Loss of Freedom and Individuality in the Modern World – W.H. Auden and Brave New World
The loss of freedom and individuality in the modern world could be countered by human warmth and compassion but all too often it’s not. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and the selected poetry of W. H. Auden, the protagonists routinely lose individuality and freedom but hardly ever is this loss countered by expressions of human warmth and compassion. ‘John the Savage’ enters the Brave New World but loses the freedom and individuality he has grown up with. In the same way ‘Miss Gee’ and the Jewish refugees of Auden’s poems suffer loss without the compensation of either friendship or empathy.
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The composers both give prime opportunities for their characters to present human warmth and compassion but these opportunities usually pass by. Both the composers show the loss of freedom and individuality through the exploration of the idea of exclusion and isolation of individuals and their values. Huxley achieves this through the creation of the outsider, a natural man ‘John the Savage’. Auden presents us with the German – Jewish couple who no longer fit into the society that they once belonged to.
When ‘John the Savage’ is brought out of the reservation where he had full freedom and individuality, though he is lionised in the Brave New World, he loses both his freedom and individuality. John feels this loss so strongly that his only defence is to lock himself away. Huxley italicises John’s personal pronouns “ ’you ought to have asked me first whether I wanted to meet them. ’ ” (156)The italicisation of ‘me’ and ‘them’ shows how the lack of human warmth and the denial of his values have led to the loss of John’s individuality.
At no time is John’s loss compensated by a demonstration of human warmth and compassion even though the ideal opportunity had presented itself to the citizens of the Modern World. Similarly in Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ he creates a couple who’s plaintive cry; “Yet there is no place for us, my dear, yet there is no place for us. ” This repeated cry shows how the society has blocked their ears to the refugees. “Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin, Saw a door opened and a cat let in:” The animals are treated more human than the German Jews, as if the German Jews are animals.
Through the exclusion and isolation of characters like John the Savage and the German Jews, the Modern world has lost the freedom and individuality of the decades before it. While love may seem apparent in the relationships in the two texts, it is often not real love. This love is frequently superficial and emotionless. When both Auden and Huxley use the term ‘love’, it is love which suffers from being cliched. In The Unknown Citizen the love that is expressed is merely a sense of pride in one who has done his best. “He was a Saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community. ” Auden uses a hyperbole to equate “The Unknown Citizen” to a saint. Love in its common use is a hyperbole and Auden uses this similarity to compare the hyperbole of love to the hyperbole employed in ‘The Unknown Citizen’. In Victor the relationship between Victor and Anna is founded on artificial love so shallow that Anna cheats on Victor. “Victor met upon her upon the stairs And he fell in love with her. This instant love soon turns into a mournful cry, “Father, Will she ever be true? ” to which came the humiliating answer, “not to you. ” This use of dialogue shows how these people don’t have true love for one another. The opportunity to demonstrate human warmth and compassion is once again rejected by the cutting and glib comment made by the god figure. The superficiality of love in Huxley’s Brave New World is presented through the continued use of repetition; love is no longer a word that describes a relationship between people.
The inhabitants of the Brave New World ‘love’ everything; they love their lives, they love their fellows and they love soma all equally. For them, too, love is also a cliche. At no stage in the Brave New World are we presented with love that demands effort on the part of its participants. Real love may offer the compensation to a loss of individuality but this is not something seen in Brave New World or Auden’s poetry. Both texts show that overt attempts at social control and manipulation lead inevitably to a loss of freedom and individuality.
In their modernist view, each of the composers has, though in different ways, manipulated his creation and this manipulation and social control has lead inevitably to the loss of freedom and individuality. Auden most stridently exhibits this in ‘The Unknown Citizen’ where reference needs to be made to the eugenists in order to decide if he was a suitable parent, and then a series of rhetorical questions about freedom and happiness which are dismissed as absurd in this contrived environment. Similarly in the eemingly different, Musee des Beaux Arts we see manipulation and social control at work in the paintings of the old masters. “Even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course”. Each of the created worlds is populated by individuals incapable of demonstrating warmth and compassion. These are features which have been sacrificed for conformity and stability. In the Brave New World Huxley creates ideas of social control and manipulation by changing the way the government runs society. People are not born, rather ‘produced’ by the scientists.
The Bokanovsky Process controls the people in the Modern World from the time they are born. “’Bokanovsky’s Process is one of the major instruments of social stability! ’… Standard men and women; in uniform batches. ” Huxley compares social control to that of social stability, as if you can’t have one without the other. In Brave New World, Huxley is at his most obvious in the realm of manipulation and social control and though Auden may be more subtle he also demonstrates a penchant to manipulate in his poems.
The possibility that human warmth and compassion will expand to overcome the restricting of freedom and individuality in the Modern World may be one that can be hoped for but usually this hope is as misguided as Victor’s love for Anna. The loss of individuality and limitation of freedom has a priced but as John Savage realises that price is too high and he flees the new world. The modern world of Huxley and Auden may promise a new humanity but unfortunately it fails to deliver.