Monday, 29 March 2010


I decided to read the four most influential dystopia books of the 20th century all at once:
1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and The Handmaid's Tale. All have their merits. All are depressing, but the tragedies of each of them: government-sanctioned oppression, rape and murder, the loss of intellectual debate and discourse, are all the more convincing when the dystopia created is coherent and structured.

The harsh regimes are scariest when the author describes them as meticulously crafted, or created from (misunderstood) logic or misinterpreted verses. Most of the order in each story is about keeping people within certain social tiers and also ensuring reproduction is done accordingly. Eugenics is a common theme of the novels, even if only faintly so in the case of Fahrenheit 451. With the exception of Brave New World, which eerily foresees Nazi ideals, all of the books were written after the Holocaust. To me, the scariest part of the Holocaust was that, in the early 1930's, Germany was technologically advanced. To Hitler and his followers, who democratically elected him, the final solution wasn't a last resort, it was a culmination of the industrial revolution. Hundreds of years of scientific enterprise and human achievement were being used to systematically destroy millions of people. We can create gadgets, machines and all sorts of electrical devices, but we're still violent savages.

Echoes of this sentiment are present throughout all of the books, but each focus on more specific elements: The Handmaid's Tale is concerned with sexism whereas 1984 is occupied with restrictions upon privacy and freedom of surveillance. But this factor should not demarcate which book is more relevant. If I've learned anything from these books, it's that when a specific demographic is oppressed, the whole community, even those outside of those being directly oppressed, is oppressed.

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