The Destruction of Personal Identity
English AP Fremont HS 1988
Siblings raised in the same environment by the same parents, and differing in age, often grow up to be very distinct individuals with different likes, dislikes, talents, virtues, and faults. Each possessing qualities that make him or her unique; a combination of traits and characteristics which form his or her own personality and give him or her own identity.
To try to suppress a person’s individuality, to dehumanize an individual is an inhuman act in itself and will result in the destruction of humankind. Who would want to live in a society where everyone is the same? As Winston says, “It would have no vitality. It would disintegrate. It would commit suicide.” (1984 George Orwell) The spirit of the people must revolt against the violation of their individuality, or as is the sad case in three futuristic worlds, society will succumb to its inhuman leaders and the people will behave like machines rather than human beings.
Such an inhuman society is created in George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World ( BNW) and to a lesser extent in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (ACO). Individuality is suppressed if not destroyed and people are turned into robots, incapable of imaginative, constructive thought. In 1984, the people have been trained to think their thoughts and live their lives in a manner dictated by the government. In Brave New World, governmental control over society is less complete than that in 1984. Although people and women are psychologically conditioned from birth to fill the niches of society, the leaders of Brave New World are not as ruthless in creating a mechanized civilization as they are in 1984. In A Clockwork Orange, it is not so much the entire society that is dehumanized as a single individual who is conditioned and then reconditioned in an experiment to benefit his government. In all three novels individuals are helpless against the cruel and sometimes sadistic power of their leaders. The destruction of personal identity is achieved through technological advancement, turning whole societies into automatons and resulting in the loss of freedoms and rights, including the loss of a person’s own soul, primarily for governmental benefit.
In 1984 and BNW the entire society has been reduced to a mechanized system for production and consumption. The individuality of almost everyone has been driven out of existence. In both worlds it is criminal to be extraordinary or individual; thinking or feeling deeply are punishable offenses. People born, raised and educated as animals are shockingly described in BNW in which a person’s mental habits, opinions, and prejudices are determined by hypnopaedic education beginning at birth. Higher class members are trained to look down upon members of the lower class even as children: “and Delta Children wear khaki. On no, I don’t want to play with Delta Children.” In 1984 the control over society is even more complete. The government makes sure the people are obedient by using spies, hidden microphones and telescreens to watch everyone, invading every aspect of personal privacy; even individual thought is monitored by the Thought Police. Winston realizes, “There was no physical act, no word spoken aloud, that they had not noticed, no train of thought they had not been able to infer.” In both societies the government attains almost total control; society’s individuality is destroyed.
In ACO, it is not so much a civilization that is dehumanized but rather a single individual. Alex is a hoodlum, and in his dismal society he is considered a typical teen-ager. He is an insensitive, perverted and destructive machine for violence, but so are his friends, his enemies and perhaps all other teen-agers. Alex becomes a guinea pig in an experiment which turns him into a “machine capable only of socially acceptable acts.” He is reconditioned into a model citizen in which “the intention to act violently is accompanied by strong feelings of physical distress.” While the negative traits in Alex are extinguished in an attempt to cure him of violence, his sole individual positive characteristic, his love of symphonic music, is driven out as well.
In 1984, Winston Smith is a victim like Alex; both surrender to the selfish desires of their government and both are broken mentally and physically. While both Alex and Winston are severely punished – Alex for violence and Winston for non-conformity, Alex differs from Winston in that he is robbed of his morality and Winston his individuality. In BNW, Bernard Marx does not suffer the personal destruction that Alex and Winston suffer; he is not punished but he remains isolated and unhappy because of his uniqueness. He has “suffered all his life from the consciousness of being separate,” and while he is not physically harmed, his pride and self-esteem are injured. People talk about Bernard, “They say somebody made a mistake when he was still in the bottle – put alcohol into his blood-surrogate.” Bernard’s strange uniqueness causes unhappiness indirectly as opposed to the direct and immediate torture Alex and Winston suffer. Bernard’s self-consciousness is “acute and distressing; I am I, and wish I wasn’t.” Uniqueness, usually a quality that makes a person more attractive, only alienates Bernard from society, making him depressed and lonely. Winston is destroyed physically and mentally; his individuality is driven out and his spirit broken. What should be impossible happens to Winston, as Julia says, “They can’t get inside you. But they could get inside you.” They get inside Winston’s heart and shatter his soul leaving only an empty shell. The psychological invasion is not as thorough in Alex as in Winston, and Bernard is spared the pain but not the humiliation. All three however, are victims of governments intent on suppressing a man’s personal identity.
