One person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley has been a book long in my library, always in the reading queue (aren’t they all?) but never in my hands and before my eyes. In between books I was searching the collection looking for my next read. My eyes rolled through the “H” section and locked on Brave New World.
It was time. I laid my index finger on the top and slowly rotated it off the shelf away from its sandwiching neighbors… shamefully, Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, and not shamefully, Redwall by Brian Jacques.
I approach all classics with an open mind, trying not to let that label (placed there by critics and fans, not necessarily by myself) influence my opinion. Brave New World is often referenced, even in mainstream circles, and its title is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, so most people have heard of it and offer opinions of it even though they may not have read it.
Shakespeare plays a prominent role in the book, but not until the second half when he is referenced and quoted often by John the Savage. My knowledge of the book was pretty limited going in, as it is with all books I read. All I really knew about it was that it was a novel about a utopia where humans are engineered, and that it is oft labelled a classic.
Brave New World is essentially comprised of three acts: I) Introduction. II) Tale of the Savage. III) Brave New World.
In the first act we are introduced to the world and to all but two of the major characters. We are also introduced to a world that, in my eyes, is both frightening and infuriating. Huxley’s “brave new world” is modelled after Henry Ford’s adoption of mass production to kick off the Industrial Revolution, but extrapolated to vile extremes. Humans are engineered, grown, and conditioned like so much cattle. Conditioned to accept their lot in life, whether that’s to be an intelligent and affluent leader, or an ape-like elevator operator. These citizens are also conditioned to rely wholly on the state for their very existence. Huxley’s ideas are also an example of hyper-socialism. This is the aspect of the book that infuriated me.
It’s readily apparent in the first two pages that the narrative style and dialogue is dated, but Huxley’s overall concepts and ideas still hold true. One interesting aspect was that I learned an archaic use of the word “pneumatic.”
Conditioned to accept their lot in life, whether that’s to be an intelligent and affluent leader, or an ape-like elevator operator. These citizens are also conditioned to rely wholly on the state for their very existence. Huxley’s ideas are also an example of hyper-socialism. This is the aspect of the book that infuriated me.
II) Tale of the Savage
The second act deals with two of the characters taking a sightseeing trip to a reservation, which is essentially an Indian reservation in New Mexico (the main story takes play in the UK). This reservation exists outside the brave new world, isolated to it, and not bound by the sick existence of the outside world. On this reservation humans still procreate the old fashioned way (considered disgusting) and grow old until succuming to a natural and inevitable death (inconceivable!).
On this reservation the main characters meeting John, whose mother and father were from the brave new world. John taught himself how to read and developed most of his morals by reading an old copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare. He’s different from the Indians on the reservation (because he’s not an Indian). So he feels an outcast, which he is. John’s character is a parallel to Miranda from The Tempest, in that he’s an outcast on an island as well.
He befriends the characters from the brave new world and they decide to bring him back.
III) Brave New World
The meat of the philosophy behind Brave New World resides in the third act. It’s the strongest act of the book. In fact, the book gets stronger the deeper in one reads. In this act, through the voice of his characters, Huxley reveals why this world exists, and the barbaric aspects of it are revealed through the moral eyes of the savage John. He becomes a novelty in the brave new world and struggles to exists in the alien “utopia.” Now he finds himself an outcast in the brave new world, caught between worlds…but with no world of his own.
It culminates in a tragic ending.
Brave New World was published in 1932. Huxley stuffed the book full or morally appalling themes and images, especially for 1932:
- Godless and factory-like reproduction resulting in a look alike society filled with pre-conditioned organic robots.
- Deification of a human (Henry Ford).
- Recreational sex (even between young kids).
- Heavy drug use.
- Loss of freedom.
Huxley surely rocked the boat when he published this in 1932, and it’s still a disconcerting read if you can set aside the fact that it’s very dated. I both liked it and hated it. I liked it in that it was an eye opening read, even for 2013. I hated it in that parts of it literally infuriated me, mainly the images of children encourage to have sex, as well as kids being conditioned 24/7 (even during sleep) to fill a role in life that they have no say in. Of course Huxley’s allegory of hyper-socialism didn’t sit well with me either.
Invoking anger may have been Huxley’s exact point.
Brave New World is definitely a classic that should be visited at some point by every serious science fiction aficionado. I guarantee that the book is very likely to disturb and anger you, depending on the direction of your moral compass. At a minimum it will make you think.
Genre: Science Fiction (classic)
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