On genre

Although Huxley’s Brave new world and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet were written centuries apart, these texts employ generic conventions of tragedy relevant to both a Renaissance and a modern context. This essay will first explore the generic classification of these two texts: Brave new world is typically classified as a dystopia, yet given that dystopia and tragedy share many similar generic traits, Francesco Muzzioli’s stance that ‘We could see dystopia as the contemporary form of tragedy’, enables a comparison of both works.1 After defining dystopia and drawing comparisons between this genre and tragedy, this essay will explore Romeo and Juliet and Brave new world through the lens of Susan Synder’s definition of tragedy: ‘The tragic world is governed by inevitability, and its highest value is personal integrity’, and will determine that inevitability and personal integrity are key to both texts.2 When applying Synder’s definition of tragedy to these works, it becomes apparent that the inevitability stems from the protagonists’ inability to escape from the structures of power that inhabit their world. In Romeo and Juliet this manifests itself primarily as the institution of patriarchal power, which controls how society functions and therefore dictates the rights of Romeo and Juliet. Brave new world is dominated by a futuristic system of dictatorship that rules virtually every aspect of human life. Whilst the structures of these societies may be fundamentally different given the differing historical contexts of the works, they both serve to impose laws on a society which the protagonists attempt to defy. Ultimately, the tragedy of both Romeo and Juliet and Brave new world is inevitable as a result of the protagonists’ attempts to maintain their personal integrity by defying a power structure they are unable to overcome. In order to compare Romeo and Juliet, a Shakespearean tragedy, with Brave new world, one must first endeavour to define Huxley’s novel as a tragedy, which poses a challenge as Brave new world is universally classified as a dystopia. Yet through an analysis of the generic traits of both dystopia and tragedy, it is clear that the two are intrinsically linked; in essence, dystopia is rooted in tragedy. In his discourse concerning the definitions of utopia and dystopia, Gregory Claeys argues that, in terms of fiction, dystopia is epitomised by ‘societies where human volition has been superseded or eroded by an authoritative imposition of control’.3 This sense of a lack of individuality as a result of a dominating society runs throughout his discourse, suggesting that these are key to understanding dystopia as a genre. Claeys writes that dystopian societies value ‘the privileging of conformity over dissent, and of the group over the individual’,4 and that ‘dystopia evidences […] the horrific nature of enforced communalism of the communist type, with its crushing loss of subjective individual identity’.5 Similar ideas of individuality and the importance of powerful institutions are apparent in Hegelian discourse on tragedy. Hegel believed that ‘to genuine tragic action it is essential that the principal of individual freedom and independence, or at least that of self-determination […] have been aroused’,6 and that ‘the essence of tragedy is conflict’, more specifically ‘a conflict between legitimate rights and institutions’.7 Therefore for Hegel, tragedy arises when two opposing yet equally just forces—the force of the social and the force of the individual—come into conflict. Although the idea of a dystopian power being ‘just’ may seem distorted, Claeys concedes that dystopia ‘can in certain circumstances be a deliberate strategy for social improvement’, and so it is evident that modern theories of tragedy encompass similar generic characteristics to those present in dystopia.8 Synder’s interpretation of tragedy, too, considers this conflict between the individual and society. She explains that ‘in the tragic world law is inherent: imposed by the individual’s own nature, it may direct him to a conflict with the larger patterns of law inherent in his universe’.9 This essay will therefore consider the role of the individual within the context of a society they oppose as a significant element of tragedy. However, this understanding of tragedy does not withdraw from Synder’s focus on inevitability and personal integrity as fundamental traits of tragedy. Personal integrity essentially denotes an individual’s persistence in continuing to act in a way they consider to be moral or right, regardless of the punishment or suffering they receive as a result. If personal integrity is the struggle of an individual against an outside force, then the emphasis on the fight for individuality in both Claeys and Hegel’s exploration of dystopia and tragedy respectively is simply another way of expressing this concept of personal integrity. Furthermore, both Hegel and Claeys seem to express a sense of inevitability in their analysis. In the process of defining Dystopia, Claeys notes that ‘dystopia represents a loss of control, often finally and absolutely’.10 These adverbs evoke a sense of inevitability, suggesting that these dystopian governments cannot be successfully overthrown. The concept of inevitability is more evident in Hegel’s idea of tragedy, as he argues that the conflict between the individual and the state inevitably