The reasons for destroying individuality vary. One government seeks social stability through economic security, another seeks its own selfish benefit, and the third seeks absolute power. In BNW, the government has created and intends to maintain a society where “every man, woman and child is compelled to consume so much a year in the interests of industry.” In earlier years the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons had been conditioned to like flowers so they would go to the country and “consume transport.” Soon after, because “a love of nature keeps no factories busy,” it was decided to abolish the love of nature and replace it with the love of all country sports, resulting in the consumption of manufactured articles as well as transport.
In ACO, the leaders are not so much interested in economic security as in brainwashing a criminal in an experiment used to boost their popularity among the people: “We are not concerned with motive, with higher ethics. We are concerned only with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons.” Alex’s tormentors do not care about the violence and brutality from which they are saving society by conditioning him, nor are they concerned about Alex’s dehumanization; the leaders are thinking only of themselves and of the triumph they wish to achieve. But, as F. Alexander (author of A Clockwork Orange) says, “To turn a decent young man into a piece of clockwork should not, surely, be seen as any triumph for any government, save one that boasts of its repressiveness.” The government wants to appear clever before the people but they are going about it the wrong way for the wrong reason.
The controllers of Winston’s society destroy individuality in attaining total power over man. The government desires absolute power, “power over human beings, over the body – but above all – over the mind.” To assert their power, the Party makes disobedient members suffer to assure that they are complying with the Party’s will and not their own. When Winston falls in love with Julia and seeks privacy for their love affair, he prevents the Party from attaining complete power and so becomes “a flaw in the pattern , a stain that must be wiped out.” By inflicting pain and humiliation on victims, power destroys pride and dignity by “tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” The governments in 1984 and ACO desire power entirely for their own sake and are not interested in their society’s well-being, while the leader’s of BNW are not as selfish; they are concerned with the people’s comfort and happiness. In all three cases, the driving force behind the destructive power is the government, the main suppressor of a person’s individuality.
The government’s desires are the causes of man’s mechanization in all three novels; it is also the leaders of each society who control and inflict the brainwashing. In BNW, technological advancement has brought a variety of methods for creating a civilization of mass conformity. Hypnoid mass suggestion – through infant conditioning with the aid of drugs, a regression to the old system of castes where government managers can determine an unborn child’s proper place in the social and economic hierarchy, a non-dangerous drug called soma to provide an occasional escape from reality, and standardized reproduction with bottled babies and Bokanovsky groups of semi-morons are used to destroy personal identity creating a society according to the planetary motto: “Community, Identity, Stability.” In ACO, Alex is brainwashed as the people in BNW are, but they are not tortured as he is, and Alex’s conditioning occurs in his early teens as opposed to the infant training in BNW. Alex is forced to watch violent, perverted films after being injected with a medication that makes him sick Soon he associates violence with sickness and feels ill whenever he thinks of brutality:
Then I raised my two fisties to tolchock him on the neck nasty, and then, I swear, as I sort of viddied him in advance lying moaning or out out out and felt the like joy rise in my guts, it was then that this sickness rose in me as it might be a wave and I felt a horrible fear as if I was really going to die.
