This is another attempt at an unseen to provide discussion and critique for Y13 students studying the OCR A level (Dystopia). The passage is from Brave New World and is found beneath my attempt at writing a commentary. Again I have consciously used the SCASI layout I favour. Possibly the hardest thing to realise in an unseen is that there is no answer which will address everything. Try to hit the mark scheme, work to a planned format and do not be afraid of your opinions, if they are supported from the text.
The passage is drawn from Huxley’s 1931 novel ‘A Brave New World’. The novel deals with issues around a futuristic society which has replaced the human reproductive process with a mechanised and highly clinical process of cloning known as Bokanoskification. The novel explores ideas around determinism and scientific advances at a time when such topics were being explored in society, following the First World War.
From the outset of the passage there is a harshness to the setting. Described as ‘squat’, the building stands ‘only’ 34 stories – immediately unsettling the reader of the day for whom skyscrapers were still a rarity by the idea of such an immense building being viewed as short and fat. The sign on the faced of the building proclaims the coldness of the process being carried out – ‘hatchery and conditioning’ suggests not only the animal nature of the reproductive process but also the clinical process of preparing the embryos for their life ahead. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, written in 2006 also deals with cloning and conditioning but the element of science fiction evident in this passage is not found in that novel which focuses more on the moral questions than on the actual process by which the embryos are created.
The ‘enormous’ room within continues to present a ‘harsh’ and sterile setting. The writing focuses attention on a cold and hostile environment: facing ‘north and with a light which ‘glared’ through the windows. The light within is described through a tricolon: ‘frozen, dead, a ghost’ which builds to the conclusion that there was once light in this place – such light is now a mere ghost of its former self. It seems as if the ‘soul’of the building, represented by the light, has been removed. This clinical coldness is perhaps derived from the buildings depicted in Zamyatin’s We (1922) rathe r than from the cosier laboratories found in HG Wells’ novels of the 19th century, such as ‘The Time Machine’.
The room is clearly built on an industrial scale and this is mirrored in the words of the Director when discussing the Bokanovskified egg- from eight to ninety six buds, and every bud…perfectly formed embryo’. He develops the process over two stages in the writing – ‘buds’ is possibly the only remnant of the idea of beauty and wonder in the act of human fertilisation and it is here being used to describe an inhuman process, devised by an inventor with a name which is Russian in form, suggesting an awareness of the cold regimented life of the new Soviet block, as explored by both Zamyatin and by Orwell in his novel 1984 (1948).
The character of the Director – anonymous and cold, just like the setting, is presented through his speech and his description. His appearance: ‘tall, rather thin but upright, suggests a moral rectitude as well as stature and the students are clearly in awe of him – scribbling frantically as words come from the horse’s mouth. His facial description with the ‘rather prominent teeth and ‘floridly curved lips’ does seem to suggest the physiognomy of a horse -an unsettling image and also one of the few dashes of colour in the overwhelmingly pale interior of the Hatchery. He reveals the hatchery to his ‘boys’ in a manner reminiscent of a magician – a man whose dialogue suggests his pride in his achievements. There is none of the revulsion seen in the character of Madame in NLMG.
The worryingly single gender group of students are awe struck by his ‘menacing geniality’, possibly representing a society which can be kind to those who toe the line, reminiscent of so many totalitarian dystopias such as 1984, are singled out as ‘young, pink and callow. Again the colour, suggestive of beauty and fragility of youth is at odds with the harsh white surroundings in which workers pull on ‘corpse coloured’ gloves suggesting that this is what lies ahead for the youngsters – their life drained by the actions and the surroundings in which they work. The workers are ‘plunged’ into ‘scarcely breathing silence’ by the arrival of the Director suggestive of his power and the cowed nature of society, even of the society working in this kind of state sponsored (presumably) establishment.
Huxley presents the passage in a mixture of omnisicent narration and direct speech. The only voice heard is that of the Director and the narrator offers comment which seems possibly ironic when he adds a sentence to the end of one such speech: ‘Rams wrapped in thermogene beget no rams’. It is the narrator who equated the sperm donor to the process of AI in field animals and also the narrator who adds the possibly ironic ‘progress’ to the final paragraph extolling the wonders of science. This could be read as free indirect speech, suggesting the Director’s thoughts, and would be equally valid as a reading – highlighting the Director’s pride at what he does. Huxley also delivers ideas though the use of tricolon ideas such as ‘One egg,one embryo,one adult-normality’. The anaphora stresses the previous status quo – the adult normality of a single embryo from a single egg. The following passage eulogising the new world in which to live clearly stresses the idea of the Brave New World and its apparent progress.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda’s coining of the title of this book is used when she looks on the group of dissolute drunkards who have come ashore on her isl;and. That is the irony of the title: it is not an advancement at all. A Brave New World is a mistaken utopia. Consequently as we read Huxley’s novel we carry this intertextuality in our minds. Nothing is quite a wondrous as it seems at face value. Other ideas running through the text include a suggestion of a divided and controlled society. The Director’s suggestion that all will get a ‘general idea’ is countered by the narrators comment that all would receive ‘as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible’ The slightly complex syntax draws attention to this statement and suggests a society eager to control access to knowledge and by granting the ‘privelege’ of occasional ‘generalities’ the populace is prevented from accessing a clear contextual knowledge of the world around them rather in the manner of the controlled environments in which the clones live in NLMG. They are allowed contact with the outside world, but never enough to feel that they are part of it. Indeed they show no signs of ambition to be part of it, just as the boys here respond with an unquestioning acceptance of all they are told.