The Importance of Literacy as Depicted in Octavia Butler’s Novel Kindred and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
Though Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World and Octavia Butler’s Kindred differ significantly in context, the two establish a similar theme: literature is critical to achieving both intellectual and physical freedom. However, while John from Brave New World ultimately fails to prompt the citizens of the World State towards intellectual freedom, Dana from Kindred successfully helps the people around her acquire some aspects of physical freedom.
In both Brave New World and Kindred, literacy is restricted to maintain a stable social order that prohibits freedom. In Brave New World, the sacred preservation of social stability and bliss comes at the expense of intellectual freedom. The fulfillment of every desire through the usage of soma and conditioning creates a superficial happiness that maintains social stability by regulating the ideas, passions, and thoughts of World State citizens.
Literature is restricted; not only does it decrease productivity and limit the consumption of goods, literature contradicting the “improved” ways of living may prompt citizens to become increasingly dissatisfied with their own conditions. Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller, supports this by saying, “You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art”(Huxley 201), implying that literature must be limited in order to preserve the state of happiness essential to social stability.
Similarly, the prohibition of literacy from slaves in Kindred is enforced to establish a sense of inferiority amongst the slaves to maintain the unequal distribution of power in the social order. The lack of literature given to the slaves prevents them from educating themselves, communicating through writing, and “escap[ing] by writing themselves passes” (Butler 47).
Essentially, both Huxley and Butler argue that literature is crucial in order to free oneself from the limitations of social systems. Both John and Dana challenge their dystopian societies by attempting to disseminate their knowledge gained through literature. In Brave New World, John’s extensive study of the Bible and Shakespeare enables him to verbalize complex feelings and emotions, contributing hugely to his ability to question and criticize the morals of the World State. The utter ignorance and incomprehension of the World State citizens is infuriating to John, prompting him to attempt to convey his thoughts to the citizens with more forceful methods. For example, after his mother overdoses on soma, John goes on a violent rampage during soma distribution and mocks the workers, “…do you like being slaves [to soma]? Do you like being babies? (Huxley 194).
His arduous attempts are in vain, however, as the citizens of the World State are simply too conditioned to comprehend ideas out of the social norm. While John resorts to a much more explosive way of influencing others, Dana approaches her goal subtly. By simply knowing how to read and write a letter, she passively challenges the dystopian norms of the past and demonstrates how literacy can be used to communicate and spread ideas. Because of Dana’s extensive knowledge, Mr. Weylin is especially hateful towards Dana. In addition to feeling threatened by her knowledge, he worries that she will put “freedom ideas” (Butler 76) in other slaves’ heads.
Despite this, she teaches Nigel and Carrie how to read against the wishes of Mr. Weylin, helping them to achieve some aspects of physical freedom. While John ultimately fails to help the people around him achieve intellectual freedom due to the citizens’ sheer mental incapacity, Dana succeeds due to her carefully strategized approach. John’s attempt to propagate his morals and ideas ultimately ends in failure as the citizens of the World State are too focused on their own ideals to recognize the virtue of John’s intentions.
Whenever faced with a foreign concept, the citizens immediately revert to hypnopaedic sayings or taking soma to restore their semi-permanent state of bliss. For example, in response to Bernard’s comments contradicting the government’s strict motto, Lenina begs him, ”…take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly”(Huxley 81). Lenina’s reaction to foreign conceptions exemplifies how fixated the citizens of the World State are on their own ideas, which ultimately leads to John’s failure. Dana, on the other hand, successfully uses her literacy to empower and teach the people around her. Her teachings allow Nigel and Carrie to acquire some physical freedom, as they are able to learn how to read and communicate through writing.
In conclusion, although the novels Brave New World by Aldoux Huxley and Kindred by Octavia Butler contrast drastically in setting and plot, both emphasize that literature is vital to attaining intellectual and physical freedom.
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Though Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World and Octavia Butler’s Kindred differ significantly in context, the two establish a similar theme: literature is critical to achieving both intellectual and physical freedom. […]