acceleration. Elsewhere the change in point of view allows different characters to present questions which the reader must consider: Linda asks "when a child asks you how a helicopter works or who made the worldwell, what are you to answer if you're a Beta and have always worked in the Fertilizing Room? What are you to answer?" Mustapha Mond asks the Savage to imagine a factory staffed solely by Alphas, "by separate and unrelated individuals of good heredity and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine it!"

Unlike Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World does not focus on one character's progress. Initially, the most important character appears to be the Director, then there is increasing focus on Lenina Crowne, Bernard Marx, and then The Savage, with Linda and Mustapha Mond as important featured players. Bernard's story leads into, and gives way to, John's story, which becomes the most important storyline in the latter part of the book, and it is with John's suicide that the story comes to an end.

However, the novel is not really about any one individual. It begins with a tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and opens out to present, in effect, a tour of the Brave New World itself. Various characters go through different environments (work, home, the Reservation, the islands of exile etc) and different experiences, to display to the reader the essential details of life in this society. These varying experiences are sufficiently intriguing to maintain narrative interest.

In addition, the book contains a great many allusions, which keep the reader 'on his toes'. There are carefully chosen character names (Calvin Stopes and Benito Hoover between them cover religion, social progress, politics and consumerism). There are vast numbers of Shakespearian quotes, mostly from John, the Savage, who has learned his language from the Complete Works, but beginning, of course, with the title of the book. There are references on all sorts of levels, from the nursery rhyme 'Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross' ("Streptocock G to Banbury T") to the Bible to Eton College to philosophy.

Another device Huxley uses is comedy, generally of a rather grisly kind. Scenes which 'ought' to be tragic, or at least distressing, are likely to be written with an eye to farce so that instead of moving, they become grotesque. An example of this is Linda's death: John has gone to her, determined to feel all the right emotions, and is balked by her indifference and the ridiculous intrusion of a Bokanovsky group of children who are being 'conditioned' and who have no trace of reverence or respect. In his ignorance John actually misses the moment of Linda's death, and is confronted by five identical children, smeared with chocolate eclair, who are "puggily goggling" at his exhibition of grief. But there are also wittily comic moments—such as the reporter reflecting on the 'Sensation in Surrey' headline and taking tender care of his bruised coccyx.

This novel is less relentless in tone than Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the pervasive death imagery Huxley uses leads the reader to be certain that it cannot end happily. These intimations of death occur right from the beginning of the book, where workers wear 'corpse-coloured' rubber gloves as they toil in the reproduction factory.

Both Orwell and Huxley have various devices, then, which are used to present their novels and maintain the reader's interest. However, I am not sure that either book entirely works as a story. It is not for the story that we remember either Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World. From Nineteen Eighty-Four the compelling elements are the image of the boot stamping on a human face, the far from reassuring message that 'Big Brother is watching you', Newspeak, and relentless repression without hope of betterment. Winston's story is the device used to present the warnings given in the book: it is the horrifying prospect of Ingsoc that is the basis of the book, not the story of a particular individual.

In the same way, the most lasting impact in Brave New World comes from such elements as the five castes of manufactured humanity, the mindlessness of society, and 'soma'. The intertwined story of the lightly-drawn characters is the means through which Huxley shows the reader around this new world, so it is reasonable that it is the world itself, and not the characters who people it, which sticks in the memory.


Back to Module
A-Level Module Index