Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Brave New Word
Aldous Huxley
Published 1932

"Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I.
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!  How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people  in't" 

Brave New World takes place in AD 2540, where natural childbirth and nuclear families have been abolished.  There is no "God" in this mechanical age; there is "Ford", yes as in Henry Ford ( i.e. "Oh my Ford, you just scared the daylights out of me!!  Apparently Huxley didn't know how badly Ford would be tanking in 2009.) Any of the reasons that are cause for war, crimes, competition and even love have been eliminated because these things cause pain and interrupt production and consumption. The leader of this society (The Controller) Mustapha Mond explains it to a man (John Savage who has come from a contained reservation that is not civilized). 
" Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended.... there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense.  But there aren't any wars nowadays.  The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much.  There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do.  And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed....that there really aren't any temptations to resist.  And if ever, by some unlucky chance anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's  always soma (a drug that is similar to alcohol, heroin, cocaine without physical damage or addiction) to give you a holiday from the facts." 

Some ways of life in the Brave New World (London) are attractive: no illness, no significant aging, no prejudices against sexuality/orientation or religion, no war, no starvation etc.  But the cost of these benefits are high: no individuality,  love,  companionship,  family,  art/creativity,  passion or freedom of choice (self will).  "Everybody belongs to everybody" is a Brave New World mantra.

There are  two main characters in the novel, Bernard and John Savage, who represent a juxtaposition (Bernard being from the Brave New World and John being from an uncivilized reservation, although he has been educated by his mother and has spent years reading an old copy of Shakespeare's works.)  The Brave New World is one of genetic engineering where people are created in a test tube to be either Alphas, Betas, Deltas or Epsilons.  Each person is geared to certain jobs/tasks; in example, Epsilons are the lowest life form and purposefully designed to be of a lesser intellect and physical stature.  Because they are specifically designed for mindless labor the possibility doesn't occur to them to be anything different; therefore, there are no power structure conflicts (they're referred to by Alphas as "Epsilon Minor Idiots". Nice!!)
Bernard (an alpha which is physically and mentally the most superior) finds John Savage on a contained reservation.  John is the product of a women (Linda a Beta) who was lost (on a scientific expedition) while visiting the reservation.  More than twenty years has past when two alphas, Bernard and Lenina (his sexual partner for the trip) find Linda and John who have been taken in by Native Indians.  Because they are considered outcasts by the Indians, they are ostracized and degraded.  Linda (who originally was a fine specimen is now an obese mess with missing teeth, which horrifies the Alphas and the Betas) , is unaccustomed to the concept of motherhood, is at first horrified she is pregnant and by the idea of motherhood (a dirty word).  However, her son John becomes her comfort and connection to "her world" in the midst of chaos.  
Bernard brings them back with him as objects of "scientific curiosity".  Bernard has always been "different" then the other Alphas.  Although Alphas are bred to be similar in every way, there are a few (maybe genetic throw backs) who cannot escape the desire for individuality.  I feel that the novel is more about John's journey in what he has christened the "Brave New World."   Does he embrace his genetic homeland or does he return to savagery  (these are the only two choices Huxley provides)?  
Of course, reading this in 2009 one can see things that are ridiculous like the creation of individuals for mindless labor jobs, where as we know these kind of jobs are fewer and fewer as technology has taken over.  One notices little things like a person assigned to operate the elevator, which would be common in 1932.  To Huxley's credit, many things are accurate,  the obsession with anti aging, drugs for every conceivable problem, fixations on cleanliness,  sexual freedom and secularism.  
It took me awhile to get into the novel due to it being science fiction, not my favorite genre; however, it is a book worth reading.  It challenges the mind to think about issues that we are facing currently in the world and to what ends we will go to for medical advances and global and environmental stabilization.  I think Huxley was brilliant and "Brave New World" is a must read!


1 comment:

Cara Powers said...

I always think of "the feelies" when I think of Brave New World. Then I think "Ick!"