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The following contribution deals with an interesting case of intertextuality. It compares the text of Huxley's Brave New World (BNW) both with one of its possible precursors and with one of its possible successors, namely the famous dystopia We by the Russian writer Yevgeni Zamyatin and Kurt Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano (PP). These two literary works provide interesting material in order to supplement a comprehensive discussion of BNW in advanced foreign language teaching. Two groups of students who are fond of 20th century fiction may read these novels for a comparative analysis and report back to the class about their impressions and experiences.

Kurt Vonnegut's, Yevgeni Zamyatin's and Aldous Huxley's Ideas of a Futuristic Society

Willi Real


It is no more than a truism to say that Huxley's BNW is a very complex dystopia which drew upon many contemporary sources. However, it belongs to the tradition of literary history in general and to the development of some genres in particular that this long-seller also influenced dystopian novels which were published much later during the twentieth century. Kurt Vonnegut's PP for example, which appeared in 1952, is a remarkable first novel, which, together with several short stories, shows that Vonnegut started his career as a writer of science fiction.(1) In an interview with the Playboy magazine in July 1973, he pointed out that in writing PP, "he cheerfully ripped off the plot of BNW, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeni Zamyatin's We".(2)

Thus Vonnegut points to a possibly interesting case of intertextuality: a novel which is said to be modelled upon a precursor is also said to become the model for another one which was written two decades later. Generally speaking, it is somewhat strange for Vonnegut to produce the impression that, in literary history, cheerful imitation of other writers' works is quite a normal procedure. Thus his statement may be understood not so much as a confession or as an accusation of a fellow writer but as a descriptive utterance in the first place. To the best of my knowledge, no secondary source has so far dealt with PP in order to examine whether and, if so, to what degree, the plot of Zamyatin's We corresponds to that of Huxley's BNW and/or to that of Vonnegut's PP. Therefore, in the first part, it is the purpose of this paper to compare the plot and the theme of the two novels by Huxley and Vonnegut. Then, in the second part, a comparative analysis of Huxley's and Zamyatin's works will be offered. The results concerning these three possibly closely interrelated novels will be summarized and contrasted in a diagram (cf. below).

Part I

Even at first sight, in PP many aspects are different from BNW: the events do not occur in a global world but in the U.S.A.: the major part of the plot is situated in near-future Ilium, New York. There is still democracy, at the head of which is the American President. Unlike Huxley, Vonnegut deals with neither the mass production of babies nor with pre-natal and post-natal manipulation of people in order to produce happy consumers. And he does not mention either a state religion (like Fordism) or the use of efficient drugs (like soma) as tools in order to achieve political stability. In BNW, however, society has reached its final stage: there are no wars, no diseases, no poverty, but there is universal 'happiness' (cf. chapters 16 and 17). As a matter of fact, in this society nothing new happens any more: it has come to a dead standstill.

According to official doctrine, in Ilium things are better than ever, everything is good by comparison (p. 6);(3) in some respects, people are even said to live in a Golden Age (p. 210). However, there are many aspects which provide evidence to the contrary. At the very beginning, the reader learns that Ilium is divided into three parts, the place where the rich managers and engineers live (all of them have a doctor's degree and a lot of privileges), the part across the river where almost all of the people live, and the part in between the two areas where the machines 'live' (p. 1). In this society, there is a hierarchy by brains: therefore the managers and technicians form an elite at the top of the state whereas the working people have few rights, which means that human beings in this society are unequal.

In the course of the novel, the reader does not learn very much about the 'life' of the machines. The relationship between them and human beings, though, is a problematical one and thoroughly dealt with by Vonnegut. What causes trouble, concerns the uses that scientific knowledge is put up to (p. 80), because it means that human skills and talents are no longer required and people lose their jobs (p. 63) so that, unlike in Huxley's world state, there is unemployment in Ilium. Since machines are superior to man power, people have been and are still being replaced by them (p. 13) so that men feel superfluous. On the one hand, machines are said to bring about progress (p. 13). On the other hand, it is not admitted that they do so at the cost of the working people: these have lost the feeling of participation, of being needed on earth, which is to be the necessary foundation of their dignity (p. 80) as well as of their self-respect (p. 151). Generally speaking, in this novel Vonnegut focuses on the problem of science, progress and technology and their effects on human beings.

These may be felt almost everywhere. Concerning everyday life for example, machines are said to be used in farming (p. 127) and in housekeeping (p. 141f). Concerning agriculture for example, the reader learns that about 100 workers have machines of several million dollars' worth at their disposal (p. 127): this is a concrete example of the way how machinery contributes to unemployment. As to cooking, washing, ironing and similar house-keeping activities, Vonnegut points out that, because of scientific inventions, all of these have become a matter of seconds (p. 141f). Thus housewives may get "a little fun out of life" (p. 142), so that they may watch a lot of TV, which, one has to remember, at the time of the novel's publication, was just becoming a nationwide institution in the U.S.A.

There is another impressive example with the help of which Vonnegut ridicules technical progress. In the course of the novel, EPICAC XIV is presented: this is a computer which "did all the heavy thinking" (p. 103). It can list all the things which are needed, whether in times of peace or of war, and it can do all the planning for the American President (p. 102f). This shows how men not only depend on machines, but are also dominated by them, and it is not without ironical overtones that this computer is called the greatest individual in history (p. 104): even if it is unique, it makes individual activities superfluous. In this context, one has to realize that only a few specialists were informed about computers in 1952 when PP was published (their development had started during the Second World War).

