First, I would like to express how much I enjoyed reading Katherine Burdekin’s haunting novel Swastika Night. I think Swastika Night is an amazing vision of what could have happened if Nazi Germany had been successful. Dystopian novels (excluding recent dystopians like Hunger Games and Divergent–sorry) are really fascinating to me, and I am happy to have encountered this one. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are two of my favorite books. I think they both fulfill an incredibly intelligent depiction of dystopian societies drawing on history, politics, social issues, and much more. Now, I am adding Swastika Night into my “favorite’s list” for dystopian novels.
I have a confession: I have not read Orwell’s 1984. I know this is a crime as an English major, so please forgive me. Not having read 1984, I will not try to draw connections to Swastika Night–plus, Daphne Patai, in the introduction to Swastika Night, and Darragh McManus, in his article Swastika Night: Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Lost Twin, already draw upon these connections. Instead, I would like to discuss the interesting similarities between Swastika Night and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a novel I am much more familiar with.
A quick, over-simplified recap of Brave New World:
Brave New World unfolds in a place run by The World State Society, which is a futuristic, dystopian society that controls every aspect of its inhabitants. The society is heavily controlled by the government, specifically Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers, also referred to as “his ford-ship” in honor of the god-like figure, Our Ford (which, as many scholars have identified, is a direct reference to Freud) (Huxley 40). The government controls the citizens by keeping them drugged on “soma” and distracted with constant, open sexual activity. Contraceptives are required and there is no natural form of reproduction—sex is strictly pleasure based and natural birth is abominable. In addition, all members of society are grown as “test-tube” babies and conditioned to function in specific levels of society (Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons). The counter-culture to the World State Society is the Indian Reservation. The Indian Reservation is a place where traditional families and reproduction still occur. The people of the Indian Reservations disprove of the World State Society’s promiscuous tendencies.
This male-centered novel focuses on characters Bernard Marx, John the Savage, and Lenina Crowne, who is the central female character that is present in both halves of the novel, even when the male character focal point shifts. Until meeting John the Savage at a reservation, the first part of the novel examines Bernard Marx’s discontent within society. The second part of the novel focuses on John the Savage, an outcast from both the World State Society and the Indian Reservation.The novel is based around the male character’s struggles with belonging in society. Bernard Marx, originally disliking the promiscuity and functioning of the World State Society, decides that he does want to be a part of the society after he returns to it. John, on the other hand, continues to be an outcast to the end of the novel when he commits suicide due to his conflicted values that drive him mad.
Back to connections in Swastika Night:
Within the first few pages of reading Swastika Night, I noticed a lot of similarities to Brave New World. Although the plot-lines are very different, both novels present a tone of uneasiness and creepiness (if you will) in the beginning. Brave New World definitely has more satire present from the beginning, but it still makes the reader feel uncomfortable. Swastika Night opens with a scene that takes place in the Holy Hitler chapel and reveals many disturbing perceptions of women and male domination in their Creed. Brave New World begins by taking the reader on a tour through the hatchery where humans are unnaturally born in test tubes and conditioned into class structures (this scene also presents a type of “creed” for the society because it identifies all the beliefs and history of how the society turned out this way). Both opening sections present the reader with what we would view as ridiculous, disturbing realities.
In addition, there is also a connection between the women in Swastika Night and Brave New World. Although the women in Brave New World are not treated nearly as horrifically as the women in Swastika Night, their reproductive rights are still being controlled. The women in Swastika Night are equated to animals and have no agency or ownership of their bodies. Rape is not even considered a crime, and the women are objects to be dominated by men. On the surface, the women in Brave New World would appear to have more control of their bodies; however, when taking a closer look, this is not the case. Women in Brave New World are required to take contraceptive and have to avoid pregnancy at all costs. If a women does become pregnant, she is outcast from society. Pregnancy and child birth is viewed as the most disgusting, savage thing that a woman could do. In addition, the Brave New World Society maintains the mentality that everyone belongs to everyone. Though this mentality is supposed to be sexually liberating, it removes personal ownership of the body also. The members of society are expected to be promiscuous and monogamy is highly discouraged. Both Swastika Night and Brave New World present problematic views of women’s function and agency in society.
One final connection between the novels is the control that is imposed upon in each society. Both Swastika Night and Brave New World present elements of brainwash and censorship. In Swastika Night, we see the German Empire controlling what people know about history and how members of the society function. The Brave New World Society also distorts reality and imposes lies upon its members. Both societies organize members into cast-like systems–by blood and gender in Swastika Night and by levels of conditioned classes in Brave New World.
Though there are many other connections, I will stop here. I am really excited for our class discussion tonight. I look forward to hearing what other people think about the novel.
Here’s another interesting (quick) article I found online about Swastika night: http://www.cclapcenter.com/2012/07/on_being_human_swastika_night_.html
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Harper Perennial, 1932.