Classism: Inherent or Acquired Traits Define Social Status
Reading 1984, Brave New World, and The Republic of Plato, an informed reader cannot help but make comparisons between these three historically important novels. The historical discussion over these novels includes ideas such as totalitarianism, utopia, the true nature of humans, and the meaning of justice. All the ideas presented in these books have to do with one thing: the organization of humans into societies of a specific type. In George Orwell’s chilling tale of the futuristic yet drab and depressing state of the world, he shares what life would be like if society had organized itself in a particular fashion, in this case a totalitarian government. This is just one scenario that George Orwell perhaps decided he should explore and form into the novel 1984, but all three novels address the situation of humans living in a society together, and discuss different forms of society.
One common theme between these three texts that I have chosen to focus on is the existence of classist systems. In the societies portrayed in 1984, Brave New World, and The Republic, there exists to a moderate extent a system that classifies people based on either socio-economic background, pre-determined social roles, natural abilities such as intelligence and strength, or all of the above. This classist system is central to the functioning of Orwell’s Oceania, Huxley’s utopia, and Socrates’ ideal city.
In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley illustrates the lives of people living in a society obsessed with constant happiness. However, while the all-consuming goal of the general population is keeping themselves contented in the easiest way possible at all times, the goal of the limited number of so-called “controllers”, or people in positions of absolute authority who rule over every aspect of the world is to keep the population under control. The existence of a classist system in Brave New World is apparent throughout the novel, in fact the classism in this novel is an essential part of all characters’ conditioning from birth: they are taught to believe in stereotypes of differently ranked classes so that they uphold the classist system. However, it isn’t just the beliefs of all members of this society that they belong in their social level and that all people of every level conform to a certain stereotype that upholds the classism in this novel, it is a carefully administered plan by the controllers that predetermines every infant from birth as to what class they will belong to. Even when the babies are born, they have a determined class they will belong to in fact they are raised from the earliest stages of life to fit into their class, because of methodology such as polluting the bloodstream with alcohol and other modification techniques applied to the fetuses.
George Orwell writes of the life of Winston Smith, a Party member with a revolutionary streak. 1984 shows how a completely repressive government operates and controls its population through channeling all their anger at external sources. The existence of classism is very important in this novel as well, represented by the distinction between members of The Party, and the proles. Party members such as Winston Smith are afforded the comforts of life and a higher social status, as well as better paying jobs, while the proles live outside of the urban areas in poverty and without any degree of control over their own lives because of their deprived situation. At the same time, the contradiction in 1984 to this classist system is that arguably the Party members have more stifling and less rewarding lives than that of the proles, because they are constantly under the surveillance and scrutiny of the Party: because of their intelligence, ability, and access to materials having to do with the running of the government, Party members like Winston are monitored very closely. While the upper class is being watched and manipulated, the proles are living their own lifes, relatively free of the influence of the Party. This freedom however comes at the cost of their quality of living, as the proles live in abject poverty, but do in fact have a limited degree of intellectual freedom.
Socrates and his young male friends discuss the functioning and design of an ideal city in order to best represent the true nature of man. In this city, the presence of classism is fundamental to its existence. The system of gold, silver, and bronze as identifiers of social class is central to the Aristocratic city that Plato writes of in The Republic. In this city, membership to any of the three social classes is based on ability in intellectual pursuits as well as physical fitness. This classist system is different than that of the other two novels in that a single individual can join a higher or lower class based on their own actions, whereas in 1984 and Brave New World, individuals cannot decide or play any part in which social class they belong to.