Vonnegut's endeavour to ridicule the society's high degree of mechanization goes further than this. In BNW, it is described as real progress that war has been abolished (p. 205). In PP, as hinted above, war still does exist, and it is described by Vonnegut in terms of aggressive irony when he points out for instance that there is something about war which brought out the greatness of the American people (p. 177) or that during war you never worry about right and wrong (p. 178), that is, that moral problems are done away with in fighting other nations. Even more: since warfare is also dominated by machines, it becomes more effective, that is, also more cruel (p. 220). In contrast to Huxley's work, then, war is not only justified but even glorified. If there happens to be someone who wants to oppose this state of affairs, for example by writing an anti-machine book, it is not published. In other words, just like in BNW, censorship is used as a means of control.

Literature – in contrast to BNW - still exists, but it serves a different purpose, which becomes clear in the context of the so-called Meadows (p. 119): these are some kind of public amusements which last two weeks every year, which (similarly to the pseudo-religious services in BNW) are meant to strengthen the spirit of the community and include competition, songs, and the regular performance of a particular drama (pp. 183ff). One of its key passages consists of a trial scene during which there is a controversial discussion concerning the comparative positions of the engineer and the average man in society. At first, a radical enters who argues that today engineers and managers are everything and that the average man is nothing. This standpoint is 'refuted' by a young engineer, who maintains that he works in order to give the average man what he wants, that in reality the average man is his boss and that the consumer is the winner (p. 188). Therefore civilization is said to have reached the dizziest heights of all time (p. 189). It is only one page later that one of society's leaders claims this allegory to be evidence to the fact that art is not dying! (p. 190).

In order to comment upon this, I would like to make three remarks. Firstly, it becomes clear in the text that the play is written by one of the engineers (p. 190); thus the writer is personally involved in the controversy described by him, which implies that he cannot be impartial. Secondly, it is clear from the context that the engineers are at the top of society, that there is a hierarchical system of oppressors and oppressed people, of engineers as well as managers who are the rulers and people who, being good with their hands but having a rather low IQ, are not needed any longer: thus they are worse off than the Epsilons in BNW. Thirdly, in reality this drama is a biased attempt to justify the societal system: in other words, its performance is an example of badly hidden public propaganda. In contrast to Huxley, for Vonnegut literature fulfils a social function but, ironically, it is instrumentalized by the state's leaders for their own purposes: in fact, literature is being abused rather than functioning as art (cf. Zamyatin's We below).

As in many other important dystopian novels which show a hierarchical society based on control, oppression and/or manipulation,(4) in Vonnegut's futuristic society, an underground movement exists which is called the Ghost Shirt Society. It is a curious aspect that the protagonist of the novel Paul Proteus becomes involved in it. Proteus, because of his job as a manager, is probably the most important person in Ilium, one of the top people in the fictitious portrait of the United States. It is almost against his will that Paul Proteus is offered to become one of the leaders in the attempt to restore the world to the people (p. 248). First of all, this corresponds to the etymological meaning of his name: Proteus is a figure from Greek mythology, a god who has an unstable or changeable character. Moreover, the initials of his first name and his family name are the same as that of the novel's title (PP); there is a clear analogy between Paul Proteus and a player piano: his promotion to becoming the leader of the revolution takes place without his personal initiative and without any endeavours of his own. However, he does not realize that the members of the Ghost Shirt Party ironically use him as a mere tool and that he reacts to their intentions more or less mechanically.

Although Paul Proteus is a very influential person, he dreams of going back to a more natural life, of buying a farm and of doing something with his hands again. When, under the influence of a benign drug, he is questioned by the leaders of the Ghost Shirt Society, he says he is quitting because his job "wasn't getting anybody anywhere. Because it was getting everybody nowhere": in other words it is "pointless" (p. 247). Even when controlled by a lie-detector before a court of justice, he admits to regarding the present mechanized economy as characterized by "lawlessness" (p. 270). Moreover, sometimes he even has pricks of conscience since he, because of his position as a top manager, at least partly feels responsible for the present situation (p. 159). For him, the American people have been robbed of liberty and the pursuit of happiness (p. 272). These are clear hints to show that the protagonist is in sympathy with the aims of those made useless by technology and that, as a consequence, it makes sense for him to join the conspirators in a rebellion against the system.(5) This development is underlined by the fact that Proteus is literally taken underground to undergo conversion and to surface as the messiah of rebellion.(6)

For the rebels, the status quo is insufferable, therefore they plan a change for the better (p. 254). However, it is very difficult for them to get organized since the principle of control is pervasive (pp. 10-11). Rather than in houses, people live in glass machines (p. 107), like in Zamyatin's dystopian novel We (cf. part II, below), to make even their personal lives completely transparent. For this reason, the members of the conspiracy are identified by a combination of letters and numbers (p. 255), which is reminiscent of Zamyatin's work, too (cf. again below). Yet the conspirators succeed in finding representatives in every region of the country (p. 253).

Their programme consists of several aspects, which are partly economical aims of a practical nature, but others also have a moral and/or a psychological dimension, which, by implication, reveal a different understanding of mankind. First of all, the conspirators question the value of technology which during the past wars was almost a divine right (p. 260). In their opinion, machines replace men without regard for the wishes of men, which, just like Paul Proteus (cf. above), they classify as "lawlessness" (p. 261). What they want to stop, is the "intemperate faith in lawless technological progress" (p. 262). Therefore they plan to wreck the automatic factories and give America back to the people (p. 258), to overthrow the "national holy trinity, Efficiency, Economy, and Quality" and to make men feel useful again (p. 261).

