Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Makepeace Experiment develops simultaneously two sets of themes, one based on the specific political satire of the novel and the other based on the more universal commentary on human nature; over these two groups, the author superimposes a third type of theme by reflecting on the nature of literature itself.

The political satire ridicules the tendency of a government to reduce the needs of its citizens to the material level and to use those needs to control the people. The bungling of the Soviet bureaucrats, their selfish infighting, and their ludicrous attempts to quash the Makepeace revolution reveal in comic fashion the ignorant but savage workings of a totalitarian state. The novel does not attack one system of government in order to promote another, however, for the attempt of the American journalist and spy Harry Jackson to buy out and capitalize on Lenny’s secret suggests that both capitalist and Communist states seek to manipulate their citizens. No political ideology can conquer or outlast the irrational side of the human personality. This irrational element may take the form of the self-destructive tendency toward greed, drunkenness, and superstition, or it may surface as the soul’s need to love and be loved and its desire to understand its own spiritual nature. In either case, any government that tries to control human nature by satisfying its material needs through reason, no matter how benign this reform may seem, will...

(The entire section is 467 words.)