This Perfect Day, Brave New World, 1984: Dystopian Masterpiece
This Perfect Day belongs to the genre of "dystopian" or anti-utopian novels, like Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. Yet it is more satisfying than either. This Perfect Day is probably Ira Levin's greatest work of his career. Levin's work, despite being written in 1970, is very plausible having realistic technology, such as scanners and computers which watch over the entire family, the entire population of the world. This novel could be used to show the dangers of a Utopian society as well as being full of anti-Communist and anti-racist sentiment. This Perfect Day also displays the feeling that communist and segregated institutions can be defeated, as the protagonist Chip over powers the "family" and their vile Uni Comp as well as rising above the segregated community he reaches after fleeing the family. This work could best be placed in an area of the curriculum where it is the students job to learn that although everyone might not be equal, nor should they be, they are still human and deserve to be treated with the respect and kindness we would expect to be treated with. This work could be used in conjunction with other works of literature that display the same ideals against communism and discrimination as well as a lack of compassion for others. Other works that could be used in cohorts with Levin's This Perfect Day, are Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut and even the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Both of these novels show the dangers of trying to create a Utopian society and the chaos it causes. In Harrison Bergeron, handicapping has become an American institution and it is the governments responsibility to make sure that everyone is equal in every way which ends up causing chaos and rebellion. The Handmaid's Tale shows the dangers of when an extreme group takes over the United States after a nuclear holocaust, with women being placed in a submissive role to men, only being used to reproduce. This Perfect Day could also be used in a section with novels such as Uncle Tom's Cabin which portray the evils of racism and discrimination, just as the land where Chip ends up after escaping the family, is very racist and segregated. He is forced to endure the taunts and tortures of the folks who had fought Uni from the beginning, yet he rises above these bounds to return and destroy Uni Comp, thereby destroying the family. This Perfect Day begins in a land that has been unified under, Uni Comp, a large computer that monitors all family activities and controls any portions of their daily lives lies deep in a cave below the Swiss Alps. The computer decides on the work, residence, consumption of goods, whether they will marry and if so whether they will have children. Promotion of the family's good is the main importance in any member's life. "Losing's the same as winning" is one of the phrases taught to small children. "Hate" and "fight" are dirty words while fuck is not. Genetics has progressed to the point where skin color is universally tan, while body shape is unisex, and facial features are programmed, with most members containing brown slanted eyes. The family is trying to genetically remove such undesired elements of life such as aggressiveness and egotism while implanting docility and loving kindness in their place. While searching for the genetic basis to these undesired elements, Uni Comp subjects every member of the family to monthly treatments which contain vaccines, contraceptives, and tranquilizers, as well as some substance that reduces one's sex drive down to only being able to perform on Saturday night. All of this is watched over by one's counselor, one who watches the members individual mental health very closely. The novel starts early in the life of a boy named Chip, or Li RM35M4419, his official 'family' given name. His grandfather, Papa Jan had given him the nickname Chip. Chip had always though his grandfather was a bit eccentric, twisting words and displaying feelings that did not fall in line with the rest of the 'family's', Chip thought that his grandfather might be a sick member. On a family trip to the biggest tourist attraction on the planet, Uni Comp, Papa Jan leads Chip downstairs, without touching scanners as they pass, to a large cold room filled with large black boxes. Papa Jan begins telling Chip how he helped build Uni Comp and this is the real computer, not the pastel posies upstairs for the tourists to view. Chip feels unsure because he has lied to Uni by not touching the scanners and now it does not know where he is. He also wonders why Uni Comp would lie to them and why Papa Jan brought him down here. This is Chip's first experiences with anti-family feelings and those associated with sick members. As Chip grows up, he continues having thoughts that go against the grain. Everything about his unified world seems strange and not quite right, but these feelings are quickly suppressed at the end of each month when it is time for his monthly treatment. As time goes on, Chip explores his feelings, sometimes putting off a treatment for a day or two so that he becomes more aware of his surroundings. Eventually, a band of folks like himself notices Chip. They too are dissatisfied with their current