(This is a very long post masking as a review.)
Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Book Summary: “A fantasy of the future which sheds a blazing, critical light on the present –considered to be Aldous Huxley’s most enduring masterpiece.”
The novel takes place in a world hundreds of years from now, where advanced bioengineering enabled society to be divided into skill-limited groups: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. The lowest castes are introduced in fetal stage to chemicals to make them shorter, uglier and so on. Because of this process, there are no “biological” families, and everyone grows up within their age groups. As they grow older, they are subjected to continuous social engineering in the form of conditioning exercises and hypnopaedia. While asleep they listen to rhymes against lower castes or in admiration of higher castes, rhymes to make them love their station in life and to function under the different norms in the utopian society (“everyone belongs to everyone else” or “cleanliness is next to fordliness”). They go through life within their caste, and when they are not being productive workers, they take recreation in the forms of consuming transport and entertainment (for example: “feelies”, movies where sensation of touch is also felt –so when characters kiss they feel the kiss also), of taking soma, a high-inducing drug (“a gramme is better than a damn) and of having sex with anyone.
Four characters worth mentioning are those featured prominently at the end. Bernard Marx is a hyponpaedia specialist, and he belongs to the top caste –Alpha. However, he is unnaturally short for an Alpha, or even Beta, and he prefers solitude. In the beginning, he was stressed over the fact that the woman she liked was being called a plaything by a friend (if I recall correctly). Through the course of the novel his isolation grows, he becomes more critical of his society (through his awareness of hynopaedia techniques, which teaches morals arbitrarily). He is driven by the desire to belong, which manifests towards the end.
A friend of his is Helmholtz Watson, who is also an outcast in his own way. He is an Alpha Plus (highest caste), and therefore gifted with high intelligence. Helmholtz is markedly different because his high intelligence causes him to become aware and critical of his surroundings, specifically of the lack of freedom in writing. He is a lecturer on emotional engineering. Helmholtz Watson becomes close friends with John (the Savage) who was brought by Bernard from the Malpais Savage Reservation.
John’s mother is from the “civilized world” visiting the reservation, but was impregnated (accidentally, since it is a near-impossibility). After an accident, and because of her shame of getting pregnant, John’s mother stayed with the “savages”. The savages John grew up around practice a set of beliefs that are a mix of different religions and cultures which still includes marriage, family units and old age. While ostracized for his different appearance, John still embraced the Reservation and followed the rites. His firm and somewhat naive morals supporting liberty and personal happiness were challenged upon his visit to Fordian London.
He converses with Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller of Western Europe. Near the end it is revealed that His Fordship Mond is one of few who knows of the time Before Ford, and he himself appreciates the values of liberty, truth and personal happiness. However, he himself does not pursue the individualistic path, for as he said: Happiness has got to be paid for.
Happiness is a hard master –particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestionably, than truth. (233)
Why should you read this?
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a twentieth century classic that cannot be overlooked. A contemporary of Orwell’s 1984, the novel also defined the dystopian genre that now populates bookshelves. It is one of the first to present a criticism of society through the portrayal of a negative utopia. In this aspect, the novel is interesting because of the messages it delivers with vivid imagery. The very premise of the world harms a common man’s sensibilities, but in such a way that forces one to think about it, and about the fact that such sugar-coated atrocities are very much possible.
While maintaining a novel form and a steady narrative, the book offers insightful and striking lines that wouldn’t look out of place in a philosophical or social essay. The rhymes, especially, do resonate and stay with us –likely because the meaning of the lines are relatable at present, yet horrifying at the same time. While the characters were not particularly well-written, they do serve the purpose of exposing the benefits and flaws of such an ideal society (which in turn is almost the whole plot itself).
This novel is for fans of dystopian literature (from Hunger Games to The Giver), though I hope you semi-begin with the classics, as I did with Orwell, Le Guin and Vonnegut. This book is for those who make a hobby of social criticism. Providing opinions on current issues will probably be more fun with added literary references and better eloquence. It is also for those who want to study Huxley and his works, though you should probably begin with this, since in certain reviews it is said that some of his other works are leaps away in terms of quality.
