Similiarities Of Brave New World And Never Let Me Go Novels
The novels Brave New World and Never Let Me Go share the major themes of identity, individuality, and humanity, and both books present to their audience what happens to these ideas – ones that make up the core of our society – when we use science to attempt to achieve a harmonious utopia.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley describes a fictional world with features of both a dystopia and a utopia in which science is used to create a more effective humankind and their sustained survival. Individuality exists only in what you are scientifically assigned to be from birth – test-tube embryos are assigned castes (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon), and only the upper two castes are given the best treatment so that they may become world-leaders, scientists, and other great thinkers. Lower caste embryos are cloned via the Bokanovsky Process, which involves shocking embryos so that they divide and produce many identical clone embryos so that they develop into identical human beings, predestined to perform menial tasks. The most basic ideas of humanity such as parenthood and appreciation of nature are diluted and reprogrammed through “Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning” to create a society that is efficient and stable. Similarly, Never Let Me Go also contains themes of medical science being used to further the progress and stability of humanity, however in a less advanced way that can be considered to still have elements of individuality and humanity – humans are cloned and these clones are raised separately, in worse conditions (bar the case of our main protagonists), so that their organs may be used for donation to “regular” humans should they get a disease that would otherwise be incurable or difficult to cure. Although there is very little insight given into the cloning process and its origins in the world of Never Let Me Go compared to Brave New World, we find out that the clones of the former tend to be modelled from undesirable people. This leaves the characters with an identity crisis; it leaves them wondering whom their ‘original’ is and whether they would walk a similar path were their future as a donor not already chosen for them.
Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, during a time when science, technology and industrialism was on the rise. He was raised in an academic family and received extremely high quality education – he was also very wary of the potential issues of scientific advancement, something that is very evident from this novel, which almost prophesizes issues with science and morality brought up in the 20th century by, for example, the totalitarian Nazi party, whose scientists performed many inhumane experiments. These issues continue to be brought up in the 21st century by things such as controversial stem cell research. Ishiguro was born in Japan but raised in England, where he received mentorship from acclaimed writer Angela Carter after studying creative writing at university. Never Let Me Go was published in 2005, and also addresses contemporary issues raised by such things as the legislation permitting the aforementioned stem cell research, which was passed in 2001 in the United Kingdom and began passing in 2004 in the New Jersey and California in the United States. When published, both novels raised the question of “how far is too far” when it comes to science and humanity.
One of the primary ways the flaws of using inhumane scientific methods for the advancement of mankind is presented in both novels is through the feelings and thoughts of the main characters. In Brave New World, even the brainwashed and programmed alphas have their vices – for example, The Director, who is the administrator of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre in which children are born and raised (so to speak) has fathered a child naturally – something considered extremely unusual and shameful in the World State society. Because of this, Linda, the mother of the Director’s son, is considered a social outcast, and as a result she was too ashamed to leave New Mexico and return to the World State. Even Helmholtz Watson – who is essentially a prime example of an Alpha, feels his work as a lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering is meaningless and empty – that he is wasting his potential and his ability, which is proved when he says “Did you ever feel, as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it a chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you aren’t using – you know, like all the water that goes down the falls instead of through the turbines” Through characters like this, Huxley shows that attempting complete stability through the removal of individuality and human instinct is in itself, unstable, as it is in our core nature to be curious and to want more in life, as shown by the “mistakes” made by powerful alphas. Similarly, the ruminations of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth in Never Let Me Go about identity and their discussions on what it means to be a clone: “We all know it, we’re modelled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps” show the dissatisfaction with the system that even the “better off” clones have. In fact, they are not even content having a higher quality of life than the other clones, which is evidenced when Kathy says “Why did we do all of that work in the first place (…) if we’re just going to give donations then die?” Another example from Never Let Me Go would be Miss Emily and Madame, the founders of Hailsham school who are advocates for humane treatment of clones – clearly not every “regular” human is content with the idea that human beings will be born and raised only to be harvested for their organs as adults. This is similar to controversial real-world issues such as abortion, cloning, and stem cell research.