In doing so, they want to get back to basic values and virtues, i.e. to get back to morality (p. 259). Compared to life delineated in Huxley's BNW, this is a clear step backwards, a collective regression as it were. As to the people, the movement wants to restore their pride, dignity, and self-respect and to re-introduce work worth doing (p. 260). They also maintain that there must be virtue in imperfection, in inefficiency, in brilliance (p. 262), which is summed up in the thesis: "We 're no good because we 're human" (p. 275). This standpoint comes very close to that taken by John Savage, who, in the climactic dialogue between world controller Mustapha Mond and himself, claims "the right to be unhappy" (p. 207). If other means fail, the group is also prepared to use force in order to end the lawlessness of the present situation (p. 261); this aspect will be dealt with below. These aims may be found in a letter written in the name of Paul Proteus, which he is ironically informed of only after it has been sent off but which he approves of nevertheless (pp. 260-262); this passage might provide interesting material as an additional text or as a test paper.

The start of the rebellion is described from the perspective of three people: from that of the Shah of Bratpuhr who is being shown round In Ilium and functions as a curious visitor in order to learn about the nature of the dystopian state,(7) from that of his nephew who acts as an interpreter and from that of an official of the Foreign Secretary: after all, the U.S.A. want to sell their machinery to the Shah's country (p. 276f). These three people experience upheaval, violence, and destruction, which is called "the systematic replacement of automatic control devices by human beings" (p. 285). However, there is more in this process of fighting: it quickly degenerates into vandalism. One of the leaders has to admit that this mess "has all the characteristics of a lynching" (p. 286). And the revolution is not successful. Yet its chief instigator is of the opinion that "it doesn't matter if we win or lose ... The important thing is that we tried" (p. 289). As will be seen below, in the context of the entire novel, this remark takes an ironic tinge.

Paul Proteus is arrested by the police and has to appear before a court of justice (p. 269). It does not become clear by the text of the novel how the leaders of society get their information about the conspiracy. Possibly there is some kind of secret police, possibly there are informers working for them. Anyway, the former manager is accused of conspiracy and the commission of sabotage. Even when faced with a lie-detector he sticks to his conviction, for example that it is a lie that "every new piece of scientific knowledge is a good thing for humanity" (p. 273). Conversely, he thinks that "the main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings" – not to serve as appendages to machines, institutions and systems ... (p. 273). The prosecution's standpoint is reminiscent both of Freud and Huxley: Paul's attitude is said to be caused by hatred for his father, and America as a whole becomes a symbol of him (p. 274). Thus Paul is said to be dominated by an Oedipus complex, a concept which may also be applied to John Savage and his mother Linda's lover Popé (cf. e.g. pp. 178-179).

For the end of the novel, it is not relevant what happens to the instigators of the conspiracy, for the outcome of the novel takes a rather surprising turn. At first the replacement of men by machines seemed to be a wrong turn; in that case rebellion might be considered as a step backward, yet as a step in the right direction. After destruction, however, people are eager to repair the machines or even to invent new ones (p. 292f). It comes out of the blue that the anti-machine rebellion is replaced by a pro-machine movement. This shows that Vonnegut has a rather pessimistic view of mankind. He points out that a circle movement is going on and on: first there is an invention of machines – these take control over men – then they are destroyed by men – after that men invent new machines so that they will be dependent on them again. Thus Vonnegut seems to say that nothing is stable: there is a perennial struggle for progress and rebellion against it. In other words, there is nothing more permanent than change, which leads to a formation of an endless vicious circle. Such a never-ending movement of society is just the opposite of what characterizes Huxley's global world, which is determined by a complete stagnation.

On the whole, then, one cannot help concluding that the plot of PP is not based on a systematic imitation of BNW. Perhaps it is better not to interpret Vonnegut's unusual collocation "cheerfully ripping off" in too narrow a sense. According to Webster's dictionary of the American language, the slang verb "to rip off" means "to steal, to exploit, to take advantage of", which means that Vonnegut openly acknowledged his use of BNW. Perhaps he just wanted to say that somehow Huxley's work served as a literary source or as a useful starting point for him, from which he took over a number of aspects, which, of course, did not exclude variations concerning details, addition of and combination with other aspects of his own invention. Unfortunately Vonnegut, concerning Huxley's novel as well as concerning his own work, did not elaborate on the relationship between literary originality and possible plagiarism. Thus, on the one hand, in the two novels, there are certainly parallels and similarities such as the loss of liberty, the suppression of people and the abolition or the abuse of literature. On the other hand, there are also substantial differences between the two dystopias (cf. diagram below). On the whole, then, far from being identical, in my opinion, the two dystopias are individual works of their own, and certainly both of them have their own intrinsic appeal to the reader.

Anyway, there is one aspect the two writers have in common: Vonnegut shares Huxley's disbelief in unlimited progress. According to these two writers, there exist two possibilities. Either there is an abolition of the past and the future, a complete stagnation and an eternal present, or there is a permanent change, i.e. a movement from one vicious circle to the next. To my mind, it will remain an open question which possibility is preferable for mankind. Yet both Huxley and Vonnegut are sceptics who do not believe in the perfectibility of men, who cannot imagine a human paradise on earth - with god-like people to live in.(8) As a consequence, for them there will never be a real brave new world.