This is a novel for those who are not afraid of our future, which this very well might be (as attested by Huxley in Brave New World Revisited, it is not so far away; in the book, we are eerily referred to as the past that is constituted of outdated and obsolete practices, from ‘family’ to Shakespeare).
Quotes on COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY — “Stability, stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability.”
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 so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. (226)
Individuality leads to instability.
Commonality within the community is achieved through strong social norms and customs. Solitude is actively discouraged. Gatherings in the form of parties, orgies and “Solidarity Services” take place. Those who do not join in communal practices and social customs are ostracized heavily, as is in the case of Bernard Marx.
Hers was the calm ecstasy of achieved consummation, the peace, not of mere vacant satiety and nothingness, but of balanced life, of energies at rest and in equilibrium. A rich and living peace. For the Solidarity Service had given as well as taken, drawn off only to replenish… the others were fused into the Greater Being. (85-86)
The identity of a person depends on his conditioning, not on his will. Similarity and a form of equality is generated.
…the original egg was in a fair way to becoming anything from eight to ninety-six embryos –a prodigious improvement, you will agree, on nature. Identical twins–but not in piddling twos and threes as in the old viviparous days, when an egg would sometimes accidentally divide; actually by dozens, by scores at a time.
Bokanovsky’s Process is one of the major instruments of social stability! …ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines! (5)
There is no need or opportunity to be in any way distinguished as an individual.
“My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization had absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. (243)
Constant consumption is constant progress.
To maintain stability, people are limited only to productive or recreational activities beneficial to the state and to the industry. An aspect of social engineering is always geared towards the consumption of goods and services, the willingness to work and is always against dirtiness and ugliness.
“Set out the books,” he said curtly.
In silence the nurses obeyed his command. Between the rose bowls the books were duly set out — a row of nursery quartos opened invitingly each at some gaily coloured image of beast or fish or bird.
“Now bring in the children.”
They hurried out of the room and returned in a minute or two, each pushing a kind of tall dumbwaiter laden, on all its four wire-nettled shelves, with eight-month-old babies, all exactly alike (a Bokanovsky Group, it was evident) and all (since their caste was Delta) dressed in khaki.
“Put them down on the floor.”
The infants were unloaded.
“Now turn them so that they can see the flowers and books.”
Turned, the babies at once fell silent, then began to crawl towards those clusters of sleek colours, those shapes so gay and brilliant on the white pages. As they approached, the sun came out of a momentary eclipse behind a cloud…From the ranks of the crawling babies came little squeals of excitement, gurgles and twitterings of pleasure.
…The swiftest crawlers were already at their goal. Small hands reached out uncertainly, touched, grasped, unpetaling the transfigured roses, crumpling the illuminated pages of the books. The Director waited until all were happily busy. Then, “Watch carefully,” he said. And, lifting his hand, he gave the signal.
The Head Nurse, who was standing by a switchboard at the other end of the room, pressed down a little lever.
There was a violent explosion. Shriller and ever shriller, a siren shrieked. Alarm bells maddeningly shouted.
The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror.
“And now,” the Director shouted (for the noise was deafening), “now we proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock.”
The rationale of the conditioning lesson is simple: for the Delta-level babies to grow up into people who dislike books and flowers.
“They’ll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an ‘instinctive’ hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They’ll be safe from books and botany all their lives.” (21)
Similar conditioning is done to set everyone onto caste-tailored paths. Through hypnopaedia (each specific topic done several hours several times a week for several years), children learn and commit to practice and memory such sayings:
“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.” (27)
“But old clothes are beastly,” continued the untiring whisper. “We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending, ending is better…” (49)
“The more stitches the less riches; the more stitches the less…” (51)
“I love new clothes, I love new clothes, I love…” (52)
The past is obsolete.
Deviating slightly from other dystopian literatures which completely destroy the past or do not even mention it, Brave New World presents pre-Ford customs as either forgotten, abhorred or mocked. While some materials, especially text and art, are banned and were destroyed,
“Back to culture. Yes, actually to culture. You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books.
“Then came the famous British Museum Massacre. Two thousand culture fans gassed with dichlorethyl sulphide.
members of the utopian world are still able to see reservations that are different from the Fordian world.
However, the obsoleteness of the practices compared to the advancements of the civilization makes the reservations disgusting (since they are natural and so unsterilized) or funny (or “smutty”).