results in tragic resolution, which is most commonly the fall of the tragic hero: ‘the hero is destroyed by the very powers s/he refuses to recognize’.11 Hence, tragedy will subsequently be defined through the lens of Synder, Claeys, and Hegel’s discourses, with particular emphasis on the individual’s attempt to maintain their personal integrity during conflict with society, and the inevitability of a tragic outcome for the protagonist as a result of this conflict. Brave new world and Romeo and Juliet can be defined as tragedies through this interpretation, as both tragic worlds are governed by institutions that dictate how society functions. In Romeo and Juliet, this is the patriarchal society which controls both familial power and the institution of marriage. Carroll notes that the lovers ‘are almost always entangled in family webs [and] surrounded by well-meaning but interfering authority figures’, thus marking the family feud as the main obstacle that the lovers face.12 Juliet urges Romeo to break with his familial ties, as abandoning his identity as a Montague would enable their love to flourish without being subject to the constraints of the feud: ‘deny thy father and refuse thy name’.13 Yet as the play progresses it is clear that neither of the lovers can escape their familial bonds. In Act Three, Scene One, Romeo maintains his personal integrity by staying true to his own moral compass and refusing to fight Tybalt. In essence, his love of Juliet supersedes his desire to uphold his family’s honour, which angers Mercutio who condemns his ‘dishonourable, vile submission’.14 However, when Romeo realises that his attempt to prevent the fight results in Mercutio’s fatal wound, he sacrifices his personal desires in order to avenge the death of Mercutio. Romeo’s personal integrity and the needs of the patriarchal order coincide here, but only fleetingly, as this action creates more obstacles that the lovers must overcome. Thus, when Romeo submits to the demands of the patriarchy, his own desire to unite with Juliet becomes an even harder goal to reach. For Juliet, the main source of oppression is that of her proposed marriage to Paris, which her father insists upon: ‘she will be ruled in all respects by me’; ‘she shall be married’.15 Capulet speaks bluntly, demonstrating his absolute authority over Juliet as her father. Yet Juliet declares: ‘I will not marry yet’, demonstrating her defiance against the system of patriarchy that oppresses her individual desire.16 It is important to note that her father’s steadfast resolve results in her need to fake her own death, demonstrating the extreme lengths one must go to in order to defy the patriarchal institution of marriage. Despite Romeo and Juliet’s efforts to resist societal pressure, the oppressive patriarchal society influences and drives their actions: the lovers are constantly trying to overcome the obstacles that society puts in their path, but ultimately they cannot be together and still be accepted by the patriarchal order. The repression of the individual and personal integrity is also key to Brave new world. In the first section of the novel, Bernard represents the individual’s struggle in an unaccepting oppressive society. Huxley employs the lexis of isolation when describing Bernard: he is ‘an outsider; […] alien and alone’.17 In a world centred on genetic modification and sameness, Bernard’s physical defect is enough to isolate him from society, yet this isolation encourages Bernard to develop himself as an individual. He expresses to Lenina his desire to escape the constrictions of their society; he wants to feel ‘More on [his] own, not so completely a part of something else. Not just a cell in the social body’, illustrating a need for individual thought in a repressive environment.18 However, Bernard’s questioning of societal norms is not a defiant act of personal integrity against this totalitarian state, but in reality is simply an expression of his longing to be accepted by society. When Bernard returns to civilisation with the savage, he is seemingly accepted by Alpha society: Success […] completely reconciled him […] to a world which, up till then, he had found very unsatisfactory. In so far as it recognized him as important, the order of things was good.19 Although Bernard still feels his individual self to be important, which defies the communal values of Fordian society, this order was only ‘unsatisfactory’ when it did not fully accept him. Bernard is content to be part of this society, and so fails to maintain his personal integrity. In contrast, John is completely opposed to this dystopian state, and fights for individuality and freedom. Beauchamp discusses the function of John in the text, noting that Huxley ‘places the burden of challenging the Brave new world on the individual shoulders of John Savage’.20 John’s mentality which allows him to condemn ‘civilisation’ stems from his childhood in the reserves, where ‘crucial human values persist: concepts of personal worth and honor’.21 Also key to John’s ability to critique Fordian society, according to Beauchamp, is the influence of Shakespeare, which ensures that ‘John emerges as, almost literally, a Renaissance man’.22 John draws on Shakespeare to evaluate both society and himself; from evoking Romeo and Juliet to capture his feelings for Lenina, to interpreting Miranda’s discourse in The Tempest as a message promoting societal change: ‘Oh brave new world!’ Miranda was proclaiming the possibility […] of transforming even the nightmare into something fine and noble. ‘O brave new world!’ It was a challenge, a command.23 John takes it upon himself to try and free people from the constrictions of this society, but fails to rouse a sense of injustice in a group whose conditioning has influenced them to reject all conception of independence. Mustapha Mond tries to explain to John that there is an element of freedom within this civilisation in the form of the Alphas, who are ‘separate and unrelated individuals’ that are ‘conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making free choice and assuming responsibilities’.24 Yet at the beginning of the novel, Huxley reminds us that ‘even Alphas have been well conditioned’; when Mustafa Mond mentions ‘limits’, he is essentially referring to anything that is considered unacceptable in the eyes of this totalitarian state, which demonstrates the lack of free will within this oppressive environment.25 Thus, both Brave new world and Romeo and Juliet explore the Hegelian concept of tragic conflict between the individual and the state, and show the protagonists’ upholding of personal integrity in the face of oppression. Although the patriarchy which governs Romeo and Juliet does not abolish the concept of individuality as a whole, it still dictates the actions of characters throughout the play. In contrast, given the added dimension of a dystopian setting, Brave new world acknowledges the desire for free will as defiance against a totalitarian society. Synder’s assertion that the tragic world is governed by inevitability is also apparent in both texts. The protagonists are doomed to fail given the context of oppression; just as Romeo and Juliet cannot truly escape the patriarchal system that governs them, the individualistic John cannot escape the conformist civilisation he has been brought into. These characters also suffer tragic consequences as a result of their stubborn persistence in maintaining their personal integrity, even when the system has punished them. Allusions to fate and destiny are apparent throughout Romeo and Juliet, most notably right at the beginning of the text in the prologue, which underlines that the entire plot is predetermined. The chorus reiterate the inevitability of the lovers’ deaths throughout the prologue: ‘their death-marked love’ is ultimately ‘fatal’; ‘a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.’26 Significantly, the prologue makes note of the ‘ancient grudge’ between the two families before mentioning the fate of Romeo and Juliet, suggesting the impact this family feud has on their destiny.27 The lovers foreshadow their own misfortune in the play. Before he has even met Juliet, Romeo declares: ‘I fear, too early: for my mind misgives / Some consequence yet hanging in the stars’, and even mentions ‘untimely death’.28 Again, Shakespeare evokes the image of the stars to suggest a sense of fate and inevitability: their destinies are written in the stars, and therefore cannot be altered. Juliet foreshadows Romeo’s death as he descends from her balcony: ‘I have an ill-divining soul! / Methinks I see thee, now thou art below, / As one dead in the bottom of a tomb’, evoking the image of the tomb where both lovers perish.29 Carroll recognises that ‘in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare goes to great lengths to stress the inevitability of Capulet’s vision’,30 namely that ‘we were born to die’,31 another reference to the inescapability of death. However, without the existence of the patriarchal order which fuels the family feud and controls marriage, these lovers would not have had to rebel, and subsequently would not have died. Their untimely deaths are inevitable as a result of the family feud that prevents them from being together in a conventional way, which would otherwise satisfy both the needs to the patriarchy and the desires of Romeo and Juliet. Thus, the inevitability of this tragedy is rooted in the oppressive nature of the patriarchy, and Romeo and Juliet’s unwillingness to concede their love to appease this social structure. Inevitability in Brave new world manifests itself in two ways: firstly, in the inescapable nature of this totalitarian society, predominantly as a result of conditioning, and secondly, through John’s inevitable failure to alter people’s perception of the individual. The citizens of this dystopian world are predestined for a certain life before they are even exist, and are conditioned in their sleep throughout their youth by ‘suggestions from the State.’32 Commenting on this, the Director states: ‘All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.’33 In essence, people’s minds are altered to influence their feelings and beliefs, meaning their social destiny is inevitable. An example of one of the phrases the public are conditioned with is: ‘when the individual feels, the community reels’, illustrating how this society has enslaved the minds of its people so that they are not only disgusted by individuality, but do not completely comprehend it as a concept given the emphasis on community the society promotes.34 Mustafa Mond further highlights the inevitability of the continuing existence of this society. In chapter three, he likens society to a machine, commenting that: ‘the machine turns, turns and must keep on turning—for ever’; the hyphen places