Part II

As to Zamyatin's novel We, it was originally written in Russia in the early 1920s, which means it is closely connected with the rise of dictatorship and totalitarianism in that country. At that time in Russia, its publication was prohibited, that is, prevented by censorship. Thus English translations came out much earlier than the original work itself. The first English translation was published in the U.S.A. in 1924, whereas, in the Soviet Union, the orginal text did not appear before 1988, i.e. after the start of glasnost.(9) In the following, page references are based on the translation by Mira Ginsburg, which follows the text brought out by the Chekhov publishing house in 1952.

It has been suggested that Huxley was well familiar with Zamyatin's work. George Orwell, for example pointed out "that Aldous Huxley's BNW must be partly derived from it".(10) And it is useful to remember Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. maintained that the plot of BNW "had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeni Zamyatin's We" (cf. introduction). Yet we have Huxley's own word for it that he came to know the book in the late 1950s only, that is, a few years before his death: "Oddly enough I never heard of Zamyatin's book until three or four years ago."(11) Zamyatin’s biographer Alex Shane finds this declaration "ironic".(12) According to We translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed Huxley was lying.(13) Unfortunately, I do not know of any reasons for these negative value judgements. It is true, though, that such accusations come from two persons who, having a deep interest in Zamyatin's life and work, are perhaps no unbiased judges of Huxley. However that may be, it is the purpose of this paper to compare the texts of the two novels in order to find out possible similarities and dissimilarities in the plot of both novels as well as in the writers' views of a futuristic society.

In Zamyatin's We, the events which take place in the remote future, are related by a first-person narrator called D-503, who often addresses himself to readers of the past. In the futuristic world, he is a mathematician by profession and the first and chief builder of the spaceship Integral (p. 2). He is also a very talented story-teller, whose language is full of metaphors, comparisons and uncommon collocations. As an engineer, he fulfils an important function in the world state, in which the perspective for the near future is to cross the one frontier remaining, that is, to conquer space. Its leaders obviously start from the assumption that they will meet extraterrestrial civilizations somewhere in the universe, and in the official newspaper, The One State Gazette, it is announced that "they will subjugate the unknown beings on other planets ... to the beneficent yoke of reason" (p. 1). And if the power of words fail, "it will be our duty to compel them to be happy" (p. 1). Surprisingly enough, no explicit reasons are given why the plan of subjugation is regarded as their "duty". This implies a claim to the superiority of the One State, which elsewhere maintains to "have reached the highest summits possible for man" (p. 103). It is one characteristic feature of this world state that liberty is said to be ruinous whereas absence of liberty means happiness since there is no more confusion about good and evil (cf. pp. 61-62), which means that it has become impossible to commit crimes (p. 35).

As to the plot in Zamyatin's We, it consists of the narrator's own story, in which he also fulfils the function of the protagonist. It is a personal, confessional-like account of his experiences recorded in a number of diary entries. His original intention is to lay down his report at the feet of the One State (p. 2). However, his troubles set in when he undergoes an unexpected development which consists in the re-discovery of inner space, that is, he falls in love. As a consequence, D-503 immediately thinks himself to be ill (p. 37), for the One State is dominated by mathematics, and love feelings are something criminal. They originate in an imagination which in former times was called "soul": it is classified as dangerous since, allegedly, there is the possibility of an epidemic (pp. 90-91). As a consequence of the writer's procedure, the depiction of the utopian society which was an abstract one, now becomes more appealing to the reader.

Eventually it is hinted in the text that I-330 did not really love D-503 but only contacted him because of his importance as the chief constructor of the Integral. Thus she used him as an instrument (p. 214) so as to find an opportunity for taking possession of the spaceship in order to "finish everything quickly, painlessly, at once" (p. 174). His love is sacrificed so to speak on the altar of revolution.

D-503's behaviour is in sharp contrast with official doctrines because he is being dominated by emotions rather than being guided by reason. He is a physically weak as well as a very sensitive person, who is easily over-excited and becomes subject to an increasing degree of mental disorder. This impression is supplemented by the narrator's increasing self-doubts and his growing inability to distinguish between dreams and reality (p. 101). As a result, different from his original intention, his diary entries are no longer orthodox but are becoming more and more heretical: he decides to follow I-330, who is a very committed revolutionist and a member of the resistance movement Mephi (the name derives from Mephistopheles, the embodiment of evil). In other words, D-503 and I-330 act like Adam and Eve in paradise: she acts as the seducer, and his love of her undermines his loyalty to the One State: love, then becomes a means of rebellion against conformity of behaviour (cf. Winston and Julia in George Orwell's 1984, who also defy the official party line).

In the end, D-503 is operated on (p. 231) in a process that is like a lobotomy: his imagination is destroyed by triple X-rays which, according to the state leader's doctrine, brings about absolute happiness because men become machine-like and their emotional needs are destroyed (p. 180). As a consequence, he betrays I-330, watches with equanimity how she is tortured and finally executed (p. 232). Acting this way, D-503 regains his composure and calmness of mind.- In the following, characteristic features of the global state will be derived from this personal context.

The society in We came into being after a long and cruel war, which lasted 200 years and which only two tenths of mankind survived (p. 21). Therefore one must assume that terrible weapons were used in order to end something that might resemble a third world war. Aldous Huxley also points out that the brave new world arose as a consequence of a war, which, however, was supposed to have lasted nine years only (p. 197) but which also almost meant the extermination of mankind. Obviously, the problem is how to curb and to overcome man's aggressive instincts in order to build up the foundation of a new society.(14) As a result, human emotions were suppressed, and purifying logic was used instead to prevent further catastrophes. The rise of a global state, then, was thought to be absolutely necessary for the survival of the human race.