lives and how Uni represses their thoughts and feelings, as well as actions with it's prescribed monthly treatments. They show him how to act so that he can get his monthly treatments reduced and begin to explore his new found wants and desires. This band meets and talk about how they wish the world were better and they also skip off for un-repressed sex and to smoke tabacco. Eventually, Chip wants more. He wants more freedom, and he wants the leader of the pack's girlfriend, Lilac. He eventually explores, finding that there are many places in the world such as Madagascar and others where un-treated people live not under the watchful eye of Uni Comp. He also finds that the leader of the group, King also knows of these islands, but is too afraid to go despite his cool outer appearance. Eventually, in a sudden rage, Chip is caught, his treatments increased to normal. Once treated Chip admits to all he knows and tells everything about the sick members leading the group to be broken up and for all the "sick" member's treatments to be returned to normal. Chip lives how a good member should, until the end of one month when he spies a leaf on a wet rock and considers the possibilities. He could make a small flesh colored covering that goes over his arm and it would not allow the treatments to penetrate his skin. What would happen when he was not treated at all. He would be able to explore all of his feelings to the fullest. After a few months of planning and calculating without treatment. Chip sneaks his way to Africa where he has found that Lilac now lives. He steals her away and of course she resists, after she says some nasty things a few weeks later, he rapes her which pushes her even further away. But eventually as her last treatment wears off she begins to agree with Chip and at first says she'll only go to the island with him, then they'll go their separate ways, but then she says she will stay with him once they arrive as well. Eventually they reach the island and find nothing but segregation and racism against those who were former members of the family by those whom originally rebelled against Uni Comp. Chip becomes dissatisfied with his life on the island as well. He decides he will only truly be happy and free once he destroys Uni Comp and releases the family from it's grip. He formulates a plan and a party and sets out to destroy the true Uni Comp. The one that lies deep under the mountains. He and his party set out, but are tricked by one member of the party who really was a spy. He takes them deep into the mountains where they meet the programmers of Uni Comp, who due to the bands ingenuity in trying to destroy Uni Comp, want them to join the group of programmers. They agree and live their lives in luxury served in any way they could possible imagine, while looking over the needs and concerns of the family. Chip never loses sight of his true goal though and eventually when another band of rebels is caught, he takes the impounded explosives and sets out to destroy Uni Comp. Wei, the head programmer as well as one of the main figure heads along with Christ, Wood and Marx in designing the new unified world, is the only thing standing in his way once he reaches his destination and he fights him. Chip eventually traps Wei and leaves him to die in the explosion. The family is now free of Uni's grip and Chip heads off to find Lilac. The only real controversial element of Ira Levin's novel is the fact that Chip rapes Lilac. Rape has occurred in other works studied before in the curriculum. Such as in the Kind Arthur stories and The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. This issue was also dealt with in novels read by students in seventh grade, as in So Far From the Bamboo Grove. The rape that occurs in this work is really no different from any that occurred in any other novel listed here. It is no worse in any way, and even shows how wrong this act really is. Lilac is hurt by Chip and tries to leave him several times after this event occurs and Chip sees how wrong he was in committing this act and must learn to control his new found animal urges. The only other controversial material are swears, and those have been scattered throughout any novels already read by students even as young as eighth grade, such as many of the John Steinbeck novels read in that curriculum.
There is nothing in This Perfect Day that students haven't already experienced in other works of literature already in the curriculum. The only large worthwhile literary review found, that was more than a sentence or two was, "This Perfect Hell" by Ralph Raico. Raico is a history professor at SUNY College in Buffalo and published his review in American Enterprise. (Sep/Oct 98, Vol. 9 Issue 5, p82, 1p.) Raico speaks of Levin's other works, but says that This Perfect Day was by far his best and deserves to be filmed just as many others such as Rosemary's Baby and Sliver were. He gives nothing but praise to the novel, he says, " This Perfect Day belongs to the genre of "dystopian" or anti-utopian novels, like Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. Yet it is more satisfying than either." He is very enthusiastic about the quality and meaningfulness of Levin's novel and gives it the highest regards.
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