Setting plays a particularly important role in Brave New World. Huxley’s novel is one of Utopian science-fiction. He creates an incredibly elaborate setting with precise details about everything from technology (“vibro-vacuum massager”) to professions (“Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning) to play activities (“Centrifugal Bumble-puppy”). Some parts of the earth, however, remain as they were before the World State came to power. With Bernard and Lenina, you visit one of these Savage Reservations, the New Mexican home of the Zuni Indians. It is a world away from civilized London: the Zunis are impoverished, dirty, ravaged by disease and old age, and still cling to their ancient religion. Huxley shows the reader two extremes of human living conditions – a precisely controlled environment where natural human instinct is inhibited through brainwashing and drugs, and a place where there is a distinct lack of technology reminiscent of real-life tribes. Clearly, Huxley is using this juxtaposition of societies – one of which lacks good health and the other which lacks natural human behaviour and emotions, to imply that there is an ideal middle ground between these two states in which humanity can live comfortably without sacrificing identity, or running the risk of deadly diseases due to lack of medicine. In Never Let Me Go. The main settings are the boarding school, Hailsham, and The Cottages – a communal set of buildings situated on an old farm. It is where the three main characters go to live at the age of sixteen until they begin training to become carers. Unlike Brave New World, the settings here are made to be somewhat relatable for the reader, with only small differences to the reality of modern day England. In both novels, there are different groups separated by the way they live, and where they live – Brave New World’s “savages” are somewhat more relatable than the World Staters as their lives are simply more similar to ours – they feel normal emotions, reproduce naturally, and experience disease and old age, whereas the clones of World State barely show shades of humanity – they are almost robot-like in their hive-mind desire to be efficient and stable (although as we know this falls apart on an individual level, even among the alphas).
In Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro writes in the first person from the perspective of Kathy – he uses it here to limit the knowledge of the reader, and only bit by bit is it revealed that the world Kathy lives in is very different from our own. However Kathy is not an unreliable narrator – the lack of details is due to an unknowing reader, as from her point of view, she is speaking to the reader as if they have experienced life as a clone: when telling us about the care at Hailsham, she says: “I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham we used to have some form of medical every week.”
As in many Utopian novels, the characters of Brave New World tend to be simple representations of ideas and behaviours and an “outsider” character is used to highlight the flaws of the society that those who live in it cannot comprehend to it being the status quo for them. The structure of Brave New World is fairly unusual, which is characteristic of Huxley’s fiction writing. The beginning of the book introduces Bernard as the main character and through him we learn about the World State – this is contrasted with the middle section in which we are introduced to the “real” main character, John, and the Savage Reservation in New Mexico, which is wildly different to Brave New World’s London. The third part of the novel chronicles the clashing together of John’s life, behaviours and beliefs with that of the World State. Because it is conventional to introduce main characters at the beginning of novels, Huxley’s strange structure may lead some to believe that Bernard is the main character – but just as we learn how cowardly he is, he is switched out for John, who comparatively appears heroic, and introduces a second perspective, likely more similar to that of the reader’s, on London and the World State.
John is a very unique character who provides the reader with interesting insight as he has incredibly extensive knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, and it was his only window to civilised life when he was in New Mexico. Due to this, every aspect of him – his emotions, reactions, speech, and attitude are all heavily influenced by Shakespeare. Through this Shakespearean frame on which to base his frustrations and criticisms, we see his critical view of the World State and it’s values. It also provides John with the linguistic skills required to debate with Mustapha Mond when they meet. However, John’s constant Shakespeare-vision occasionally mean he doesn’t fully comprehend the complexity of other characters, for instance, Lenina, who in his mind is sometimes a hero, and sometimes a “strumpet” – neither label quite captures the complexity of her character however.
Using the examples of our main characters we see that Ishiguro builds his dystopian/utopian world by revealing it bit by bit to us through Kathy’s reminiscing. Our opinion of the clone system in the world of Never Let Me Go is carefully moulded by having Kathy narrate as though the reader is also a clone we have the same experience she has had in learning what it means to be a clone, however in Brave New World, we experience the world from different perspectives, which gives more room for the reader’s personal views.
In Margaret Atwood’s article on Brave New World, she calls it “a masterpiece of speculation” and talks about Huxley’s portrayal of the positives and negatives of so-called Utopias. Comparing it to Orwell’s 1984 but with “a different and softer form of totalitarianism”, Atwood discusses the prophetic merits of both novels, noting of Brave New World that “On the wilder fringes of the genetic engineering community, there are true believers prattling of the gene-rich and the gene-poor – Huxley’s alphas and epsilons” and “in 1989 (…) we seemed to be in for a trivial, giggly, drug-enhanced spend-o-rama.” Clearly from a modern reader’s perspective we can see, along with Atwood, the creeping approach of the society Brave New World warns us about, and lack of identity and individuality that plagues its inhabitants. The article also looks at Brave New World’s brand of happiness, and asks “what is the price we might pay to achieve it?” referencing the loss of identity in exchange for social stability. Similarly, in Louis Menand’s article on Never Let Me Go, he describes the premise of the book on a basic level as “even when happiness is standing right in front of you, it’s very hard to grasp.” Both articles discuss how the idea of happiness is presented in both books, and Menand compares one book to the other by describing the setting of Never Let Me Go as “brave-new-world Britain,” implying that Brave New World is the logical progression of the society in Never Let Me Go, which is entirely possible with 550 years for the possible technological advancements between them.
Menand comments on the style of Kathy’s narration, calling it “self-conciously stilted and banal.”
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