At the top of Zamyatin's We stands the Great Benefactor. On Unanimity Day, which is a public holiday similar to the "Easter" of the Ancients (p. 136), an annual election occurs whose results are known beforehand. It is a pseudo-democratic process in which the Great Benefactor has been re-elected each year unanimously (p. 138). This happens despite the fact that he is a very cruel leader: any crime is punished by execution, during which the procedure is similar to a barbaric religious sacrifice.(15) Ironically, these public events are called "celebrating justice": every transgressor is killed with the help of a machine which melts and dissociates the victim (p. 48). Punishment is the only and therefore the most precious right that the 'respected' numbers still have, for which they are said to feel gratitude (p. 114f). Generally speaking, the Benefactor is ascribed superhuman power: he has a god-like position, he is deified. However, his real role is that of a ruthless dictator, and each execution is to be celebrated with the help of strange and unjustifiable verse composed by the State Poets.

As hinted above, in the One State, all members are deindvidualized and distinguished by numbers even and uneven: there are consonants and uneven numbers for men (e.g. D-503), and there are vowels and even numbers for women (e.g. I-330). Apart from the Great Benefactor at the top, there is no hierarchy in the One State, whereas in BNW, apart from the World Controllers, there are five castes, from the intelligent Alphas and Betas down to the menial Epsilons. But it is generally acknowledged that even Epsilons are socially useful (p. 68). Like members of any other class, they only count as cells of the social body. In a similar way, in Zamyatin's view, individuals have no value in themselves, but they only function as parts of a greater sum, that is, as members of the single mighty organism of the One State (p. 12). The title We refers to the solidarity of society as a whole (p. 2).

It is true that in this futuristic state literature still exists, but it is used for particular purposes only. In the ancient world, it was merely personal and therefore useless. Now it is said to have an official function, poetry is "civic service", it is "useful" (p. 68). The poets are expected to praise the beauty and the grandeur of the One State, for example to accompany the voyage of the Integral or, as shown above, to find poetical euphemisms in order to celebrate 'justice' during public executions. Literature, then, is instrumentalized for political purposes, just as it is also described in PP (cf. above). Probably such an abuse of art is even worse than its total suppression.(16) However, there can be no doubt about the fact that this is part of Zamyatin's satiric technique: it drives another nail into the coffin of the arts.(17)

Embedded in the novel's plot, there is quite a lot of information concerning the organization of daily life and work in the world state. Generally speaking, this is determined by the so-called Table of Hours, which is "the heart and pulse of the One State" (p. 11): not only everybody's activities during day-time, but also the hours of sleep are parts of a comprehensive daily plan valid for every number. This includes getting up in the morning, starting to work, taking meals together and having two hours at one's personal disposal. One is for physical exercises (daily marching), one is for mutual visits (for example for sexual contacts). All these activities are strictly controlled rituals: the daily marches always follow the same rhythm and have the character of an attractive military drill (p. 5).

Control is thought to be indispensable: without it, sexuality for example, would be unscientific and animal-like (p. 13). On so-called sexual days, men may register for women, but women may also register for men so that, in this respect, there exists emancipation between men and women. On such occasions, each number has a right to any other (p. 21); the partners may even pull the shades of their glass houses down so that they have a certain privacy for sexual activities which are arranged by the Sexual Office. Thus, apart from a few bureaucratic principles, Zamyatin speaks in favour of sexual liberty. In BNW, there are no written rules for sexuality, but Huxley also pleads for as many non-procreative copulations as possible (promiscuity). In We, sexuality is part of a fixed schedule for peoples' whole lives, that is, until their death, every step is strictly planned and predetermined. This is reminiscent of the rail and the bottle metaphors in BNW: "His [an Epsilon's] conditioning has laid down rails along which he's got to run ... Each one of us ... goes through life inside a bottle" (p. 193).

In Zamyatin's dystopia, there is a clear dominance of reason, of logical and mathematical principles. All numbers have to attend prescribed courses in art and sciences in the evening (p. 29), and, as a rule, their task is to produce machines. Work is organized according to the Taylor system, which is regarded as important enough to have become a school subject (p. 42). This alludes to John Winslow Taylor (1856-1915); the system invented by him refers to scientific management in order to improve industrial efficiency. It contained a rational number system which was integrated into a social theory. In the text, ironically, he is also classified as a man of genius who could see ahead for ten centuries (p. 33). Thus, for Zamyatin, he may fulfil the same function as Henry Ford did for Huxley: what first seems to be an unquestionable source for the rise of technology, ultimately becomes a target of criticism since it leads to mass production and an unacceptable mechanization of human life. As has been shown in part I, this idea may also be traced in the text of PP. Thus Vonnegut, rather than maintaining the similarity of plots, might have drawn attention to a recurrent motif in the three novels under consideration.