“In brief,” the Director summed up, “the parents were the father and the mother.” The smut that was really science fell with a crash onto the boys’ eye-avoiding silence. “Mother,” he repeated loudly rubbing in the silence; and, leaning back in his chair, “These,” he said gravely, “are unpleasant facts, I know it. But then the most historical facts are unpleasant.”
…(“For you must remember that in those days of gross viviparous reproduction, children were always brought up by their parents and not in State Conditioning Centres.”)
Old concepts such as marriage, family units and old age are deemed anti-society and pro-instability, since over time the utopian civilization has been conditioned to go without old age, illnesses, fidelity and so on, making those concepts foreign.
The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance;… (243-244)
Children are also conditioned to meet death in a matter-of-fact manner. Death is simply a natural process, and as no one creates strong emotional bonds with anyone else, grieving is unnatural and unheard of.
Stability means no liberty, or Individualistic happiness is the society’s unhappiness.
In the civilized world, everyone is always happy; the trade-off for this happiness is one’s individual happiness. The society itself has done away with higher pursuits, such as art, science and religion. The “truth” and individualism these pursuits bring harm to the whole society’s happiness. People at their decantation are already stripped of most liberties integral to pre-Ford society, as they are biologically and socially limited by their caste. In exchange people live content with their station and there is no war or strife which individualistic or exclusivist interests inevitably bring.
“Of course,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” (226)
“It isn’t only art that’s incompatible with happiness; it’s also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.” (231)
Those who do acquire self and social awareness are removed from society, or are made to sacrifice their own pursuits.
…”he’s being sent to a place where he’ll meet the most interesting set of men and women to be found anywhere in the world. All the people who, for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community-life. All the people who aren’t satisfied with orthodoxy, who’ve got independent ideas of their own. Every one, in a word, who’s any one.” (233)
Society’s happiness and stability is defined by communal means of recreation, such as sex and soma. Through these means people are able to relax and live freely.
“Everyone belongs to everyone else.” (?)
Repeated several times through the novel, this maxim expressed the sexual freedom practiced by civilized men and women. Sexual monogamy -or serial monogamy- is a taboo. Everyone is expected to enjoy everyone else, through “orgy-porgies”, casual sex and so on.
“A gramme is better than a damn.” (?)
Also repeated, this saying refers to soma, a type of drug that comes without the side-effects and complications of present alcohol and recreational substances. Soma induces a high that separates one from the world, depending on the dosage.
“‘The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.’ But there aren’t any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous. And why should we go hunting for a substitute for youthful desires, when youthful desires never fail? A substitute for distractions, when we go on enjoying all the old fooleries to the very last? What need have we of repose when our minds and bodies continue to delight in activity? of consolation, when we have soma?” (240)
How to successfully rebuild the world into a “utopia”, according to Aldous Huxley
- (^My interpretation, at least.)
- A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. (foreword, xv)
- First, a greatly improved technique of suggestion -through infant conditioning, and, later, with the aid of drugs…
- Second, a fully developed science of human differences, enabling government managers to assign any given individual to his or her proper place in the social and economic hierarchy…
- Third (…), a substitute for alcohol and other narcotics, something at once less harmful and more pleasure-giving than gin or heroin.
- And fourth (…), a foolproof system of eugenics, designed to standardize the human product and so facilitate the task of the managers. (xvi)
The greatest thing about dystopian novels is the big question –or even set of questions– they pose. From the viewpoint of present day reader, the ethics and practices portrayed in Brave New World are unnatural and even incomprehensible. But these lenses will not always be the one worn by humanity.
Will you accept such a reality? Huxley, after all, portrayed a true utopia, only made terrific because of our own moralities as readers and of the inner perspective of the Savage. But to stand in the shoes of an unknowing Delta, or Beta, or even Alpha –it’s not really so bad, is it? It’s entirely easy to imagine a life without the responsibilities that come attached with love and obligation, curiosity and power. With everyone equal, life would be a constant pleasure, full of contentment.
But the Savage made a different choice, though ending with a bitter end:
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly. “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
If I am aware of what it is to live today, in relative freedom and in liberty, I could have made the choice, even knowing what may follow. But if wasn’t a savage myself, well. Who knows?