26th of July: Aldous Huxley

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” – Aldous Huxley

A month ago, I wrote about George Orwell and his works, praising his writings for being uncomfortable and making us reflect on society‘s past, present, and future. And I thought, talking about another equally famous author of the same genre might be obsolete. However, I came to the conclusion that, especially, Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) kind of complement each other in addressing a similar topic while being so different. It’s also nice to know that Huxley was Orwell‘s French teacher at Eton and actually wrote a letter to his former student regarding 1984 praising and also criticising the novel.

Huxley believed his version of government rule to be longer-lasting and more efficient as it doesn’t use fear and violence to make people obedient but conditioning and happy drugs causing citizens to love their state. Moreover, unorthodox thinkers are not broken in Brave New World but given the choice of either becoming rulers themselves or leaving society suggesting relative freedom.

In his letter to Orwell Huxley writes: “I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. […]The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.”

Comparing and contrasting both novels and simultaneously looking at the present was highly interesting for me. Both draw on people’s fears of being controlled by the government and worst-case scenarios can be good means to discuss and reflect about our contemporary and future society in the EFL classroom.



Who doesn’t know The Handmaid’s Tale? Most people probably have the TV series in mind which caused quite the stir when it came out in 2017 because of its incredible imagery and unique and repulsive dystopian, or ustopian how she would call it, concept. A ustopia is a world that combines utopia and dystopia. Atwood defines the utopian elements in The Handmaid’s Tale as the past, the time before everything went pear-shaped, and the future, the time when this totalitarian tyrannical episode would be part of history. Although it only recently conquered the screens, the novel was already written in 1984 and published a year later. She began writing it in Western Berlin and, thus, also got an insight of life in the GDR, Czechoslovakia and Poland and their regimes. 15 years later, the reality seemed to have changed completely and The Handmaid’s Tale far less likely.

“It looked as if, in the race between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World – control by terror versus control through conditioning and consumption – the latter had won”, she writes 2011 in the Guardian article Margaret Atwood: the road to Ustopia which I find to be a very powerful statement. At present, the topic seems to be more relevant again, the future is a vulnerable little thing full of possibilities and uncertainties.

Margaret Atwood creates some possibilities in her works, addressing different current issues. Oryx and Crake circles around bio-engineering and to a certain extent the downsides of pharma lobbyism and, going hand in hand with that, also the aftermath of a viral pandemic that destroys human civilisation. In The Heart Goes Last, she explores a near future, a thought experiment about social security in exchange for freedom. A couple is offered a nice home and carefree life if they agree to be imprisoned every second month, then they alternate with another couple. Being imprisoned despite not being guilty, doing unethical work like euthanising people…how far is one willing to go for own advantages? How much can principles and morals be bent?

Margaret Atwood wrote 18 novels, ten short fiction collections and 21 poetry collections were published and it doesn’t end there. In any case, she provides a vast load of material to think about and discuss, that even encourages a differentiated discourse. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to mention a brilliant invention Atwood made: The LongPen. It is, especially in times of social distancing, an incredibly useful device that makes signing books possible from anywhere in the world. The act of signing is done with a tablet, laptop ect. at the one end and is received by a robot hand holding a pen at the other end. If our current situation holds on much longer, the LongPen might definitely come in ‘handy’, I’d say!