The numbers in We do not only produce machines, in the factories they also breed children. In doing so, they have to follow certain rules: there are public lessons about breeding children in particular auditoriums. It is implied in the text that children, rather than being private any longer, have become public property (cf. p. 27), and, rather than traditional maternal or paternal feelings, there are maternal and paternal norms by the state (p. 14) so that emotions are reduced or even suppressed. It is also stated in the text that all numbers live alone: there are no families, there is no living together of partners or friends, although D-503 has had a partnership with his friend O-90 for three years (p. 63f). On the other hand, it is clear that O's pregnancy is illegal so that she has to run away in order to escape the Benefactor's machine (p. 201). In these respects there are certainly some similarities between We and BNW. However, it was probably through one of Sigmund Freud's writings that Huxley, just one year before the publication of BNW, became aware of the close connection between the abolition of families and emotions on the one hand and permissive sexual behaviour on the other hand.(18)

In We, control is everywhere: it is practised by the so-called Guardians.(19) Firstly, there is visual control (for example, observation tubes in aeroplanes for control from above: cf. p. 121). Secondly, there is auditory control with the help membranes (i.e. microphones) in the streets (p. 53, p. 69), and, thirdly, there is social control, which demands the co-operation of all numbers and consists of everybody's duty to report transgressors to the Guardians within two days (p. 31). Moreover, for easy inspection, all houses are made of glass, letters are subject to censorship by the Guardians, alcohol and nicotine are forbidden since they are said to be self-destructive (p. 55), and all transgressors are sacrificed to the Benefactor's machine.

In spite of this kind of control and observation, a revolution is started by the Mephi the very day when the Great Benefactor is to be re-elected for the 48th time: on this occasion, there are thousands of votes against him (p. 143). For the narrator, the revolution leading to the One State was the final one; for I-330, revolutions are infinite (p. 174). However, it is left open whether this revolution turns out to be successful. On the one hand, the Guardians, because of their apparent knowledge of D-503's manuscript (p. 203), are informed of the plans of the underground movement. On the other hand, the Mephi movement is supported by hundreds of people who live outside the Green Wall (p. 164). Inside this wall, there is a highly mechanized world, outside there is Nature.

When reading such a depiction of the One State one cannot help wondering whether the narrator himself might also be a victim of manipulation or propaganda of the state that he lives in. In the course of the text, there are many examples which testify to the fact that he is clearly biased. In his opinion, a traditional whip for example is a hideous weapon, whereas he praises the use of an electric whip because it moves in a regular 'beautiful' rhythm when hurting transgressors (p. 126). Or, if a reader feels that the Great Benefactor's executions are reminiscent of the procedure by the Inquisition of the Ancients, the narrator points out that his seemingly cruel means are justified by "a noble end" (p. 80): the Benefactor has to take care of the fate of millions (p. 80) so that the executions of individual numbers are justified.

This is also an example of the new ethics founded on mathematics, which is said to be infallible and to be the foundation of an eternal, never-changing system. It points to the naiveté of the narrator that he compares the Benefactor to the Christian God that is also said to be an executioner by sending people to hell (p. 213), which is clearly a false analogy. Elsewhere, he states that the control exercised by the Guardians is similar to that of the love and care of traditional Guardian Angels (cf. e.g. p. 67), thus combining unpleasant aspects with favourable connotations. Generally speaking, he justifies and praises every characteristic feature of the One State which, in his opinion, is more or less perfect. For the narrator, it is ideal if nothing happens any more (p. 24) so that further progress is impossible.

In other words, D-503's perspective is extremely limited; he is an unreliable narrator as he becomes a vehicle for the writer's satire. The satirical intention of this book is obvious: the writer uses false analogies, exaggerations, euphemisms and repetitions to drive home its irony. Moreover, the language of the novel is rich in metaphors and poetical effects, which is just the opposite of mathematics. Even more than that: the language undermines its message. In most of these respects, Huxley's BNW could not be more different: in his dystopia, there is an 'objective' third-person narrator, and mathematics does not play a major role. And Huxley's satirical intention is much more subtle, more carefully hidden in the text and therefore has to be derived from between the lines.


There are a few obvious parallels between Zamyatin's We and Huxley's BNW. Both dystopian societies come into being after a cruel war: the existence of a global state is said to be necessary for the survival of mankind. As a consequence, emotions are suppressed, and reason is ascribed a dominant role. Thus families, just like maternal and paternal bonds, are abolished, and people have to live alone. Individuals are only regarded as social cells; however, they have no significance in themselves: that is, there is no personal liberty for anybody. Both societies claim to have reached a state of high perfection so that any further change or progress is thought to be undesirable and is suppressed in the name of stability.

Besides, there are some additional similarities. In We, children are bred in factories; however, apart from this statement, the reader does not learn any further details. Conversely, Huxley is very explicit about this process: in the first chapter of BNW (pp. 7-20) he describes how people are manufactured in order to conform to a consumer culture. In We, the most important task of the numbers is to mass-produce machines. In Huxley's dystopian London, life is modelled on the characteristic features of a Fordian factory. Zamyatin and Huxley, then, just like Vonnegut (cf. above), criticize the rise of technology and the mechanization of human life. In We, anybody may apply to have sex with any other number, which is, of course, supervised by the so-called Sexual Office. In BNW, people have to be promiscuous, they are expected to have unbureaucratic and unrestricted sex relations with as many partners as possible, which again shows that Huxley goes beyond the Russian writer's concept.

Apart from these characteristic features, the societies depicted in BNW and in We differ in almost ervery respect. In the Russian writer's dystopia, life is strictly regulated by the Table of Hours, and control is direct and omnipresent: the Guardians have to fulfil the function of stabilizing society. In BNW, life is much less strictly regulated. In this novel, there are only 7 ½ hours of mild, unexhausting labour (p. 194); these are supplemented by a wide range of expensive free-time activities, which are not subject to any time table: their aim is to encourage consumption. In BNW control is also very powerful, but it is scientific and indirect. The society in BNW is built on in vitro fertilization, pre-natal social designation into different castes (chapter 1), post-natal conditioning, a perfect system of 'education' of the children by the state including sleep-teaching (chapter 2), solidarity services (chapter 5) and the drug soma (whose use is frequently mentioned in the text). The state is not so much based on direct pressure, but on the more refined methods of genetic manipulation (biochemistry), conditioning and on the twin principles of pleasure and consumption. Because everybody is happy, there is no room for a resistance movement: Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are outsiders rather than rebels, and John Savage's attempt to bring freedom to the Delta workers (p. 185f), in the context of society as a whole, is certainly an insignificant episode. Life in Fordian London and in the brave new world as a whole, then, seems to be more stable than that in We.

