Earlier today I challenged myself to read the Aldous Huxley novel, Brave New World, and no more than I shut the back cover than I ran over to my computer to attempt to organize my reaction into something intelligent and literary. Yea, that’s not going to happen. My brain is reeling from all the wonderful allusions to religion and Shakespearean plays, the complex and disturbing caste system, themes of the atrocities of a consumer-based society and the balance between happiness and freedom…AHHH! Let me just say that I was completely consumed with this book; it’s definitely one that must be reread to fully grasp the intricate layers.
In an insufficient attempt to develop a summary and analysis of Huxley’s novel, I pray that I don’t embarrass myself or diminish the depth to which this novel reaches. It was published in 1932, a time in history where the world faced the height of the Great Depression and the beginning of Hitler’s takeover of Germany. There is direct usage of Henry Ford’s persona, taking the place of “God” in this speculative society. As pointed out in other resources that I have read through, Huxley does not attempt to create an alternative universe in this dystopian novel, but instead he extracts and puts a spotlight on and magnifies the consumeristic and mass production-ization of American culture. This is achieved through the development of a dystopian society in which natural procreation, the family unit, monogamy, and religion are deemed archaic and replaced by a more logical, scientific based system. Humans no longer reproduce on their own, but instead are harvested in laboratories. Terms like “mother” and “father” are deemed pornographic, the idea of a woman carrying a child would make heat rise in the cheeks of anyone unfortunate enough to hear such ridiculousness. Humans are created and programed based upon the need level of different tiers of social class: the Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Epsilon castes. The lower your castes, the more modified your genetic code becomes; smaller bodies, limited brain functioning. This essentially removes the awareness of “missing out” on independent thinking and higher-order needs. Additionally, to ensure a completely content civilization, a drug called soma is developed that takes people on a “holiday” away from their stress and worry. Because there is no monogamy, humans are free and encouraged to have sexual interactions with as many partners as they feel comfortable acquiring. In fact, when one of the main characters, Lenina, is discovered to have only had sex with one man for the past four months, her friend kindly reminds her of how odd this practice is. Lenina is strangely attracted to another main character, Bernard Marx, a small man for his Alpha-Plus status and an outsider because he prefers to be by himself in a society where solitude is also frowned upon, and she accepts his invitation to travel from London to the American Indian Reservations; essentially a trip to the zoo. It’s quite acceptable that the “savages” in America would live a life where free will, religion, and other anachronistic practices would occur, which makes the discovery of Linda, a caucasian woman who traveled to New Mexico and was left for dead after she went missing twenty years earlier, and her natural-born son, John. Realizing the favor that this could bring, Bernard decides to bring them both back with him. The episodes of clashing cultures that follow John’s arrival only further to exemplify Huxley’s attempt to bring awareness to his criticism of modern society. John does battle with himself over the defying thoughts of lust, love, monogamy, and all the traditional morals that his tribal heritage instilled in him. Feeling like an outsider both where he came from and where he has been placed, John relies on his memorized life experiences found within the pages of a singular book, a collection of Shakespearean plays. These too have been deemed outdated and no longer fit for society. When he confronts Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller of Western Europe, AKA “His Fordship,” who clearly agrees with John and his appreciation of the ideals of old, yet finds that there is no place for them.
“But why is it prohibited?” asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.
The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “Because it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here.”
“Even when they’re beautiful?”
“Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.”
“But the new ones are so stupid and horrible. Those plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about and you feel the people kissing.” He made a grimace. “Goats and monkeys!” Only in Othello’s word could he find an adequate vehicle for his contempt and hatred.
“Nice tame animals, anyhow,” the Controller murmured parenthetically.
“Why don’t you let them see Othello instead?”
“I’ve told you; it’s old. Besides, they couldn’t understand it.”
Yes, that was true. He remembered how Helmholtz had laughed at Romeo and Juliet. “Well then,” he said, after a pause, “something new that’s likeOthello, and that they could understand.”
“That’s what we’ve all been wanting to write,” said Helmholtz, breaking a long silence.
“And it’s what you never will write,” said the Controller. “Because, if it were really like Othello nobody could understand it, however new it might be. And if were new, it couldn’t possibly be like Othello.”
“Yes, why not?” Helmholtz repeated. He too was forgetting the unpleasant realities of the situation. Green with anxiety and apprehension, only Bernard remembered them; the others ignored him. “Why not?”
“Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel–and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!” He laughed. “Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!”
…The Savage shook his head. “It all seems to me quite horrible.”
“Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
I will leave you at this. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of digestion and musing of literature. I prefer to present you with a multitude of book covers and images based on the novel.
Audio Recording Cover
Images Inspired by the Novel