Winston succumbs to brainwashing as do Alex and the inhabitants of BNW but his torture is carried out with more ruthlessness and cruelty than Alex’s; he is beaten physically and broken mentally to a much greater extent. While the conditioning in BNW consists of hypnopaedic proverbs: “Everyone belongs to everyone else, repeated 62,000 times in the dark.” Winston is subjected to ideological and psychological manipulation, severe beatings, merciless questioning and finally, “the worst thing in the world,” which in Winston’s case is rats. Forced to choose between being eaten alive by something which causes him unendurable fear or betraying Julia whom he still loves, Winston finally submits to the inhuman will of the Party as he shouts, “Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her.” With this unavoidable betrayal Winston’s rebellious love for Julia is extinguished. The only remaining semblance of individuality not driven out by earlier torture is gone and Winston’s destruction is complete.
In BNW it is mindless phrases: “Yes, everybody’s happy now, repeated 150 times every night for twelve years.” In ACO it is association: “the oldest educational method in the world.” In 1984 it is the merciless will of the Party: “We shall squeeze you empty , and then fill you with ourselves,” all of which succeed ruthlessly and subtlely in destroying man’s personal identity.
The terrifying results of the conditioning, brainwashing and unlimited torture can be seen through the effects they have on Alex, Bernard, Winston and their respective societies. Each man has tragically lost any freedom of thought and action, of personality and of moral choice. The inhabitants of BNW think for themselves but everyone thinks alike, and depending on their caste, they do the same thing according to the government’s desires: “The mind that judges and desires and decides – made up of these [hypnopaedic] suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!” The Alpha caste, because of their higher level of intelligence, is allowed more freedom than the Gamma-Minus machine minder or the Epsilons, in which “human intelligence isn’t needed.” They are still complacent animals and mindlessly believe that “everyone belongs to everyone else.” In BNW‘s hierarchy, Winston would have been reduced from a superior Alpha to an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron. He loses the freedom to say “two plus two make four,” and with that he loses his soul. After his ordeal, Winston becomes integrated with his machine-like society. He goes to work, drink gin at the Chestnut Tree and cheers for Oceania with no emotions except those which the Party want him to feel: fear, hatred and the love of Big Brother. Winston is told, “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage or integrity.”
The people of BNW are conditioned from birth against the natural human longing for freedom, and so they never realize what they do not have. Winston accepts his fate and no longer believes he is being deprived of any freedom, but Alex realizes he has lost something other than his love for violence and classical music – his freedom of choice. Alex chose to be a murderer and a thief and so his punishment is a consequence of his choice, but his punishment does not fit his crime. After the experiment, Alex is turned into something capable only of socially acceptable acts. He avoids violence not because he believes it is wrong but because of his own self-interest and fear of physical pain. Alex is doing the right thing for the wrong reason and whereas “he ceases to be a wrongdoer, he ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” Like Winston and Bernard, Alex no longer has any real choice. Alex cannot choose between right and wrong, while Winston and Bernard cannot choose how to think or how to live and as a result, they cease to be people. The prison chaplain asks, “Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed on him?” It is a question of ethics, but none of the three governments are concerned with ethics or the inhuman results which turn people into machines.
On the road to attaining individual and social perfection, a person’s right to be human is lost. To be human is to make mistakes and to be inefficient. Inefficiency is not tolerated in the societies of BNW and 1984; everything is systematic and everyone is like Alex, a clockwork orange. Alex, Winston and the people in the brave new world are turned into something mechanical which appears organic. They lose their right to assert their humanity, to be less than perfect and for Winston, the right to love. During his torture Winston became “simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed whatever was demanded of him,” and he loses all sense of individuality. The loss of human qualities results in a spirituality and emotionally dead society in 1984 and BNW and creates a mindless pawn in the hands of the government in ACO.
All three writers envision a hopeless and miserable future where advanced technology contributes to the diminishing of individual freedom. No escape from governmental power is possible; the only thing Alex and Winston can do is surrender. Only Bernard flees the stabilized slave society by being sent to an island where he will have more freedom. Written as a warning to modern society, the novels depict depressing utopias with governments too obsessed with power and control over their citizens. Orwell, Huxley and Burgess believe their futuristic worlds are possible but preventable. Society must recognize the danger of a society of automatons and resist the oppression of a ruthless, greedy government or else they will suffer the fates of Winston, Alex or Bernard in some brave new world.