In the Russian dystopia, there are no different social classes. In BNW, there are five different classes, ranging from the top castes of the Alphas and Betas to the Epsilons at the bottom of the scale. The members of the upper classes possess some degree of individuality since each member is being produced from one egg, whereas the lower class members are real clones for as many of them as possible are produced from one fertilized egg only. Besides, the Benefactor is not comparable to Huxley's world controller: Mustapha Mond is an intelligent former scientist, an Alpha Plus working for the common good (p. 196f), and in BNW there occurs a banishment of dissenters (p. 198) rather than deterrence by the death penalty. This is a convincing hint that Huxley's dystopia is much less based on political pressure. However, it becomes clear that Huxley, in his novel of ideas, focuses on the parody and satire of the brave new world.

To conclude: it is not surprising that there are a few parallels between two novels which belong to the same genre. And there is no textual evidence that Huxley made an "unacknowledged use" of Zamyatin’s novel.(20)) Thus, to my mind, it is with good reason that Huxley denied the Russian writer's influence on his most famous novel BNW.(21) But there is sufficient textual evidence to prove that, just like Vonnegut's PP, BNW is an original, independent novel of its own.

As a final note, I would like to mention that George Orwell, in his review of We, came to the conclusion that it was "a book to look for" and, as it seems, he followed his own piece of advice.(22) This can be seen in his novel 1984, another famous pillar of the dystopian tradition in England. It is a well-known fact that he began writing his dystopia eight months after reading the Russian novelist's work and after writing a review of it for Tribune which appeared in January 1946.(23)

The parallels start with the constellation of characters: D-503 and I-330 in We may be compared to Julia and Winston Smith in 1984, and the Great Benefactor at the top of Zamyatin's state is comparable to the role of Big Brother. There are also similarities in the plots: in both novels the lovers try to oppose rather than to follow the party line, that is, to defy a totalitarian system. However, since in both societies individuality is systematically suppressed and each member is rigidly controlled, any attempt at resistance proves to be ultimately futile. Thus, in the end, Winston and D-503 betray their partners, and both females are killed. As a consequence, We is much closer to 1984 than to BNW, or as one critic put it: "Orwell's 1984 was much more directly influenced by We".(24) Therefore one cannot help wondering why Kurt Vonnegut, concerning a possible dependence on the plot of Zamyatin's We, drew attention to BNW rather than to 1984. But even if the dependence of 1984 on We is clear beyond doubt, I would argue that most of the influential political aspects of the Orwell's dystopia are clearly his own.(25)

Points of comparison

Brave New World


Player Piano

genesis of the world state rise of the world state after the Nine Years War, very cruel; based on science and Henry Ford's assembly lines (mass production): life standardized like in Fordian factory rise of a global state after a terrible war which only two tenths of mankind survived; development of technology based on the teachings of J.W. Taylor after a cruel war, technological progress leads to a pervasive mechanization of life in the U.S.A. in the near future
determination of the birth-rate regulated by the state no evidence; human reproduction controlled by the state uncontrolled by the state
the breeding of people all people are mass-produced; manipulation starts shortly after in vitro fertilization; ectogenesis, conditioning, hypnopaedia, conscription of consumption; influence of psycho-analysis, behaviourism; abolition of emotions and families: sources of complexes/neuroses children are bred in factories; no maternal or paternal feelings; no private children; children = public property; abolition of families; numbers living alone, being subject to reason and the "purifying force of logic" natural reproduction and natural births; people still live in families
social structure five classes forming two groups; Alphas and Betas are intellectually superior, the others: menial workers (real clones); solidarity of people; ten world controllers at the top there is a dictator, the Great Benefactor; apart from that, all people have equal rights two classes: engineers and managers + ordinary people; the engineers are influential, the others are more or less oppressed; the U.S.A are still a democratic country
situation of the individual, standard of life, work, organisation of free time, attitude towards society individuals are treated as social cells; loss of liberty (lives on rails/in bottles); light work, material comfort and many leisure time activities for everybody like sports, soma, orgy-porgy, feelies, TV, compulsory sex relations: (unorganized) promiscuity; people are happy consumers: they are conditioned to like their destinies; outsiders are banished; a society based on scientific manipulation; indirect control people are deindividualized: they are (respected!) numbers; living in glass houses; their daily life is regulated by the Table of Hours; the numbers have only two hours at their personal disposal, e.g. (obligatory) daily marches or sexual activities; organized and controlled by the Sex Office; conformity to the state; transgressors sent to the Benefactor's machine (they are executed); direct control; totalitarian society unemployment, poverty, mass starvation, loss of liberty; technological progress takes place at the cost of the working people; living in glass machines; watching TV; "the Meadows": sports, songs, drama performances for increasing the spirit of the community; nationwide conspiracy; aims at getting back basic virtues and values; "there must be virtue in imperfection"; rebels identified by combinations of letters and numbers
drugs soma as a drowner of cares, a drug without side effects; a tool to guarantee political stability; the drug is used on many occasions; Fordian London is stable; no underground movement no use of drugs; people's imagination is destroyed by an operation on the brain (triple X-ray treatment): this is said to lead to absolute happiness; no further revolutions [a beneficial drug is applied to the protagonist only once]
literature/the arts inaccessible, except to the world controllers (censorship); poetry is suppressed; officially the past does not exist any longer literature is abused rather than suppressed: it is instrumentalized for political purposes; since it is civic, it is useful literature is instrumentalized for propaganda purposes, too; anti-machine literature is forbidden (censorship)
religion pseudo-religion: Fordism to annihilate the ego and to enhance group solidarity no religion; the Great Benefactor is deified, yet he acts like a dictator [a former priest as instigator of revolution, otherwise religion is socially irrelevant]
science and the future science has become a public threat, a danger for society, has to be controlled, must not be allowed to undo its own good work; no further change or progress: stagnation science used to construct a spaceship in order to conquer outer space and to subjugate other people to the "beneficent yoke of reason"; state almost ideal; hardly any other progress possible revolution in order to restore the world to the people – its failure - invention of more machines – oppression – revolution, etc. regressus in infinitum; progress is meaningless.