emphasis on the phrase ‘for ever’, heightening this sense of inevitability.35 Later in the text, he recounts the life of an average citizen in this society: ‘his conditioning has laid down rails along which he’s got to run. He can’t help himself; he’s fore-doomed’, which again suggests the inevitability of the continuance of this social structure.36 Despite the Controller’s own individualistic character and passion for high art, he ranks social stability above these, favouring a functioning yet restricted society over the freedom of the individual. Thus, the suppression of individuality within this society is inevitable, as individuality is seen as a threat to stability, which is the most sacred value of this world. Consequently, John’s resolve to free this society from the shackles of oppression is inevitably doomed to fail, as the citizens have been conditioned to see themselves as components of society rather than as individual entities. John even sees the members of society in this way: ‘an interminable stream of identical […] twins was pouring into the room. […] Twin after twin, they came—a nightmare. Their faces, their repeated face’, ‘repeated indefinitely’.37 This description notes the effect of cloning on identity through the repetition of the possessive pronoun ‘their’: they are simply one collective mass of identical twins that make up a larger body. After John fails to free the masses, he endeavours ‘to escape further contamination by the filth of civilised life’.38 However, John’s attempts to isolate himself from society also fail. His self-flagellation is commercialised by civilisation, and people gather to watch him as if this is a comedic spectacle. Significantly, John concedes to the civilised people: ‘acting on the word’s suggestion he seized the bunch of knotted cords’, suggesting that he is inherently trapped by this society, thus demonstrating the inevitability of his downfall.39 John sacrifices his personal integrity by allowing civilisation to taint what was a sacred ritual; what was an independent act of repentance is converted into a meaningless orgy. John’s efforts to maintain his individuality in a world of clones ultimately fails. Thus, inevitability is fundamental to both Brave new world and Romeo and Juliet, with particular emphasis on the protagonists’ inability to escape the constraints of their respective repressive societies. Thus, this essay can draw two conclusions: firstly, that dystopia is rooted in tragedy. Given their shared generic traits, most notably the conflict between the individual and the state, dystopian and tragic texts can be compared in terms of theories of tragedy. In addition to this, we can link Hegelian theories of tragedy with Synder’s assertion that ‘the tragic world is governed by inevitability, and its highest value is personal integrity’, as both assert the importance of the individual.40 Secondly, when relating these theories of tragedy to Brave new world and Romeo and Juliet, it becomes apparent that the tragic inevitability in the two texts is a result of the protagonists’ persistence in maintaining their personal integrity despite opposition they face from the oppressive societal structures that dominate their respective tragic worlds. Whether this is a patriarchal system that prevents two lovers from being able to pursue a relationship whilst continuing to function as part of society, or a totalitarian state which eradicates all elements of individuality from a society dominated by the need for stability, the protagonists ultimately fail to overcome their oppressors. Significantly, all three protagonists commit suicide at the end of the texts: they cannot function independent of society with individual desires, as they cannot overcome the order society imposes on them. They pay the ultimate price for their inability to maintain personal integrity and overcome societal oppression.

Eleanor Slater

1 Umberto Rosso, ‘Dystopia or disaster?’, Science Fiction Studies 35, 2 (2008), 334. 2 Susan Snyder, ‘Romeo and Juliet: comedy into tragedy’, Essays in Criticism 10, 4 (1970), 391. 3 Gregory Claeys, ‘News from somewhere: enhanced sociability and the composite definition of utopia and dystopia’, History 98, 330 (2013), 170. 4 Ibid., 166. 5 Ibid., 172. 6 Raymond Williams, Modern tragedy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1966), 33. 7 Robert R Williams, Tragedy, recognition and the death of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 120. 8 Claeys, 163. 9 Snyder, 391. 10 Claeys, 170. 11 Williams, Tragedy, 120. 12 William C Carroll ‘“We were born to die”: Romeo and Juliet’, comparative drama, 15, 1 (1981), 57. 13 William Shakespeare ‘Romeo and Juliet’, The Complete works of Shakespeare, ed. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Hampshire: Macmillan, 2007), 1696. 14 Ibid., 1709. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Aldous Huxley, Brave new world (London: Vintage, 2007), 56. 18 Ibid., 78. 19 Ibid., 136. 20 Gorman Beauchamp, ‘The Shakespearean strategy of Brave new world ’, Utopian Studies 4 (1991): 61. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Huxley, 184–5. 24 Ibid., 195. 25 Ibid., 21. 26 Shakespeare, 1679. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., 1691. 29 Ibid. 30 Carroll, 55. 31 Shakespeare, 1691. 32 Huxley, 24. 33 Ibid., 12. 34 Ibid., 81. 35 Ibid., 36. 36 Ibid., 196. 37 Ibid., 183. 38 Ibid., 218. 39 Ibid., 225. 40 Synder, 391.