(1) Vonnegut is a prolific writer who started his career in 1950 by publishing his first short story entitled "Report on the Barnhouse Effect". Dozens of Vonnegut's short stories appeared in journals and magazines during this decade, many of which were collected later and published again in the anthology Welcome to the Monkey House (1968). At the beginning he mostly wrote them for money while working on his novels, which are more important to him.

(2) The quotation is taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World.

(3) Page references are based on the following editions: Rudolph Franklin Rau (ed.), Aldous Huxley: 'Brave New World'. Stuttgart: Klett, 2007; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Player Piano (1952), New York: Dell, cop. 1980.

(4) Among others one may quote Yevgeni Zamyatin's We, George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, etc.

(5) Cf. Peter J. Reed, "Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano. Overview“; cf. http://www.vonnegutweb.com/playerpiano/pp_peterjreed.html.

(6) Ib.

(7) This is a common device in utopian as well as in dystopian novels: cf. H.G. Wells's, Men Like Gods, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Island, Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia, etc. - Earlier in the novel it is described how a player piano (an instrument which produces music automatically) is played by Edward Finnerty (p. 91), the only friend of Paul Proteus, who also becomes a member of the Ghost Shirt Party. His act may be seen as an example of foreshadowing human attempts to regain control of the machines.

(8) Cf. H.G. Wells, Men Like Gods (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1923) who believes in perfectible man as well as progress unlimited and develops a very optimistic picture of the future. Cf. also Sigmund Freud who wrote in Civilization and its Discontents (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Reissue Edition, 1989), pp. 44-45: "Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great advances in this field of civilization and will increase man's likeness to God still more."

(9)(9)Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_%28novel%29. Cf. Caitrin Nicol, "Brave New World at 75", http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/brave-new-world-at-75. Cf. also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World.

(10) Cf. We, review by George Orwell, Tribune, January 4 (1946); cf. also Donald Watt (ed.), Aldous Huxley: The Critical Heritage (London and Boston, 1975), p. 333: "Both books deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world".

(11) Cf. Christopher Collins, "Zamyatin, Wells and the Literary Tradition", The Slavonic and East European Review 44 (1965-66), p. 351.

(12) Cf. Jerome Meckier, "Poetry in the Future, the Future of Poetry: Huxley and Orwell on Zamyatin", Renaissance and Modern Studies, 28 (1984), p. 18.

(13) Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_%28novel%29.

(14) Cf. a similar description of the problem in H.G. Wells, Men like Gods, p. 72.

(15) Such a ritual is somewhat reminiscent of a "particicution" in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: this is also a combination of public executions and religious ceremonies.

(16) Jerome Meckier, p. 21.

(17) Jerome Meckier, p. 23.

(18) Cf. Civilization and Its Discontents (first English translation: 1930) [reissue edition, New York, 1989], pp. 71–72. Huxley's criticism of Freud was first expressed in BNW, later on also in essays and interviews: cf. Jerome Meckier, Aldous Huxley: Modern Satirical Novelist of Ideas, edd. Peter E. Firchow and Bernfried Nugel (Berlin, 2006),p. 134.

(19) The function of the Guardians may also be compared to that of the "Eyes" in The Handmaid's Tale.

(20) Cf. Jerome Meckier, p. 19. This hypothesis is not very convincing since Meckier's contribution focuses on the role of poetry, which is one partial aspect of the dystopian society only, particularly with reference to BNW. In comparing the characters of D-503 and Helmholtz Watson, Meckier, to some degree, idealizes the latter's role.
It should also be remembered that Zamyatin was not indignant at Huxley; for him the similarities between the two novels prove that "these ideas are in the air we breathe." Cf. Caitrin Nicol, "Brave New World at 75", http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/brave-new-world-at-75.

(21) This has been the case since 1932, the year BNW was published. Cf. Jerome Meckier, p. 18.

(22) Cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/jun/08/george-orwell-1984-zamyatin-we.

((23) As can be seen from note 10, Orwell's review of We appeared in the very first days of January 1946 whereas his novel 1984 came out in 1948.

(24) Cf. Caitrin Nicol, "Brave New World at 75", http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/brave-new-world-at-75.

(25) Cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/jun/08/george-orwell-1984-zamyatin-we.

Uploaded by Dr. Willi Real on Tuesday, 6 February, 2018 at 9:20 AM.

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